It was February 1998 late at night into the early morning hours when overflowing waters from the San Francisquito Creek flooded homes in Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and Menlo Park.
The memories are still fresh for some residents who said they are always worried about a repeat flooding any time a series of rain showers and storms hit their neighborhoods.
With more rain expected this weekend and a ground already saturated by recent wet weather, residents said they are nervous for a repeat of what’s known as the flood of record in 1998.
Mary and John Schaefer remembered just how quickly the waters flooded their Palo Alto home on De Soto Drive. “There was no warning, it’s a silent enemy,” recalled Mary. “Once it comes over the threshold, you just look at it and go, ‘Ohhh.’” The water filled the house, 14 inches high, damaging walls and furniture, and ruining the collection of family photos. The damage? $35,000.
In 1999, the three cities and two counties, San Mateo and Santa Clara, decided to form the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (SFCJPA) to design and implement projects on behalf of all of the jurisdictions. SFCJPA Executive Director Len Materman said that board members will vote in just two weeks on approving a project that would widen the creek, build levees, and add flood walls. If the funding is ready, construction could begin next year and finish by 2015.
“This system is particularly flashy,” Materman explained. “What that means is that it can rise and fall very quickly with severe rain storm, a burst of rain, and that’s what we saw in ’98. We’re really concerned it can happen again.”
Next month, the SFCJPA is set to produce environmental reviews about the Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge, a choke point that sent water into many homes. A bridge John Shaefer said should have been replaced “30 years ago.” Materman added that it’s not just about protecting the people and their 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, but also unifying the communities.
“This creek for so long has been a liability because of its flood issues and it’s been divisive. It’s divided counties and cities, and we hope to bring these projects along so these communities can be united. Instead of a liability it becomes an asset.”