Fri10312014

Permanente Creek project an exercise in lunacy

At the rear of Blach Intermediate School, there is a flood-control channel built in 1959 to convey Permanente Creek water to Stevens Creek, which could protect a large part of Mountain View in the event of a 100-year flood. It has functioned flawlessly except for in 1985, when a culvert became blocked and Blach was inundated. The Santa Clara Valley Water District removed the culvert, then built a constriction in the channel near the batting cage to impede the flow to Stevens Creek.

Now it is configured to force floodwaters out of the channel and direct the flow across the school toward El Camino Hospital and beyond. This positions a large number of homes in Mountain View and some in Los Altos, in addition to the hospital since its expansion, in a manufactured flood zone, which has required the owners to pay expensive flood insurance for years.

The water district reports that there is flood potential somewhere on Stevens Creek north of El Camino Real, so the Permanente water cannot be allowed to continue downstream. It must rise out of the channel and go toward the hospital. I’m not making this up. Mountain View’s Public Works Department is not aware of any such problem on Stevens Creek, Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps do not show it and the hospital doesn’t care.

The water district is now in the final stages of soliciting bids to dig a huge flood basin in Rancho San Antonio County Park, which could protect the hospital and residents downstream in Mountain View. If there were a flood danger, the district could remove the constriction within a few days. The basin project requires removing 100 trees with bulldozers creating noise and dust for nine months in the most heavily used part of our park system. The project is a boondoggle.

Santa Clara County Parks authorities were ignorant of the above facts when first approached by the district for permission. Now they are aware but embarrassed to reverse course because they have a long history of cooperation with their friends in the district. Park officials have become derelict in their fundamental duty – to protect a nature preserve.

The Committee for Green Foothills does not object to the project because, when completed, the area will remain open space. No kidding. The Sierra Club is missing in action. GreenTown Los Altos does not object because its members feel unqualified to evaluate a technical dispute between a powerful public utility, which claims the work is essential, and a few engineers such as myself, who say that it is a complete fraud. GreenTown’s reason for neutrality seems to be a common one. But does a person need to be an engineer to conclude that something is amiss when floodwater is being forced out of a channel and directed toward a hospital?

This is a blatant attempt of a government agency not only to waste money to justify its existence, but to commit an environmental crime in the process. The district raised the money with a parcel tax the public innocently approved. It has already wasted millions of dollars.

The audacity in attempting this in our highly educated and environmentally conscious community is astonishing. But district representatives seem to be correct in assuming that the public is easily duped and essentially defenseless against a lavishly funded hustle.

Jerry Clements is a civil engineer who has owned and operated Jerry Clements & Associates in Los Altos for 35 years, a company that specializes in grading and drainage.

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