Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mountain View’s Cuesta Annex offers panoramic views of the foothills. Local residents disagree over whether the city should preserve the 12-acre property or install flood-protection measures.
To the untrained eye, the 12-acre Cuesta Annex in Mountain View is a quiet piece of untamed land upon which a healthy orchard once stood. It’s a convenient spot for walking dogs and posting election signs.
But to those in the know, the annex is the subject of a long, fierce debate between residents who want it put to use for flood protection and those who want it either left alone or restored to its original condition.
The annex detention basin is no longer part of the Permanente Creek Flood Protection Project. The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors Nov. 20 approved the plan and supplemental Environmental Impact Report (EIR) without a basin at the annex. The ever-evolving plan at one time proposed four detention basins to prepare for a 100-year flood (or a 1 percent chance of such a flood happening annually). Now two are planned – at McKelvey Park in Mountain View and at Rancho San Antonio Park.
“I’m disappointed in the water district’s vote,” said Mayor Mike Kasperzak. “They’re leaving several hundred residents in potential flooding areas.”
The Mountain View City Council was scheduled Tuesday to review and approve a supplemental EIR for the project, which will still include a Mc- Kelvey Park basin and water district funding for park improvements. They include renovations of two baseball fields and a new 0.65-acre minipark with playground equipment.
Water district staff recommended dropping the annex from the $40 million project after considering input from residents and revised calculations that showed the project’s flood-protection goals could be met without it.
While annex preservationists like Robert Schick are pleased with the water district’s decision, they worry about the city’s alternate plans for the land. Schick remembers growing up in the early 1970s when the city had approved housing for the annex only to have a resident uprising quash the plans.
“It will never be developed,” Kasperzak said. “This is a public asset.”
Mountain View resident Kevin McBride, a strong supporter of a basin at the annex, feared the district was reacting to the loud voices of a few opponents at the expense of the majority he claimed supported it. McBride called the annex-less plan “a slap in the face” to residents who favor the previous plan.
Although the approved Permanente plan protects more than 1,660 parcels, McBride and others contend that a Cuesta Annex basin would protect another 300-500 parcels.
Basin opponents have questioned the district’s hydrology data. Los Altos resident Richard Moll, an engineer, maintains that the water district’s flood projections are overblown and allow for flood-control projects up to two and a half times larger than necessary, given local flooding history. Water officials counter that their statistics are solid.
The previously proposed basin measured 12 feet deep across 4.5 acres toward the front of the annex, with a 14-degree angle.
The city council supported the water district’s plans for an annex flood basin, and the city’s approved master plan for the annex allows for one.
Kasperzak said the basin was a “win-win” for flood protection and annex improvements, such as weed abatement and path upgrades, which the water district would have funded.
ECH steps up
Water district board members did allow for the possibility of using Cuesta Annex in another project to protect additional parcels, including those at the adjacent El Camino Hospital. Ken King, in charge of hospital facilities, said the hospital has offered to pay half the cost of an annex detention basin project.
The water district staff’s revised plans prompted board member Patrick Kwok to question their credibility.
“Is (the annex basin omission) based on revised technical data or political interference?” he asked. “Before, we were told (the basin) was the only way to go. The majority of people supported it. … I want a comprehensive plan, not a half-baked project.”
Water district CEO Beau Goldie defended his staff, saying it wasn’t a matter of caving to political pressure but openly listening and responding to feedback.
“This is reflective of a project (process) that actually worked,” he said at the Nov. 20 meeting. “The changes were reflective of what we’re hearing in the community. … This is a project that exceeds our goals – it’s very cost effective.”
According to district board member Brian Schmidt, whose District 5 includes Los Altos and Mountain View: “(City councilmembers) would like to see it built, but they understand the constraints. The basin would remain part of their master plan. With (El Camino Hospital’s involvement), we have a second chance at this.”
“They wanted city resources (the annex, McKelvey Park),” Kasperzak said. “(The annex basin) is a decision between the hospital and the water district.”