Los Altos preparing to ask land owners to pay $1.1 million annually for storm drain work

Foothill Expressway flooding
Town Crier File Photo
Foothill Expressway at Loyola Bridge is closed after flooding from a winter storm in this 2014 photo. The area still poses a pooling-water problem.

The rains that pummeled Los Altos last week serve as a reminder that it may take only a few storms back-to-back to take the city from high-and-dry to a flood risk.

Addressing that potential, city officials plan to ask property owners for $1.1 million annually over 30 years to fund the Clean Water and Sustainable Storm Drainage Initiative. The cost breaks down to an average of $7.33 per month for a single-family home and $11.45 monthly for a commercial property.

Funds would go to high- and medium-priority projects, which include addressing 12 city “hot spots” for flooding.

Problem areas include: Windimer Drive (an improvement project is underway and set for completion by next month); Toyon Dam; Cherry Avenue; the Woodland Branch Library; Fremont Avenue, from Grant Road to Highway 85; Sierra Ventura at Stonehaven Drive; Viola Place; Loma Prieta Court; Madelaine Court; Foothill Expressway under the Loyola Bridge; Deodora Drive at Arboretum Drive; a ditch along the Grant frontage road near Farndon Avenue; and Granger Avenue at St. Joseph Avenue.

The Storm Drainage Initiative stems from what officials claim is a need to fund projects more expeditiously. Aida Fairman, interim engineering services director, said funding for maintenance and repair of the city’s 55 miles of storm drainage pipes and 1,350 catch basins currently comes from the general budget. But because it competes with other projects in the budget, money allocated for storm drains is a relative trickle that extends project timelines over several years. The city has budgeted $300,000 annually for storm drain work through fiscal year 2021-2022.

“We clearly have a challenge here,” Fairman said. “The concern is that without having a dedicated funding source, projects will be delayed which, in the worst-case scenario, could result in further infrastructure deterioration and possible system failure.” 

She said taking what she called a “proactive approach” through the storm drainage initiative would result in clean water through trash cleanup and reduced pollution, protection of property through reduced flooding and sustainable infrastructure through capital improvement project investment.

The city hired SCI Consulting Group of Fairfield to prepare a storm drain fee report. SCI conducted a resident survey last April that revealed a majority (53.5 percent) of 2,124 respondents favored dedicated funding for operations and maintenance, and high- and medium-priority capital improvement projects.

The rate given to residents in the survey amounted to $134.36 per year per parcel. However, the consultant recommended the city charge less than $100 per year annually.

Next steps include mailed public notices March 7, followed by community meetings March 20 and April 3, a Los Altos City Council public hearing April 23 and, pending resident support and council approval, ballots mailed to residents May 3. Ballots would be due back by May 18. If a majority favors the funding, the council would then certify the ballots June 25 and the initiative would take effect July 1.

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