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Creek project close to securing state funds

State Department of Water Resources recommends $8 million grant for flood control around creek

An ambitious effort by Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to calm the flood-prone San Francisquito Creek could get a major boost next month when the California Department of Water Resources is expected to release $8 million for the project.

The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA), an agency charged with improving flood control around the volatile creek, learned last week that its grant application is one of 18 the state department recommended approving out of a field of 41. The authority includes elected officials from the three cities, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Mateo County Flood Control District.

The series of projects would focus on the downstream area east of Highway 101, where the threat of flooding is most acute. The authority plans to boost flood protection by widening the creek channel, removing a levee near the Baylands, redesigning the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course to accommodate new levees and installing floodwalls. The project also entails excavation of sediment and relocation of utility lines.

The entire project has an estimated price tag of about $16.7 million, said Len Materman, executive director of the creek authority.

Flood protection around the creek has been a top priority for the three cities since 1998, when a major storm forced the creek to overflow, damaging about 1,700 properties. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been performing its own study on protecting the region around the creek from a 100-year storm. At the same time, the creek authority has been applying for grants and planning a series of small projects that would bring near-term relief to the flood-prone neighborhoods around the creek.

In addition to planning for the downstream project east of 101, the authority has also pursued a grant to rebuild the Newell Street Bridge between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto and is now eyeing a new "San Francisquito Creek Trail" along Palo Alto Avenue, between Alma Street and Chaucer Street.

The first phase of the downstream project, which the state grant would help fund, is the highest priority on the authority's flood control agenda because it focuses on the most vulnerable area, mostly in East Palo Alto. The second phase of the project would include installing floodwalls between Highway 101 and the new levees.

The creek authority's board of directors approved a letter last week supporting the state department's recommendation to fund the project. East Palo Alto Mayor Carlos Romero plans to submit a separate letter stressing the importance of the project to the residents of East Palo Alto.

If the state funding gets approved, the JPA would need to match the funds from local sources. Materman said the agency had already spent about $2 million on design and environmental work, funds that would be included under local contributions.

"Once we have the word from the state that the grant is final, we will come up with a solid funding plan," Materman said.

Public has until Oct. 5 to comment on the Department of Water Resources recommendations. Comments can be emailed to ccross@water.ca.gov.

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