Atherton council members hike town's drainage system


With a wet winter predicted and more than $40 million in improvements said to be needed in Atherton's storm drain system, Atherton's City Council members attended a special meeting on Nov. 16 in hard hats, waterproof boots and safety vests for a first-hand look at some of the system.

The safety equipment came in handy as the council members started the tour by descending ladders into the Atherton Channel along Marsh Road near Bay Road at the town's border.

A recently updated master plan for the town's drainage system shows the Atherton Channel needs more than $4 million in work just so it won't flood handling the type of storm expected at least once every 10 years. Very little of that work will be done by this winter, partially because the state is delaying giving the town permits to do the work.

The drainage report, an update of a 2001 report, says that the channel currently can handle only a seven-year storm without the water overtopping its banks. Both reports were by San Jose engineering consultants NV5. To handle even a 10-year storm, the town would need to build detention basins to hold overflow water, which would be released gradually at a storm's end.

The report shows three possible locations for the detention basins, described as excavated areas that are filled with drain rock or have underground storage and are then covered over, often with turf. The locations are the playing fields at Las Lomitas School and Holbrook-Palmer Park and the polo fields at the Circus Club.

The town can't handle larger storms without regional cooperation, the report says, because much of the flooding danger is due to factors beyond the town's borders, including the size of the drainage channel the Atherton Channel feeds into.

Another problem, the report says, is that 49 percent of the water that drains through Atherton comes from outside Woodside, Stanford University land, Menlo Park, Redwood City and San Mateo County.

No one in the town seemed to know exactly when the Atherton Channel was built. The consultant's report says the town's drainage system was cobbled together in pieces starting when the first big estates were developed in the late 1800s.

The part of the Atherton Channel along Marsh Road has a concrete bottom with mortared stone side walls, some of them 9-feet high.

Even though the town cleaned the channel and made spot repairs along Marsh Road in recent months, some stones have fallen since then and many ornamental garden plants are growing from cracks in the mortar.

The town will repair the channel walls from Middlefield Road to Fair Oaks Avenue in Redwood City once it gets permits from the state.

Council, town staff and a couple of intrepid members of the public, including an Almanac reporter, hiked the channel from the town borders to Middlefield Road, where it becomes a large tunnel. A varied array of graffiti showed that others had been there before.

They continued in the tunnel under Middlefield Road to Watkins Avenue, where the channel returns above ground and is made of sprayed-on concrete.

The group climbed out past the railroad tracks on Watkins Avenue and continued to view some of the drainage projects completed since the 2001 version of the drainage plan, as well as to some of the system's current trouble spots.

The town has completed 26 of the 55 projects identified in the 2001 study, including improvements the council viewed in the Barry Lane and Elena Avenue area.

Other areas viewed included a spot near Las Lomitas School on Alameda de las Pulgas where in 2012 the channel was overtopped and the school flooded and the spot where the Atherton Channel begins near the western end of Walsh Road.

The drainage study prioritizes the work, with the first priority nearly $6.14 million in projects that it says are "life and safety issues." Those projects include relining the San Francisco water line and Reservoir Channel in the Walsh Road area west of Alameda de las Pulgas, upgrading the existing channel at Alameda de las Pulgas and Camino al Lago, and re-lining the Atherton Channel west of Alameda de las Pulgas.

Next are projects needed to "avoid damage to private property," estimated at $8.6 million. The third priority, public improvements not affected by the downstream drainage outside the town, would cost $3.2 million.

Public improvements that are affected by the downstream drainage are the biggest cost $23.6 million. The lowest priority are projects recommended in the 2001 study that don't seem to have current issues, estimated at $3.6 million.

Atherton has $910,000 budgeted for drainage improvement projects this fiscal year, and $3.625 million budgeted over the next five years. The town is also working with the Las Lomitas school district to possibly build a detention basin at Las Lomitas School.

To prepare for the predicted winter storms, city employees have walked the entire Atherton Channel and made sure all town storm drains and drainage ditches are not blocked. There are 2,500 sandbags and the sand to fill them in the town's corporation yard, near the railroad tracks south of the Caltrain station.

The council members visited several problem areas the town will be keeping an eye on this winter, including the Bellbrook Culvert in the Walsh Road area west of Alameda de las Pulgas, another place the town is waiting for a permit to repair. They also walked along the ditch running behind back yards on Parker and Euclid avenues, which town crews recently cleaned and the town will be monitoring.

The town also plans to monitor problem areas along Laburnum Road and Magnolia Drive in Lindenwood.

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Like this comment
Posted by john r
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 28, 2015 at 7:14 am

Good job city council. Its nice to see you out there with our staff folowing up on study. Good to know our money being spent after first being looked at by you. good example for other city councils.

5 people like this
Posted by My money,
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 28, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Stop spending my money, Parks, Libraries, Civic Centers, Ball Fields, Now what gold plated sewers. Just because you have money doesn't mean you have to spend it.

Vote no on Any new tax increases,

Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2015 at 6:00 pm

"Stop spending my money, Parks, Libraries, Civic Centers, Ball Fields, Now what gold plated sewers. Just because you have money doesn't mean you have to spend it."

So you want your beloved Atherton to end up looking like something in Appalachia???

2 people like this
Posted by Area Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm

To My Money: I too dislike government waste but at some point you need to spend money to keep the infrastructure operable. I am not sure where the town wasted money on parks,the library or drain systems. If you know of specifics please inform us. Otherwise, work needs to be done and that costs money. Better to do it now than when parts of the town are underwater. Emergency repairs tend to be more expensive than preventative work.

Like this comment
Posted by Lance
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Nov 30, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Can you please put links to the documents discussed in this stories? Would be a great service. Thanks.

1 person likes this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Nov 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Here you go:Web Link .
I also added the link to the story. All the referenced documents are in this drainage study update.

4 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm

really? is a registered user.

Gutter politics

Like this comment
Posted by Tuner
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2015 at 10:34 pm

I most definitely hope that no taxpayer money is spent on making any new civic center facilities "green" or "greener" when we have important core infrastructure that must be maintained.

5 people like this
Posted by My money too
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 30, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Here is what My money is talking about: although the city council had promised to abate the parcel tax if it wasn't needed, they reneged on this promise earlier this year when the city had a surplus. The promise was part and parcel (no pun intended) of getting the voters to approve the parcel tax.

Where is the city council spending money? Well, here's one glaring example. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money is being put away for the NEXT town center. You heard that right. Even though the one on the drawing board now hasn't raised the monies needed through private donations, and even though the voters said taxpayer money can't be used for it, just private donations, the city council figures our taxpayer money now can be squirreled away to pay for town center n+1 fifty or 100 years from now.

Isn't that incredible? @Area Resident, your retort sounds reasonable in a vacuum, but when you look at how this city council has spent and wasted money, you need to put things into perspective.

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:02 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

My Money Too is referring to a reserve fund Atherton established this year to replace capital facilities, worn out municipal buildings. The fund is similar to the equipment replacement fund Atherton has had for many years, which allows money to be saved in advance for a major expenditure on replacement of large maintenance equipment or town and police vehicles. Right now the new capital facilities reserve fund has $505,000 in it, money that the town had set aside in case there were unexpected costs when the town moved to a contract, rather than in-house, building staff. The money was no longer going to be needed for that, so the council voted to put it into this new fund.

2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 1, 2015 at 11:43 am

While I'm in general agreement with "My Money" and "My Money too" (and it's hard to refute that the parcel tax was suppose to be abated if it wasn't needed for the intended purpose of the tax, and it's proven to not be needed), I'm actually OK with the continuation of the tax...if it addresses critical infrastructure issues.

And that has NOT happened.

While I appreciate the council walking the channel, attention to the channel is LONG OVERDUE. It is a ticking timebomb and has been so for years. Expansion of the channel should have already occurred, and I fear that other less-important projects are getting more attention than the channel.

Those of us that live in proximity to the channel will hold the town, county and state responsible if it floods and puts us in danger. The town, county and state are inviting litigation with people that have the means to crush them in court.

"The main thing is the keep the main thing the main thing." The channel is the main thing. Everything else in comparison is noise.

Get it done.

Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 1, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Barbara, your message is a little bit confusing. Did the town council use taxpayer money, or set it aside, to maintain a building that hasn't been built yet or not? Yes or no?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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