Atherton's City Council has approved starting the process that could lead to moving the location of a proposed, controversial massive underground water storage and filtering project to Cartan Field -- the athletic field shared by Menlo School and Menlo College -- located off El Camino Real and Alejandra Avenue.
Council members voted unanimously on Wednesday, Sept. 19, to advertise for a consultant to do an environmental report on a possible project, but only after town staff members promised the council that they would make extra efforts to inform nearby residents about the project.
Council members also asked the town to investigate using the project to reduce seasonal flooding on streets around El Camino Real.
Council member Bill Widmer recused himself from consideration of the project because he teaches at Menlo College.
If the town goes forward with trying to put the facility under Cartan Field, it will be the third try at finding a location for the project. In 2017 the California Department of Transportation offered to pay the total cost of designing and installing a $13.6 million facility that, in addition to providing flood prevention, would filter contaminants from water before releasing it to flow to the Bay.
The project would help Caltrans meet state mandates to reduce pollutants washing off its roadways. Atherton also has a state mandate to reduce pollutants flowing to the Bay.
The town, in a 2015 drainage master plan, identified the need for stormwater detention basins to reduce flood risks. The drainage master plan envisions large, slightly depressed grassy areas where water could be diverted in flood conditions. The facility Caltrans has offered to pay for is much more elaborate. It would divert the water deep underground, and it would require much less above-ground land area.
Initial plans to place the facility at Las Lomitas School at 299 Alameda de las Pulgas fell apart when the council and the Las Lomitas Elementary School District couldn't come to terms. The district wanted Atherton to agree to build the project even if the town determined the facility's ongoing maintenance costs would be high, and also wanted preapproval of a traffic signal at Walsh Road and $750,000 to pay for the signal (Nearby residents later protested the proposed signal and the district no longer plans to install it.)
The town then considered putting the water capture facility in Holbrook-Palmer Park. But residents and park users said that the construction process could be too disruptive and the facility would be out of place in the park. In May, council members said they wanted to find a different location for the project.
City Manager George Rodericks said Menlo officials are willing to let the town investigate the details of putting the facility on their property but want "to know the details, design and impacts" before agreeing.
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