The City is poised to shell out $1.7 million to homeowners and businesses whose properties were damaged when storm drains flooded in 2003 and 2004, the final step in a nearly decade-long legal battle.
In December 2003 and again in January 2004, homes and businesses in the South of Market, Inner Mission, Excelsior, Mission Terrace and Outer Mission neighborhoods flooded with storm runoff mixed with sewage during a “moderate” winter storm, according to a 2005 lawsuit filed by 46 plaintiffs.
San Francisco has “dual-design” sewers, which means pipes underneath city streets carry both wastewater and storm runoff. This system – which can sometimes be overtaxed in heavy rain – has remained largely untouched even as The City has grown in size and density.
“The City’s sewer system failed,” said lead attorney Mark W. Epstein of Seiler, Epstein, Ziegler and Applegate, which negotiated the settlement. “It was so bad cars were floated on Cayuga [Avenue].”
The lawsuit alleged that The City helped cause the flooding when work crews paved over storm drains and when deferred maintenance allowed the sewer system to fill with dirt, sediment and other debris that reduced its drainage capacity by more than 50 percent.
A trial court in 2007 held San Francisco liable for the damage, and The City has since reached multiple settlement agreements. In five other settlement agreements reached between 2007 and 2009, $885,000 was doled out, according to records, including $500,000 to an art gallery on 16th Street.
The final $1.7 million could be approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
After the floods, The City began laying groundwork for a massive sewer replacement project, but issues remain. Homes and businesses in a low-lying area near 17th and Folsom streets regularly flood during heavy rains, and dozens of homes and cars were damaged last week when a water main ruptured near 15th and Wawona streets.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission could not be reached for comment Friday, but the agency, which oversees The City’s stormwater drainage and sewer systems, has been replacing aging pipes and drains, according to aides for Supervisor John Avalos, whose district includes the affected areas.
A 2006 estimate from the SFPUC put the cost to replace The City’s 900 miles of sewers and storm drains at $2 billion. That estimate has been updated to $6.9 billion, according to the agency. The SFPUC is currently in a $2.7 billion initial planning and review phase of what it has dubbed the Sewer System Improvement Project.