Flood-mitigation efforts rising in Redwood City

The flooding from high tides combined with winter rains no longer fazes Diana Johnson, a 27-year resident of the Harbor Village Mobile Home Park.

A couple years ago, floodwaters damaged her car and invaded the shed next to her mobile home, soaking Christmas decorations, luggage and her daughter’s camping gear.

“It was one step below my house,” said Johnson, 71, who now keeps her luggage in her home.

The city is making a renewed push to solve the wet-weather flooding that has impacted thousands of Redwood City residents for decades, but frustrated officials say they need neighboring cities to help with a solution.

City engineers are reopening talks with leaders of communities whose rainwater runoff flows into the Bayfront Canal, which serves the east side of Redwood City and parts of Atherton, Menlo Park and unincorporated San Mateo County.

When the rain coincides with high tide, the canal backs up and causes flooding, mostly at the mobile home parks on the east side of the highway and in the Friendly Acres neighborhood on the west side of the highway.

Flooding at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center, a $250 million facility that opened last February, has twice blocked driveways and forced administrators to cancel surgeries, Stanford Hospital Vice President Helen Wilmot told the City Council at a recent meeting.

“It causes a great deal of staff anxiety,” Wilmot said.

Potential fixes include enlarging the canal, building a basin to hold excess water, rerouting storm water and upgrading a key pump station on the Harbor Village property.

Costs could run as high as $20 million, City Engineer Peter Vorametsanti said.

Officials say they have had a difficult time persuading the other jurisdictions — which comprise 83 percent of the area that flows into the canal — to help with the upgrades.

“I just don’t get the sense that there’s any desire to work together or any sense of urgency at all from any of the other elected officials, and I hope I’m wrong,” Councilor Jeff Gee said.

City officials said upgrading the pump station located on Harbor Village’s property would ease the flooding on the west side of the highway.

But park owner Al Engel has not allowed the city the needed space for the upgrade. He said the existing canal could not handle the extra pumped water, causing even worse flooding for his 300 tenants.

“It’s an intolerable situation,” Engel said, “and it’s not fair for one group across the highway to say it’s OK to dump it on us over here without taking care of the problem entirely.”

Cargill project might help stop overflow

There is a wild card in Redwood City’s struggle to fix the flooding problems on its east side: the controversial salt ponds project.

If it wins approval for its proposal to build up to 12,000 homes and other development on the Cargill salt ponds, developer DMB Associates has pledged to address the decades-old flooding issues in neighborhoods to the west of the property.

While the developer is looking at a variety of options, the solution will involve reserving a chunk of the 1,433-acre property to act as a surface water basin, which would hold excess storm water that currently floods from the Bayfront Canal.

Such a detention pond would likely be located near Flood Slough on the east end of the property and would require at least 40 acres of land, DMB Vice President David Smith said, adding that the flooding is not caused by the Cargill property.

“It’s a significant problem and the answer won’t be easy, but we’ve maintained all along that we want to help find solutions not just for Saltworks but for Redwood City at large,” Smith said.

He declined to say how much the upgrades might cost, but said the land would be the biggest expense.

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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