Officials hurry to meet deadline for levee funds

East Palo Alto officials rushed Wednesday to submit an emergency application for state funds to repair the damaged San Francisquito Creek levee this week before a deadline set for today, officials said.

With an estimated price tag of $650,000 for the needed repairs, East Palo Alto officials moved to lay to rest concerns by some county officials that the application deadline for state matching funds might not be met.

“I've been keeping track of this pretty closely,” Mayor Ruben Abrica said. “The application is going in [Wednesday].”

If the repairs are approved for funding under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recent countywide state-of-emergency declaration, the state would pay 75 percent of the repair cost, with the remaining funds coming from local sources, officials said.

The levee is cracked and part of the soil on it has sloughed off into the water between East Bayshore Road and O'Connor Street parallel to the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, county Public Works Department Director Neil Cullen said.

“Our concern is with life and safety, and that a temblor could roll through and [the levee] won't be as strong as it was engineered to be,” said Lt. John Quinlan, county director of Emergency Services and Homeland Security. A breach in the levee could potentially flood dozens of homes in the Gardens neighborhood, said police Lt. Rahn Sibley, emergency services coordinator for the city.

Exactly who will pay the local portion of the cost isn't clear, however, since Abrica said the city does not own the underlying land and San Mateo County holds an easement. East Palo Alto is disputing its responsibility for fixing the levee, saying the work doesn't fall under the category of “normal or routine maintenance,” as outlined in a 2002 agreement with the county, officials said. The city “also stated that no maintenance has been done on the levee since 2002, although the agreement provides that the levees shall be inspected each year,” according to a memo prepared by Cullen.

“We're going to continue next month to discuss who is responsible for the repairs,” Abrica said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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