San Anselmo town report faults voter initiative on Memorial Park flood basin

Home News San Anselmo town report faults voter initiative on Memorial Park flood basin By: Richard Halstead (rhalstead@marinij.com) Monday, June 1, 2015 – 6:38 p.m. Memorial Park in San Anselmo could hold about 80 acre-feet of water if used as an emergency flood basin. Critics are seeking a voter initiative to prohibit such the park’s use for flood control. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) A voter initiative that seeks to prohibit the use of San Anselmo’s Memorial Park as an emergency flood detention basin would undermine a regional plan to prevent flooding in the Ross Valley and deprive the town of up to $3 million in grant money needed to upgrade the park, according to a report by town staff. The report on the possible ramifications of the initiative was prepared at the request of the San Anselmo Town Council. “My personal view is we should take a position on the initiative,” Mayor John Wright said when the council discussed the report last week. But Megan Acevedo, a deputy town attorney, expressed reservations about members of the council advocating either for or against the initiative, since they might have to decide whether to put the matter on the ballot for a public vote. Supporters of the initiative began collecting signatures in early May and have 180 days to complete their work. If they can convince 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, about 817 people, to sign their petition, the council will be required to either adopt the initiative or put it on the ballot during the next municipal election. If they can get 15 percent of the registered voters, about 1,225 people, to sign it, the council will be required to adopt the initiative or call a special election to decide the matter. San Anselmo Town Attorney Rob Epstein said Monday, however, that the council is free to take a stand on the initiative both as a body and as individual members. “We can voice an opinion,” Councilman Tom McInerney said, “so I expect at some point we’ll have it back on our agenda. Passage of the initiative would clearly undermine our ability to have effective flood control and also have a lot of other unintended consequences that would hamstring the town’s ability to do a number of other things, including improve our community center and the park over future generations.” But Matthew Brown, one of the members of the group submitting the initiative, said the report is “fraught with fallacies.” “It’s just an astonishing piece of work,” Brown said. “It feels like fear mongering.” Created in 1924, Memorial Park features a playground, three baseball fields, four tennis courts, a basketball court, picnic areas and other amenities. Under the detention basin plan, the park floor would be excavated and lowered by an average of 10 feet below existing grade to hold 79 acre-feet of flood water. The basin would be bounded along the southern and western sides by concrete wall structures. Because flood detention operations would occur only during heavy storms, recreational activities at the site would be affected periodically. Tennis and basketball courts, as well as a children’s play area, would be reconstructed at their approximate existing locations. At last week’s council meeting, Ross Asselstine, a critic of the plan. said he doesn’t believe there will be room for all of the park’s current amenities. “You can’t dig a hole and have the same size park as you have,” Asselstine said. Lise Stampfli Torme, who helped found the Flood Mitigation League of Ross Valley after her home was flooded twice, complimented town staff on the scope of its report. The document includes a brief recounting of Ross Valley’s long history of flooding and the painstaking effort to do something about it. “It’s exactly what we need to counter the misrepresentation of fact and the problems with the initiative,” Torme said. She also drew attention to the fact that while the council was discussing flood control efforts in the Ross Valley, people in Texas, which had also previously been experiencing a drought, were struggling to cope with devastating flooding. “Look at the pictures from Texas and think about your community,” Torme said. Historic flooding The report notes that over the past 100 years San Anselmo has had eight floods that caused significant damage. The watershed suffered its most severe floods in 1982 and 2005, when heavy rain damaged about 1,200 homes and 200 businesses in the Corte Madera Creek watershed, resulting in $90 million in property damages. After the flooding in 2005, Fairfax and San Anselmo joined the other Ross Valley communities in Flood Control District Zone 9, a program of the Marin County Public Works Department. Voters in Flood Zone 9 approved a storm drainage fee in 2007 to fund flood reduction measures and the district created a hydraulic model to better evaluate the downstream effects of proposed flood solutions. In-creek improvements, such as bridge replacements, building removals and creek widening, were looked at first, but these measures proved insufficient and detention basins were deemed necessary. The initial plan called for the creation of five detention ponds. Two basins were to be in San Anselmo, one at Memorial Park and another at Red Hill Park. Two more basins were to be created in Fairfax, one at Lefty Gomez Field and the other in a gulch in the Loma Alta Open Space Preserve. In addition, the holding capacity of Phoenix Lake was to be increased by the installation of a steel dam, which could be raised and lowered by an inflatable rubber bladder. Due in large part to the Memorial Park opponents, Zone 9 is currently re-evaluating its plan to see if other sites might be more appropriate. In the initial analysis, potential sites throughout the county were ranked on a long list of criteria based on their ability to reduce flooding potential, protect the environment, optimize costs and benefits, gain public acceptance and optimize schedule. Phoenix Lake finished No. 1 with a total score of 710; Memorial Park finished second with a score of 620. Memorial Park could hold up to about 80 acre feet of water. Consulting engineers are now comparing groupings of the top-ranked basin sites using computer modeling of their hydraulic performance. Two of the groupings include Memorial Park, the third substitutes a site at San Domenico School for Memorial Park. “There really aren’t a lot of other choices for detention,” San Anselmo Public Works Director Sean Condry told council members last week. But Brown said, “Mathematically, Memorial Park’s detention basin will not solve flooding. It might reduce flooding by 12 percent. We’re still 88 percent flooded.” According to the town’s report, the combination of a detention basin at Memorial Park with the removal of three bridges and a building spanning San Anselmo Creek would reduce flooding by up to 2 feet or approximately half of the flood water in the downtown area, thereby reducing the flood risk for 400 to 500 homes and businesses in the flood plain. Condry said many people might no longer need to pay for costly flood insurance because their homes would no longer fall in the flood plain. “It will have a lot of impact for a lot of people,” he said. 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