The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

Blog Post

City of San Anselmo

$4.2 million to halt flood remediation?

Marin County has the distinction of spending millions of tax dollars to develop plans to block flood remediation. A process that turned straightforward flood control planning into the controversial fencing-off of central San Anselmo’s plaza, denying access to a beloved public space.

Originally, the “Ross Valley Watershed Flood Risk Reduction Program” envisioned multiple flood detention and storm water storage basins with improved flood flows to the Bay by clearing blockages and flow constraints impeding creeks. Should any new flooding result, affected residents were assured the County would elevate their homes and protect their properties from impacts. Fairfax, Sleepy Hollow, San Anselmo, Ross, Kentfield, Greenbrae, Larkspur, and Corte Madera, and the County adopted “Do No Harm” policies stating that improving flood risk in one area would not increase flooding in other areas.

Federal 'no-rise' regulations that safeguard homeowners from increased flooding in federally regulated waterways were explained to local officials by FEMA representatives attending flood control meetings.

A grant from CA’s 2006 Prop1E bonds administered by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) ‘migrated’ to the San Anselmo Flood Risk Reduction (SAFRR) project when San Anselmo’s Memorial Park detention basin proposal was rejected by voters. But then, the money dried up, jeopardizing elements SAFRR. Then, CalTrans' planned replacement of old bridges stalled when federal funding was withdrawn.

Ignoring FEMA’s no-rise instruction and the property owners’ concerns, the County continued hiring consultants and extending existing contracts. Towns, FEMA, county staff, and Supervisors received letters and testimony documenting failed county promises. One affected homeowner was offered the opportunity to cut his house in half in order to elevate one section above the anticipated flood rise. Another experienced some good old-fashioned fieldwork when a county engineer arrived to measure his property using a wooden yardstick.

The County pressed ahead with other elements of the program, but the word was out: of the ten firms attending the bid solicitation, only one firm, a paid consultant on this flooding issue since the 1980s, submitted a bid. Impacted homeowners threatened by incomplete surveys and broken promises found new allies and the County was forced to acknowledge it lacked the money to mitigate new flooding needed for impacted homes.

Was it in retaliation or coincidence that the Marin Department of Public Works fenced off the beloved plaza, called BB2, in central San Anselmo? The County's claim of a threat of imminent collapse subsequently was disputed by two engineering firms stating BB2 could be restored to public use for approximately $328,000.

The controversy over BB2 demolition has supplanted discussion of the County’s fiscal responsibility to mitigate impacted properties, including needed protection for San Anselmo’s commercial structures. Concerned residents await some definitive county response to San Anselmo’s letter requesting negotiations to restore public use of the BB2 plaza while the county seeks adequate funding to fully mitigate threatened properties or to find a means of diverting 270 acre-feet of flood water.

Instead, the County proposes to create a concrete wall, a ‘baffle’ in the creek bed, to replicate the flow constraint of BB2 until such time as the County has either the missing money or the lacking flood storage.

This construction artifice is a flood constraint intended to maintain the status quo in order to hold onto DWR’s continually-extended grant funding. Installing this baffle costs $4.2M to demolish BB2, followed by immediately placing the concrete baffle across the creek to prevent any flood remediation gained by the $4.2 project. This ensures no new flood remediation upstream and downstream of the baffle and jeopardizes the FEMA Community Rating System's 15% flood insurance rate reduction.

Every Marin resident who pays the annual flood fee has a stake in this decision: $4.2M to halt flood remediation in San Anselmo or $328,000 to restore BB2 as a public asset until the county can deliver SAFRR as designed?