Timeline of what’s happened since the 1998 flood

The 1998 flood damaged more than 1,000 homes. Photo by Palo Alto resident Terri McKinsey.

By the Daily Post staff

Feb. 3, 1998 — Fierce rains and high tides combined to make San Francisquito Creek overflow its banks at 1 a.m., inundating houses, cars and streets. Firefighters used boats to rescue people trapped in their homes and school buses took evacuees to the Cubberley Community Center for shelter in the predawn hours. Approximately 1,700 properties in East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park were damaged. Repairs were estimated at $28 million, a figure later revised to $40 million.

Feb. 10, 1998 — The Palo Alto City Council meeting began with City Manager June Fleming praising the work of firefighters and police in responding to the flood. Residents in the audience, however, were seething as she spoke, and they let the city have it when they came to the microphone, complaining about an inadequate warning by the city about the flood and a poor response by city workers. “The city was complacent and lazy,” said Garry Nolan, who was flooded out of his Alester Avenue home.

Feb. 24, 1998 — Palo Alto officials confirmed that firefighters and police were dispatched to sandbag City Manager June Fleming’s house during the flood, while neighbors had to fend for themselves. The scandal became known as “sandbag-gate” in the papers. The city hired an outside attorney to do an internal investigation and nobody was disciplined or charged.

June 1998 — “Despite its efforts to be prepared for the El Nino storm season, the city was caught off guard by the intensity and pace of the Feb. 2-3 flood,” a self-critique by Palo Alto officials conceded. The officials, including the police chief and fire chief, said that it was the intense and unpredictable weather that overpowered city forces that night.

Dec. 11, 1998 — The City of Palo Alto installed sensors to monitor creek levels at known breakout points, and developed a public webpage showing realtime data on creek levels at those locations as well as flows detected by the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at the Stanford Golf Course upstream of the floodplain, and rainfall data from Palo Alto’s rain gauge in Foothills Park.

May 14, 1999 — Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and San Mateo County Flood Control District form a regional government agency, the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, to address flooding and environmental issues related to the creek.

June 10, 1999 — A group of residents led by attorney and Crescent Park resident John Hanna sue Palo Alto and Menlo Park to modernize two bridges, at Pope-Chaucer Street and Middlefield Road. Debris became clogged under the bridges, causing water to back up and spill into the streets. The suit argued that both cities knew years earlier that the bridges would worsen a flood.

August 2000 — Cynthia D’Agosta hired as JPA executive director.

Jan. 8, 2004 — Palo Alto and Menlo Park agree to pay $3.5 million to settle the lawsuit over the flood brought by 27 families led by John Hanna. In settling the case, the cities did not agree to fix either of the bridges.

Sept. 20, 2005 — A former JPA employee, Andrew Kloak, who resigned from his position with the JPA but later tried to file for unemployment benefits claiming he had been laid off, attempts to undermine the JPA, after unemployment benefits are denied by the state Employment Development Department, by saying that JPA chief Cynthia D’Agosta hired her nephew, Kevin Murray, as project manager, and kept their relationship from the board’s members. Officials found no issues with the hiring, as Murray was a consultant working on San Francisquito Creek issues for the city of Palo Alto at the time.

December 2005 — JPA enters an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a reconnaissance study on San Francisquito Creek to establish a federal interest in finding a solution to creek flooding.

March 2008 — Cynthia D’Agosta resigns as head of JPA.

July 24, 2008 — Len Materman hired as head of JPA. He previously worked at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, before that served as an adviser to the Director of FEMA in the Clinton Administration and on two White House task forces dealing with community environmental planning and economic development, and was director of government affairs at UC-Berkeley.

July 2009 — JPA installs rain gauges in the upper watershed to augment information from the city of Palo Alto’s single gauge.

July 2009 — JPA consultant produces report accepted by the JPA board that outlines a preferred capital project between the Bay and Highway 101, and opportunities to construct floodwater detention basins in areas west of Interstate 280.

July 11, 2011 — Palo Alto City Council votes 8-0 to replace the one-lane Newell Road bridge, which the state has declared obsolete and unsafe, with a two-lane, two-bike-lane, 75-foot span. Under a state grant, the city has 10 years to complete the design work.

December 2012 — JPA secures $8 million in state funding for its first major construction project from the Bay to Highway 101 based on the July 2009 consultant’s report.

Dec. 23, 2012 — A storm causes water to flow over a 600-foot section of levee between Verbena Drive and Daphne Way in East Palo Alto, forcing mandatory evacuations for residents of seven homes with a total of 36 residents. One home was damaged and declared uninhabitable.

March 2013 — JPA submits a permit application for the Bay-Highway 101 project to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and other state and federal agencies.

January 2014 — JPA unveils alternatives for a new Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge that would protect against a 100-year storm.

November 2014 — JPA launches its own creek monitor website (sfcjpa.org/floodwarning) that improves upon the city of Palo Alto site by providing earlier, more detailed and comprehensive flood warnings to residents and emergency response agencies.

Sept. 24, 2014 — Some Palo Alto council members said they were exasperated by the fact that the Palo Alto Golf Course redesign and flood-control projects are being held up by San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has a veto power over such work.

Nov. 12, 2014 — Palo Alto City Council, in an 8-0 vote, approves the JPA’s then-$35 million plan to build levees and flood walls in the Baylands and along the mouth of the creek to prevent future flooding. When that project, and the JPA’s adjoining SAFER Bay project are completed, homes in the area might be removed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s floodplain map, meaning they won’t be required to buy flood insurance.

April 2015 — Regional Water Quality Control Board provides the JPA its permit for the Bay-Highway 101 project, enabling other regulatory agencies to proceed with processing their permits.

June 2015 — Caltrans begins construction of a new Highway 101 bridge above San Francisquito Creek to increase water capacity. The JPA requested the bridge replacement in 2008. It is the most visible flood control project since the 1998 flood.

Fall 2015 — With a strong El Nino anticipated in late 2015, the JPA coordinates additional actions by the cities to remove debris in the channel and raise the height of levees in East Palo Alto and Palo Alto by approximately two feet as a temporary measure until permanent protections under construction in 2017-18 are completed. The temporary measures help protect creekside properties during record rains in early 2017.

February 2016 — Thirty-five months after submitting all of its permit applications, state and federal agencies provide the permits necessary to begin construction of the Bay-Highway 101 project to provide flood protection against the largest possible creek flow and 9 feet of sea level rise, as well as ecosystem and trail improvements.

June 2016 — JPA and its five member agencies sign a funding agreement to provide over $41 million to construct the Bay-Highway 101 project. Most of the funding comes from a Santa Clara Valley Water District ballot initiative and from state funds secured by the JPA.

Aug. 5, 2016 — Groundbreaking ceremony for Bay-Highway 101 flood protection, ecosystem restoration and recreation project. The project widens the creek into the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, removes sediment, replaces berms with new taller levees and flood walls, creates 15 acres of new marsh land, brings recycled water to East Palo Alto, and improves the safety of PG&E gas and electrical transmission lines crossing the creek. The JPA started downstream because if they increased the flow upstream, it would send more water to downstream areas that wouldn’t have the capacity to handle it. The project involves 7,600 feet of creek and will protect several thousand homes, most of them below sea level.

January 2017 — JPA begins environmental analysis of a flood protection, ecosystem restoration and recreation project upstream of Highway 101. The overarching project objective is to provide meaningful flood protection that is achievable in the near term.

October 2017 — JPA hosts two community meetings and a bus tour to update residents and stakeholders on progress of the Upstream of Highway 101 Project environmental impact report and receive feedback on project alternatives.

December 2017 — JPA signs an agreement to receive an additional $4 million from the state for marsh restoration work associated with the Bay-Highway 101 project.