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Residents Complain of Chronic Flooding By RIYA BHATTACHARJEE Special to the Planet

Friday January 13, 2006

On the morning of Dec. 18, a home owner on Schoolhouse Creek had her entire house flooded within 15 minutes after the creek swelled up to six feet from the rain that day. 

Because the house was built almost four feet below street level and has no foundation, water from the creek caused the yard to flood and filled the interiors with two inches of water. The flood water caused extensive damage to furniture, expensive rugs, and personal belongings. Flood damage experts estimated the damage at $50,000. 

This was just one of the many stories that residents of West Berkeley shared with City Councilmembers and staff of the Berkeley Public Works Department during a meeting Wednesday at the Francis Albrier Center in San Pablo Park. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore called the meeting after receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails from residents of West Berkeley who were concerned about the damage that the recent floods had caused. At the meeting, Moore (District 2) and Councilmember Linda Maio (District 1) listened to complaints from residents of the flood-affected areas. 

A resident of Curtis Street, who has lived on the block for 20 years, told the councilmembers that flooding from heavy rains and storms has been an ongoing problem for the last four years. 

Most of the residents said that a faulty drainage system caused the street drains to overflow, resulting in water rising above the curb and flowing into yards and garages. In extreme cases, some houses were flooded with water as high as 16 inches in the basement, which took days to pump out.  

Two homeowners who live near San Pablo Avenue said that their properties turned into lakes every time it rained heavily. 

“The city has to take some liability,” said a Curtis-street resident. “We have double-wide blocks which have severe drainage problems. It would get a lot better only if they installed new drains on the block.”  

A resident of Heinz Street complained that water pumped out from small stores and businesses in the area flooded many of the neighborhood streets. The reason behind this, he explained, was that the interconnected areas under each street were clogging, which in turn caused drainage pipes to collapse. 

A resident who lives on Curtis Street expressed concern at the fact that every time a basement or house flooded, there was gasoline, chemicals, wires, and chords that came in contact with water. 

“Every time it rains my backyard gets 12 to 24 inches of water. I have been dealing with it for the last two and-a-half years,” he said. “I cannot imagine the plight of those dealing with it for the last 15 years now.” 

Two doors down, another resident spent three hours in her basement on New Year’s Eve trying to pump out water. She said that such floods had been occurring for the last 17 years. Anther homeowner in the same area said that their yard got a foot-and-a-half of water every large storm. 

A resident on 2nd Street and University Avenue said that they got four feet of water every time it rained. When the street exploded with water on February 2004, throwing up sewage, dead leaves and branches, the Public Works Department declared it a “red flag area.” Little has been done since then, residents said. 

Residents also said that the sewage flowing in with the water did a lot of damage to the businesses between Oregon and San Pablo Street. 

The Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society suffered roof damage from the December storms although no animals were hurt. 

“I hope the City of Berkeley views the flooding that happened in West Berkeley as a small picture of what it will be like in a major disaster, and that their disaster planning include caring for animals,” Mim Carlson, executive director of the Humane Society, told the Daily Planet. “The Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society would be happy to work with Berkeley officials to determine the best plan for this city’s animals if a disaster strikes.” 

Mayor Tom Bates made a brief appearance during the meeting and acknowledged that the flooding problem had been going on for a long time now and that he would do his best to improve the current situation. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz informed the residents that although it would take almost $35 million to fix the current problem, adding that the city’s storm-drain fund had not been increased since 1996. However, there are now plans to increase the fund by half a million dollars every year for the years 2006, 2007, and 2008.  

Councilmember Maio suggested that storm water management could be paid for in the same way that sewage management is. 

“Aging infrastructure is to be blamed for the current flood situation. It has not been changed in the last 80 years,” she said. “One of the main jobs is to seek funding for the repair and replacement of the storm drainage system.” 

Councilmember Moore promised residents that inspections would be carried out on illegal connections draining rain water from roofs to sewers. 

Claudette Ford, acting director of Public Works, said that the department was working to solve problems and suggested that residents report problems to its 24-hour hotline, which is 644-6620.