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Flooding, Odors Still Plague Alta Bates Drain

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 28, 2006

The Bateman Mall Park has been restored, but drainage problems at the site continue. 

Some residents of Prince and Colby streets, tired of having water clog the newly constructed grass park, took matters into their own hands on Sunday and tore out clumps of grass to allow water to pass into the drains. 

“The water was damming up at the beginning instead of damming up at the end,” said a resident of Colby Street who had shoveled away the grass and did not want to be named. “It was rotting the grass and the smell was driving the neighbors insane. There was at least five inches of standing water and the leaves were getting stuck.” 

Lorin Jenson, supervising civil engineer for Berkeley, said that the drainage problem was caused because the grass never got a chance to root. 

“The temperature and weather conditions at the moment are such that the grass is going straight into hibernation,” Jenson said. “If this was not the case, the original plan would have allowed the water to drain.” 

The city had allowed Alta Bates Hospital to construct a temporary road through the Bateman Mall Park earlier this year, which neighbors said had caused further disruptions in addition to the Alta Bates Emergency Room remodeling project, which brought the area residents months of noise, traffic disruptions, water drainage and light pollution. 

The neighborhood had been working with the city and the hospital since April to develop an acceptable plan to restore the mall. Neighbors had wanted the park, where the access way was to cross it, to be grass surfaced as it had been before the temporary road. 

But after the construction was completed, the neighbors complained that the grass was too high. 

“It’s retaining water on a constant basis,” said Bill Cain, a resident of Prince Street and the designated representative of the neighborhood for the Bateman Mall Restoration. 

Jenson, the city engineer, admitted that the contractor (Alta Bates Summit Medical Center) had made a mistake and that the gutter at the cul-de-sac was poured more than two inches too high.  

“I was not there, nor am I normally, when a pour occurs,” Jenson said in a letter to neighbors. “I don’t know what happened. I expressed the importance over and over again with the foreman in the field of meeting that elevation. That mistake will be corrected.” 

Cain also claimed that the criteria that the park must be able to handle a storm as strong as one that typically hits every 15 years was not met and that flooding would occur two to three times a year. 

“The capacity of the access way gutter is not sufficient to pass the 15-year storm,” he said. 

Jenson however said that Cain’s analysis and statements were not correct. 

“To ensure I was meeting the 15-year flow design criteria I checked the capacity, momentum, and water surface profile, which are all dependent on the slopes and materials of the cul-de-sac, grass pavers road and pipes,” he said. “Mr. Cain and I agree on the 15-year flow quantity. Mr. Cain is not taking the water surface profile into account in his analysis.” 

Neighbors of the Bateman Mall are scheduled to meet with Jenson this week to decide how to solve the current drainage problem. 

“If the neighbors want the grass then something temporary like gravel can be poured to allow the water to pass,” Jenson said. “In spring we can kick out the gravel and re-plant the grass so that it gets time to root. The other option would be to kick out the grass and build a concrete gutter on the side.” 

Cain said that the neighborhood was working with the city to come up with a plan that would suit all the residents.  

“The city is trying its best to listen to the neighbors,” he said. “But the hospital continues to discharge water everyday. They say that they need to over-water to help the landscape and make it grow but we don’t believe it’s true.” 

Residents walking their dogs or commuting through the Bateman Mall on Monday complained about the puddles created by the standing water. 

“It’s not just the rotting grass I can smell, it’s dog poop, too,” said Kathy Brady, who lives a block away. “I get it every time I bring my dog here and it’s gotten worse in the last few days.”