Arroyo Grande criticized for lack of flood control
October 16, 2010
By KAREN VELIE
Over the past thirty years, the City of Arroyo Grande has failed to protect homes and the Arroyo Grande Creek from flooding and erosion problems that the city has been paid by developers to correct.
Currently, the city is in violation because measures required to be in place by Oct. 1 have not been started. The city contends the due date for having the property readied for the rainy season is Oct. 15.
Either way, the requirements have not been fulfilled and environmental protections are not in place. As a result, if a major storm was to come to the area, homes could flood and tons of dirt could be dumped into the creek damaging the sensitive salmon enhancement program.
The enhancement program’s employees and volunteers work to protect the creek and the spawning site of the steelhead trout, currently listed as a threatened species in this part of California.
“It is very important that sediment be prevented from entering the creek,” said Steph Wald the Salmon Enhancement’s watershed projects manager. “Sediment in the creek will interfere with the steelhead spawning success.”
According to the storm water pollution plan for Cherry Creek, a subdivision currently being developed by Carrol Pruett, the project was required to have permanent erosion control measures in place by Oct. 1, as specified in the Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP).
The nine acre project sets next to the Arroyo Grande Creek Salmon Enhancement project. This area lies within a 100 year flood plane. About every 10 years, a big storm causes Newsom Springs, located in the hills above Arroyo Grande, to overflow and flood into the city.
Prior to the construction of Village Homes by Coker Ellsworth, flooding would occur on the Dixon Ranch which sets adjacent to the Cherry Creek project, the acreage of Village Homes, a few other neighborhoods and sometimes all the way to Highway 101.
The city required Ellsworth to pay $250,000 towards the construction of the Newsom Springs drainage that would divert the runoff through a drainage pipe under the Dixon Ranch agricultural fields into a drainage channel. This channel is to run through the neighboring Cherry Creek parcel and into Arroyo Grande Creek.
“It was determined that the City would take over responsibility for the right of way acquisition, design and construction of the drainage channel,” according to a letter from Schott & Associates Engineering dated April 12, 2000.
Ellsworth provided the city with a check in April 2000, under the expectation the city would resolve the drainage issue by the winter of 2000. The monies ended up in the city’s general fund.
“We thought if we put in $250,000 the city would take care of it,” Ellsworth said. “There is the looming possibility the 40 houses we built could flood.”
So the City took the $250,000 from Ellsworth, but under Mayor Tony Ferrara’s leadership, failed for another ten years to actually do any mitigation work until Buddy Jaquith, a local resident and an attorney who has lived on Myrtle Street for the past 31 years, put the city on notice.
“I am desperately concerned as things currently stand that the city’s inaction in failing to maintain the emergency drainage easement could have disastrous consequences this winter,” Jaquith said in a letter to Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams and Mayor Ferrara on Sept. 16, 2009. “It is clear to me that the City has done nothing for several years to properly maintain the emergency flood easement on the Stillwell properly or the Noguea easement as evidenced in the six photo graphs I am enclosing with this letter.”
The photographs supplied by Jaquith show partially smashed pipes half filled with mud and drainage ditches filled in with dirt.
“I am aware of the $250,000 that Ellsworth had to pay the city for flooding mitigation which to this date apparently has never been utilized,” Jaquith added. “I personally put the city on notice that if there is no affirmative action taken, and as a result thereof, I or my neighbors sustain any flood damage…we will be looking to the city of Arroyo Grade to handle the cost and all repairs and any damage that may occur to our properties.”
A few days after Jaquith’s letter was mailed, the city demanded an “emergency easement” from Cliff Branch, the owner of the property at the time. Branch pointed out at a city council meeting that a former easement had expired and also that the city had neglected to mitigate the flooding problems.
In spite of facts outlined in Jacquith’s letter, city officials presented Branch an emergency easement to sign that included false statements in an apparent attempt to limit the city’s liability. The city threatened Branch that his pending development would be jeopardized if he failed to bend to the City’s “emergency easement” demands, Branch said.
Branch refused to sign the emergency easement until city attorney Tim Carmel agreed to take out statements that the city had always maintained the drainage channels and pipes and that the city had an existing easement onto his land.
After years of neglecting the drainage ditches and pipes, city officials then went onto the Cherry Creek property and graded about half an acre directly above the creek and bulldozed a large ditch through the center of the property disturbing the native grass filtration system Branch had installed.
The city, which had previously required Branch to spend a significant sum to hydro-seed native grasses in all areas disturbed by grading before the start of the rainy season, did not apply the rules to their own work and left the ground bare for the remainder of the rainy season.
Branch sold the property to the Pruett Family of Arroyo Grande in early 2010.
“I sold because I could not stand the thought of having to interact with the city one more day,” Branch said when asked why he sold the property. “They administer their process in an abusive manner.”
Pruett said that he has been held up in installing the required erosion control measures because of delays in getting utility companies to install underground lines as well as issues with disorganization in the city. The city recently eliminated their public works department.
“We will have all the filtration in two weeks,” Pruett said a week ago. “What we have to do is mitigate runoff with hay bails and silt fences.”
At the site, Pruett’s crews are in the process of installing erosion control measures and said earlier today that they expect their portion of providing erosion control to be finished in a few days.
Nevertheless, the city is responsible for installing a culvert next to the agricultural fields and connecting to drainage pipes installed by Pruett by the start of rainy season. This connection, which is currently capped, would channel water from a Newson Springs drainage ditch, through Pruett’s property and into the creek.
At this time, no work has been done by the city and the large drainage pipe remains capped. As a result, a large storm would likely flood area neighborhoods.
“We will have it done in a few weeks,” Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said.
The city’s nonexistent public works department is the monitoring agency responsible for making sure the deadline dates regarding storm pollution and flooding issues have been met.
Nevertheless, Adams contends because the developer delayed the construction start date by two months, the environmental mitigation dates have been extended. Responsibilities of the city’s public works department have been farmed out to other city departments.
“Based on our discussion with the Regional Water Quality Board staff, since the start date on the notice of intent is two months later than originally identified, the deadlines of the SWPPP are all adjusted,” Adams said in an email.
Adam’s said the start of the rainy season in the SWPPP is extended to the city’s rainy season start date of Oct. 15, because of the extension on the construction start date.
However, Tamara Presser, a water resource control engineer with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said that extending the start date does not change the requirements in the SWPPP. And while Adams told CalCoastNews the city was responsible for building and connecting the Old Stone Culvert to the underground pipe already installed by Pruitt, Presser said that Adams told her the developer was responsible for the connection at the Old Stone Culvert.
Adams told CalCoastNews that the city has been delayed in building the connection at the Old Stone Culvert because of problems getting the owners of the farm to sign the easement.
“Overall creek protection is something we are passionate about,” Adams added.