The spin cycle on the San Jose flood disaster can be a blur, even for those paying attention.
Take this story. The headline suggests the Santa Clara Valley Water District is taking bold action by putting $22 million into “new flood control work” for areas near Coyote Creek.
Looking to head off the next potential flood, the water district, a government agency based in San Jose, is preparing a $22 million plan to provide flood walls, levee setbacks, channel deepening and other work along Coyote Creek over a 6.1-mile stretch from Montague Expressway in North San Jose to Interstate 280 near the downtown core.
The agency hopes to finish all the work over the next seven years, said Melanie Richardson, the district’s interim chief operating officer for watersheds.
There’s just one issue—actually, there are several. Most notably, the new work by the district will come from money it has been sitting on for 15 years.
Voters approved $32 million in flood protection efforts for Coyote Creek as part of the Clean, Safe Creeks initiative, otherwise known at the time as Measure B. The district spent a third of of that money on planning and design, but a shovel never hit the dirt.
Now, 15 years later, after thousands of people were forced to flee their homes—and in some cases be rescued—the district makes it seem as if it’s doing the urgent work of the people.
Rick Callender, head of communications for the district, confirmed in an email Friday that this new project will not come from new money. “The 22 million is the same money allocated for the Mid-Coyote Creek Project. Originally $32 million in Measure B funds was allocated for the project,” he said.
So what has changed between then and now except the optics?
Going a step further, Melanie Richardson, the district’s interim chief operating officer for watersheds (i.e. flood control), was cited in the story as saying the district “hopes to finish all the work over the next seven years …”
Considering her well-documented history of conflicts of interest, should Richardson be the one to oversee this work? Should we feel comfortable relying on someone who didn’t return from a ski vacation until the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 23, two full days after a city she is tasked with protecting was submerged in toxic water.
And last, the story notes that the district will bring back Marc Klemencic, a retired engineer, to oversee the “new” work. As we reported this week, Klemencic is the same person who drafted an action plan in 2002 that would have alerted Rock Springs residents to flooding a whole day before their houses were underwater. That plan never made it beyond a draft form and the district has yet to say why.
Finger pointing will ramp up at next Thursday’s study session at City Hall, and we should expect to see more disingenuous announcements. Perhaps this “new” plan from the district came out of the shop of PR crisis consultant Sam Singer, who received a $25,000 retainer.
One thing we can be sure of: when it comes to damage control, the district doesn’t wait 15 years.