County to fund levee repairs

Lovers Lane resident express frustration at town hall

LEVEE TALK Supervisors Robert Rivas and Mark Medina held a town hall Monday, October 9 to discuss potential levee repairs with Lovers Lane residents.

Residents impacted by flooding near Lovers Lane last winter will get their levees repaired.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to repair the Pacheco Creek levee system damaged by last winter’s storms. Supervisor Anthony Botelho recused himself from the vote.

The estimated cost of repairs is approximately $350,000.

Costs were previously estimated at $491,500, but a savings of $141,500 could be reached by completing the work on a time and material basis compared to a competitive bidding process, said county officials.

“Two things require our immediate attention,” said Supervisor Mark Medina. “First is to repair that levee. Second is to clear the creek out and continue to have some kind of maintenance on that creek.”

Last winter’s storms overwhelmed the levee system, which runs across numerous private properties, and flooded Lovers Lane, as well as parts of Shore Road and San Felipe Road.

Medina and Supervisor Robert Rivas held a town hall with Lovers Lane residents Monday to discuss a proposed indemnification agreement.

Residents were largely frustrated by the proposal.

“We had a meeting down at the end of Lovers Lane when all this flooding was going on,” said Ted Zunella, a local resident. “I told you guys back then, you’re reactive, not proactive. You’re being reactive again. You guys should’ve been proactive and should’ve attacked this creek issue, cleaning it out right at the beginning.”

The county had asked residents to sign indemnification agreements, which would protect the county from liability and litigation from future flood damage.

County counsel Barbara Thompson explained Tuesday that only one agreement came back signed.

“Most of the landowners have opposed the agreement,” Thompson explained. “They don’t share the county’s assessment that it’s the landowner’s responsibility to repair the levees and they have objections to the indemnification and other provisions of the requirement.”

It’s estimated it could cost the county $10,000 to $15,000 annually to maintain the levee, something that was previously undertaken by the currently inactive Pacheco Stormwater District.

Tuesday’s vote also directed staff to explore asking the San Benito County Water District or Santa Clara County Water District to take over the waterway in the future.

If that’s not successful, the county would reactivate the Pacheco Stormwater District.

On Jan. 12, county inspection teams discovered a 104-foot long breach in the Pacheco Creek levee on Dara Farms’ property. Another significant, 80-foot breach occurred elsewhere in the levee system during a subsequent storm.

“I’d like to respond to continually being told it’s the landowner’s responsibility because the levee is on their property,” said Mahassa Altafi of Dara Farms. “There was an easement back in the 40s for the Pacheco Stormwater District to construct the levees. This makes it the reasonable assumption that the levees are public works and it is clear they benefit public property due to the flooding of the public roads.”

Altafi explained that while she was working with county counsel to come to an agreement, she didn’t sign the agreement because she felt it was too broad.

“You guys are our leaders and this is a public issue as much as you keep saying it’s private. If it floods again, it’s going to affect the public,” she said.

Board chairman Jaime De La Cruz said he felt the county was about to open a can of worms.

“All those things out there are private will now become public and guess who’s going to pick up for everything? San Benito County taxpayers,” De La Cruz said before the vote.

Resource Management Agency Director John Guertin explained during the town hall what the county could do to mitigate the situation.

“We can do work that’s directly related to the break in the levee, we can fix the break in the levee and we can do some clearing of some of the wood that has built up in that area,” he said. “It does not gives us the ability to do work in the entire creek. I know that’s what we need to do, but that’s going to require going through the permit process with [California Department of Fish and Wildlife].”

Guertin said fines could be up to $10,000 a day if the county were to go in and clean out the creek without proper permits.

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