The spin cycle on the San Jose flood disaster can be a blur, even for thoseÂ paying attention.
Take this story.Â The headline suggests the Santa Clara Valley Water District is taking bold action by puttingÂ $22 million into ânew flood control workâ for areas nearÂ 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 districtâs interim chief operating officer for watersheds.
Thereâs just one issueâactually, there are several. Most notably, the new work by the district will come fromÂ money itÂ 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 ofÂ 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 homesâand in some cases beÂ rescuedâthe district makes it seem as ifÂ itâs doing the urgent work of the people.
Rick Callender, head of communications for the district, confirmed inÂ an email Friday that this new project will not come from new money. âThe 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,â he said.
So what has changed between then and now except the optics?
GoingÂ a step further, Melanie Richardson, the districtâs interim chief operating officer for watersheds (i.e. flood control), was cited inÂ the story as saying the district âhopes to finish all the workÂ over the next seven years ...â
ConsideringÂ her well-documentedÂ history of conflicts of interest, should RichardsonÂ be the one to oversee this work? ShouldÂ we feel comfortable relying onÂ someoneÂ who didnât 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, aÂ retired engineer, to oversee theÂ ânewâ work. As we reported this week, Klemencic is the same personÂ who drafted an action plan in 2002 that would have alerted Rock Springs residentsÂ to flooding a whole day before their houses were underwater. That plan never made it beyond a draft form and the district has yetÂ to say why.
Finger pointing will ramp up at next Thursdayâs study session at City Hall, and we should expectÂ to see moreÂ disingenuous announcements. Perhaps this ânewâ plan from the districtÂ came out of the shop ofÂ PR crisis consultant Sam Singer, whoÂ received aÂ $25,000 retainer.
One thing we can be sure of: when it comes to damage control, theÂ district doesnâtÂ wait 15 years.