Water District Sat on $22 Million for Coyote Creek Flood Control

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.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. I will NEVER vote for increased taxes to support anything to do with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. As far as I’m concerned, SCVWD is a useless, parasitic bureaucracy.

    • I totally agree. They have been nothing but corrupt, and self serving. The whole shebang needs to be fired with no hint of any of the old idiots who think corruption is business as usual fired and sent to jail in some cases. I just can’t believe the citizens here haven’t protested more vehemently….. this water district has fired it’s whistle-blowers, given contracts to family members, and projects paid for that were NEVER done!! And where is our DISTRICT ATTORNEY?? I’m confounded and disgusted!!

  2. all true we had so many meetings in and around william st park, with plans, coffee, cookies etc. These meetings started way before 2000 but sort of just stopped about 2003, and we went then full steam ahead with very rich and expensive projects in the hills of los gatos and los Altos, and boy were most of those participants picky, art, this that, right trees, oh my back yard etc.

  3. Sounds to me like CYA all over the place. SCVWD being the lead agency to stave off flooding has dropped the ball. All those currently on the Board need to resign. Also, it will take (7) years to reach Hwy 280? That leaves Phelan and Senter Road still under water should it flood again. With every year breaking temperature highs, who knows what the weather brings next season. Also, March 10th, 1995 it rained so long that flooding occurred in downtown San Jose. Remember Henry’s High Life had flooded about 3-4 feet above the sidewalk level? That was March 10th. Today is March 3rd. We are not out of the woods yet.

    • the district has a bigger war purse and many lawyers, i have almost never seen anyone win against the war chest. except executives suing to get more money when fired

  4. Six Phases of a Project

    Search for the guilty
    Punishment of the innocent
    Praise and honours for the non-participants

  5. Well done Mr Koehn,
    You have made your father proud today. You have correctly used the “First Amendment” to expose an actual problem in a department of our government. Now if you will kindly follow the money as one of your esteemed colleges suggested almost half a century ago, be a watchdog for the people.
    I want to know why after $22 million was rathold, an outrageous amount to carry out this routine maintenance on a creek bed much less planning a clean up.
    This looks more like the plan was to clean out the Taxpayer’s bank account than a streambed, That seems to be the norm in these parts Mr Koehn.
    Remember “Whisky is for Drinking, Water is for Fighting over”, So is money!
    Let’s see if you can give us an unbiased report as you’re charged with in the first amendment, and I might heap some more praise on on you. Please take Miss Wadsworth with you!

  6. QUESTION 1: Why didn’t Melanie Richardson cancel her ski vacation and get back to work immediately?

    QUESTION 2: Can Richardson be fired, or do we have to recall her?

  7. she is hired and fired at ceo/cao level no votes for her, and with as much time as she has the union will bow to another beau goldie payout all tax maoney

  8. THE DISTRICT WILL NEVER CHANGE ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS, TAX MORE TAX READ THE AUDIT 2012 https://pgoeltz.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/diversityaudit2012.pdf IT EXPLAINS THE DISTRICT managers and why employees distrust them. which is why there is no function at the top. ask why a 3rd boardroom was approved. ask for that DA audit, open the books. If you watched the meeting last nite, pretty much talk talk talk, oh we are humble. the chair says.

  9. Same Rick Callendar that was head of local NAACP? These talking heads spew garbage from one political appointment to the next… “carpetbaggers” as Frustrated Finfan aptly pointed out in another article.

  10. @Dan what happened toNew post on San Jose Inside

    Water District Limited Release of Info 4 Days before San Jose Flood
    by Dan Pulcrano
    Newly released communications between the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the City of San Jose reveal that both sides were aware of the flooding danger from an upcoming storm and were exchanging information until water district management stepped in and restricted the communication.

    Nearly two weeks before San Jose neighborhoods flooded, a city engineer asked the water district about rising creek levels. “Good morning” Casey Hirasaki, an engineer who works for the city of San Jose, wrote on Thursday, Feb. 9. “There was mention around office yesterday that Coyote Creek was running high, near top of bank, and that there was also a plan to release from Anderson Dam.”

    The following Tuesday, a week before the flood, Hirasaki again emailed counterpart at the district, saying, “We were on a conference call this morning with City departments and SCVWD discussing rain forecast and possible Anderson Dam spill later this week. We have been asked to create a map of City hot-spots as well as the Coyote Creek locations you identified.”

    On Thursday morning, Water District Associate Civil Engineer Jack Xu warned San Jose’s Shelley Guo that “there is a big one coming next week… with the major events occurring Monday/Tuesday. If that hits as predicted we might be in big trouble.”

    Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 6.59.24 PM

    Xu also sent over some maps that correctly predicted the Rock Springs flooding though failed to highlight the overflow that besieged the Olinder neighborhood on the East Side and parts of Naglee Park.

    “Jack: Wow, the map is great, thank you!” Hirasaki emailed back.

    The lovefest was short lived. On Fri., Feb 17, Xu wrote an apologetic message saying he had to cut off communication. “So unfortunately we got some pushback from our management about us communicating directly to you guys at our levels and the District having different outlets of information for the forecasts, so I was told to relay information through the appropriate channels (sorry).”
    The rains hit on Monday and Tuesday, and as predicted, Rock Springs flooded. Both the city and the water district knew that would be the outcome and had been discussing emergency preparations in the week leading up to the $100 million disaster.
    Only the residents whose homes were flooded were left out of the loop until the water approached their doorsteps.

  11. It’s amazing. so little uproar over such a major disaster that could have been prevented. The water district folks have NO SHAME, and zero self-respect. For failing, they should have the decency to resign their positions. Why spend money on PR??? There’s nothing to spin here. IT’S A MAJOR SCREW UP. These bureaucrats get paid pretty well to do very little, and when the time comes for them to actually prove their value, they SCREW UP.

    Incidents like this is why people just can’t trust government agencies and elected officials. They reveal just how valueless and incompetent they are for every day folks.

    • Like most Politicians in this area they are the product of a one party system. We have a choice between vanilla or vanilla with vanilla sprinkles, which would you like?

  12. If they knew one week ahead, that’s willful negligence to not prepare and inform the communities. Hiring bar must be set pretty low at the water district… “Can you breath?” “only through my mouth.” “See that spigot? Lefty loosy….”

  13. Dereliction of duty at its finest. If this is not malfeasance, it is misfeasance. These people need to be thrown out. They obviously failed to do their taxpayer-paid jobs. If they had any honor at all, they would tender their resignations immediately. Real people suffered real injury and damage due to the people of the District failing to act on this.
    Is the money still there?

    • If they get fired will the taxpayers be on the hook for years of severance pay and bonuses, Most likely!

  14. SCVWD is the poster child of ineptitude, inefficiency, irresponsible wasting of public funds, conflicts of interest, overpaid bureaucrats, poor performance, and mismanagement. Why should ratepayers and taxpayers be paying Sam Singer crisis PR firm to cover its incompetent trail?

    • The Mercury news and sji should do an article on the PR firm retainer alone. That’s a story right there. Public pressure only comes from awareness and a hammering of such a scandalous decision. Come on rags, do your job!

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