Local News & Events

Santa Cruz takes up rent control alternative, rent increase penalty

By | jyork@santacruzsentinel.com | Santa Cruz Sentinel
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2018 at 5:19 pm | UPDATED: November 29, 2018 at 11:35 am

SANTA CRUZ — In the wake of the apparent failure of a citizen rent control ballot initiative this month, Santa Cruz may soon require its landlords to pay tenants to relocate if they increase rents beyond a certain threshold.

The move, said city planning official Scott Harriman, is limited by state rent control restrictions because landlords are still able to raise rents — they just have to pay for it.

After a nearly four-hour at times raucous discussion Tuesday night, the council voted to expand its tenant relocation assistance law, setting triggers that include rent increases of 5 percent in a single year or a combined 7 percent in two consecutive years. Tenants evicted for reasons other than the end of their lease or breach of their rental agreement also would be eligible for the relocation assistance, under the updated ordinance. If approved by the council with a second vote Dec. 11, the new law would not go into effect in mid-January, but would apply retroactively to rent increase notices issued since Nov. 27.

Cheered on by landlords who said voters had spoken with the failure of Measure M, Tuesday’s move was dubbed unenforceable, “swiss cheese Rent Control” and a Band-Aid to the housing crisis by its critics. Underlying much of the night’s discussion was what not up for discussion — limiting the reasons a landlord could evict a tenant, referred to as just-cause eviction. Landlords shared concerns about losing a retirement revenue stream or being forced to deal with undesirable tenants they could not evict, while tenants spoke of being on the brink of eviction and even potential homelessness.

The council, facing a standing room-only crowd that spilled out into the City Hall courtyard, did not consider extending a city-designed rent increase freeze and just-cause eviction rules, similar to the proposed Measure M’s language, that has been in place since February. The temporary renter reprieve is set to expire once the council votes to accept the Nov. 6 general election results at its Dec. 11 meeting. According to City Attorney Tony Condotti, though community members had been discussing such an extension, the council was limited by the state Brown Act and the fact that the proposal was not on the night’s agenda.

Public opinion

Resident Elena Cohen, who rents out a granny flat on her property, said she supported the city’s effort to responsibly address the affordable housing crisis through disincentives for large rent increases.

“I urge, however, for the City Council not to impose just cause evictions that make unenforceable termination dates and lease provisions, not impose any new restrictions on ADU rentals and not create a costly and unaccountable rent board,” Cohen said.

In setting the 5 percent and 7 percent rent spike thresholds, the council was conceding public opinion — including support from many tenants and some landlords — heard at the meeting, that the definition of a “large” increase should be lower than a proposed 10 percent in one year or 15.5 percent in two years.

Speaker Michael Cox urged the council not to set high rent increase ceilings, but rather to tie the threshold to the rate of inflation.

“My big concern is not causing rent gouging or rent increases to accelerate,” Cox said. “I think there’s a genuine issue around a speed limit, a straight percentage, sending an inadvertent signal that the government is now sort of blessing 10 percent, 5 percent. People stay just under the speed limit so they won’t get a speeding ticket.”

During a special meeting set for Dec. 6, the council also will consider establishing an emergency ordinance requiring landlords to give tenants 90 days’ notice with an eviction. An effort by Councilwoman Sandy Brown to open talks at a coming meeting on extending the city’s just-cause eviction rules was sidelined, without needed support from her council peers.

East Bay Fault is 'tectonic time bomb,' more dangerous than San Andreas, new study finds

The San Andreas long has been the fault many Californians feared most, having unleashed the great 1906 earthquake that led to San Francisco’s destruction 112 years ago Wednesday.

But new research shows that a much less well-known fault, running under the heart of the East Bay, poses a greater danger.

A landmark report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that at least 800 people could be killed and 18,000 more injured in a hypothetical magnitude 7 earthquake on the Hayward fault centered below Oakland.

Hundreds more could die from fire following an earthquake along the 52-mile fault. More than 400 fires could ignite, burning the equivalent of 52,000 single-family homes, and a lack of water for firefighters caused by old pipes shattering underground could make matters worse, said geophysicist Ken Hudnut, the USGS’ science adviser for risk reduction.

“This fault is what we sort of call a tectonic time bomb,” USGS earthquake geologist emeritus David Schwartz said. “It’s just waiting to go off.”

The Hayward fault is so dangerous because it runs through some of the most heavily populated parts of the Bay Area, spanning the length of the East Bay from the San Pablo Bay through Berkeley, Oakland, Hayward, Fremont and into Milpitas.

Out of the region’s population of 7 million, 2 million people live on top of the fault, Schwartz said, and that proximity brings potential peril. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was centered in the sparsely populated Santa Cruz Mountains. For all the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it was centered off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.

As the potential hazards of the fault have become clearer in recent years, officials have begun to take action. Old city halls in Hayward and Fremont have been abandoned because they lie on the fault. At Memorial Stadium at UC Berkeley, seating was recently broken up and rebuilt so that the facility’s western half could move 6 feet northwest from the other side. In the hypothetical earthquake scenario, half of Memorial Stadium moves 2 feet northwest during the main earthquake, another foot over the next 24 hours, and yet another foot or so over the next few weeks or months, Hudnut said.

Despite taking such precautions, much of the region remains vulnerable, experts said.

The so-called HayWired scenario envisions a scale of disaster not seen in modern California history — 2,500 people needing rescue from collapsed buildings and 22,000 being trapped in elevators, Hudnut said. More than 400,000 people could be displaced from their homes, and some East Bay residents may lose access to clean running water for as long as six months.

The report found that a major East Bay quake also would outmatch California’s minimum building codes, which are designed only to keep most structures strong enough to enable people to safely evacuate. Even if all of the 2 million buildings in the greater San Francisco Bay Area complied with the modern-era building code, a HayWired scenario earthquake would cause 8,000 structures to collapse, 100,000 to be red-tagged — meaning they’re too damaged to enter — and 390,000 to be yellow-tagged, meaning occupancy is limited due to significant damage, said Keith Porter, a University of Colorado Boulder research professor who coordinated the HayWired report’s engineering section.

In some respects, the Haywired scenario would be at least 10 times as bad for the Bay Area as the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, despite the similar magnitude. The 1989 earthquake is blamed for about 60 deaths and produced $10 billion in damage; the HayWired scenario envisions $82 billion in property damage and direct business losses; fire following the earthquake could add $30 billion more.

A Hayward fault earthquake could trigger significant aftershocks on other faults for up to half a year after the main shock. In the HayWired scenario, a large aftershock comes nearly six months after the main quake — a magnitude 6.4 close to Cupertino, the home of Apple’s headquarters, followed in close succession by a magnitude 6.2 temblor near Palo Alto, a key city in Silicon Valley, and a 5.4 back in Oakland.

This simulation shows the shaking intensity of a magnitude 7 earthquake centered in Oakland on the Hayward fault. (USGS)

The Hayward fault is one of California’s fastest moving, and on average produces a major earthquake about once every 150 to 160 years, give or take 70 or 80 years. The last major earthquake on the Hayward fault, a magnitude 6.8, will see its 150th anniversary on Oct. 21.

“Even given the uncertainties, we are definitely closer to the next one than we are away from it,” Schwartz said recently, while showing off the giant crack in the floor of the Fremont Community Center — built on the Hayward fault — that hasslowly grown since it was built in 1962.

Strong shaking won’t affect the East Bay only, but also will be felt in San Francisco and places like the San Ramon and Livermore valleys. “You can’t hide — there’s really going to be very little places in the greater Bay Area that won’t be affected," he said.


The location of the Hayward fault is so well known to geologists because in certain parts of the East Bay, it creeps along, moving slowly between earthquakes. That releases some of the seismic strain accumulating on the fault as the Pacific plate slides northwest relative to the North American plate, but not the lion’s share.

Those close to the actual fault rupturing in the HayWired scenario may experience shaking strong enough to flip over a grand piano, seismologist Lucy Jones said. That’s why it’s a mistake for Californians to think that their home or business is fine if they survived the 1989 Loma Prieta or 1994 Northridge earthquake, neither of which was directly underneath a densely populated area with many old buildings.

“If you’re right on top of the earthquake, it’s really a lot worse,” Jones said. “What you had in Oakland in Loma Prieta is much less shaking than you’re going to get in this one.”

The HayWired report has been more than four years in the making, and federal scientists say they hope spelling out the science of what could happen in a plausible earthquake will help inspire people to get prepared.

With decades passing since the 1989 earthquake, “some amount of complacency is to be expected, and it’s the same in L.A. after Northridge,” Hudnut said. But “it’s not OK to forget. We have to remember,” he said.

Few people in the Bay Area know exactly where the fault is located, even in busy neighborhoods like Hayward’s downtown.

On a recent weekday morning, two women who said they routinely bring their children to a park next to the abandoned Hayward City Hall on Main Street had no idea that it had been closed because it was slowly being ripped apart by the Hayward fault. There are no markings showing the path of the fault, and kids routinely run up to touch the building.

“If it crumbles, that’s really scary,” said Melanie Koloto, there with her 6- and 8-year-old sons. “I think they should already have it blocked off, or try to get it knocked down.”

“At least have some kind of public safety meeting — a town hall or something — to say this is where it is, and this is the danger that comes along with sitting right on top of it,” said Katie Crystal, 32.

Signs of the fault are evident, according to Schwartz, who recently took a reporter on a tour. A bent curb and a bent building wall can be seen on the northeast side of Mission Boulevard between A and B streets. In the parking lot behind Favorite Indian Restaurant, a long bump in the asphalt shows the boundary line of the Hayward fault as the western side creeps to the northwest, and the other creeps to the southeast.

Schwartz said the fault continues in a northwesterly direction, which would point it through the property to the northwest — the St. Regis Retirement Center. The longtime owner, Gene Rapp, 80, said he was unconvinced, adding that he thinks a trench needs to be dug and studied for there to be a definitive conclusion.

“I don’t think a bump in the parking lot or a crack in the sidewalk means anything,” Rapp said in a telephone interview. “There’s only one way to know for sure. You have to dig a ditch. You can’t just look at broken concrete and jump to a conclusion. It might be a wild ass guess.”

Article credit: ron.lin@latimes.com


City of Santa Cruz Temporary Rent Freeze and Just-Cause Eviction Ordinance

As of February 13th 2018, the City Council of Santa Cruz has decreed an emergency, temporary, rental inflation freeze, and will now regulate just-cause evictions for ELIGIBLE units in the city limits of Santa Cruz. An overwhelming public testimony made by city residents at the 2017 Fall Community Outreach on Housing, which determined the cost burden and shortage of rental housing as a threat to public health, safety, and welfare of city residents. In response, the City of Santa Cruz has adopted these temporary prohibitions to protect renters from unjust evictions and sudden rental increases that may have occurred in anticipation of these moratoriums. Prior to this this ordinance, the city had not regulated rental amounts, rent increases, or evictions from residential housing. Residents are planning to place a just-cause eviction and rent stabilization measure on the ballot during this general municipal election, November 2018.

During the moratorium period, landlords may not increase rent, more than 2%, for any reason otherwise exempted by the ordinance or state law.

The-just clause eviction provisions state that a landlord cannot take action to terminate tenancy, serve a notice to quit, or be granted recovery of the possession of the rental unit unless there is: a failure to pay rent, disruptive nuisance, breach of lease (after a written notice to cease has been served), illegal activity, persistent failure to give access, necessary/substantial repairs requiring temporary vacancy, permanent unit withdrawal from the rental market, or owner-move in. Additionally, a landlord may not evict a tenant if the tenant has resided in the rental unit for at least 5 years, is at least 62 years old, disabled, certified as terminally ill by their treating physician.
Violations of this ordinance may result in administrative fines up to $4000, but the City of Santa Cruz’s legal actions do not affect the tenant’s rights to pursue other civil remedies, where the landlord may be liable for other damages.

Rental units EXEMPT from the entirety of this ordinance are: units in hotels, motels, inns, tourist homes, or rooming and boarding houses which are rented to transient guests for a period of fewer than thirty (30) days; units in a hospital, convent, monastery, extended medical care facility, asylum, non-profit home for the aged, or dormitory owned and operated by an accredited institution of higher education; units which a government entity owns, operates, or manages, units subsidized under Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937.

Rental units EXEMPT from residential rent increase moratorium but are still subject to the just-cause eviction provisions are: single-family dwellings, condominiums (including, but not limited to townhouses), and rental units with an initial certificate of occupancy dated on/after February 1, 1995, pursuant to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.  


Severe West Coast Erosion During 2015-16 El Niño

by Leslie C. Gordon, USGS Public Affairs
Posted: February 14, 2017

In a study released today, U.S. Geological Survey scientists and their colleagues document how the 2015-16 winter featured one of the most powerful El Niño climate events of the last 145 years.

Investigating 29 beaches along the U.S. West Coast from Washington to southern California, researchers found that winter beach erosion was 76 percent above normal, by far the highest ever recorded, and most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes. If severe El Niño events such as this one become more common in the future as studies suggest, this coastal region, home to more than 25 million people, will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards, independently of projected sea level rise.

Large waves crashing on rocks at beach.
Large storm waves crashing on the rocks near Santa Cruz, California. (Credit: Christine Hegermiller, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

The authors assessed seasonal changes on 29 beaches along approximately 2000 kilometers (1243 miles) of the U.S. West Coast. Surveying the beaches included making 3-D surface maps and cross-shore profiles using aerial lidar (light detection and ranging), GPS topographic surveys, and direct measurements of sand levels, combined with wave and water level data at each beach, collectively spanning 1997-2016. Winter beach erosion or the removal and loss of sand from the beach is a normal seasonal process, but the extent of erosion can be more severe during El Niño events than in other years.

“Wave conditions and coastal response were unprecedented for many locations during the winter of 2015-16. The winter wave energy equaled or exceeded measured historical maximums along the U.S. West Coast, corresponding to extreme beach erosion across the region,” said USGS geologist and lead author of the report, Patrick Barnard.

The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the three strongest events ever recorded, along with El Niño winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98. While most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes, some beaches fared better. “The condition of the beach before the winter of 2015 strongly influenced the severity of erosion and the ability of the beach to recover afterward through natural replenishment processes,” said UC Santa Barbara marine ecologist and co-author David Hubbard.

Rivers still supply the primary source of sand to California beaches, despite long-term reductions in the 20th century due to extensive dam construction. But as California is in the midst of a major drought, the resulting lower river flows equated to even less sand being carried to the coast to help sustain beaches.

photo of sandy beach backed by cliffs with houses on top.
Sandy beach at Goleta, Caifornia(Credit: Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

“From a water resources perspective, this El Niño was largely considered a dud due to the unusually low rainfall, particularly in Southern California, which received 70 percent less rainfall than in the last two big El Niños. However, the waves that attacked our coast, generated from storms across the North Pacific, were exceptional and among the largest ever recorded,” said Barnard. “Further, the lack of rainfall means the coastal rivers produced very little sand to fill in what was lost from the beaches, so recovery has been slow.”

According to Scripps Institution of Oceanography co-author Bonnie Ludka, “Artificial beach nourishments (mechanically imported sand) placed prior to the winter of 2015-16 also protected some Southern California shorelines from retreating beyond landward extremes.” Unlike California, many of the Pacific Northwest beaches had been gaining sediment in the years leading up to the 2015-16 El Nino, due, at least in part, to a series of mild winter storm seasons that prevented these beaches from eroding to such extremes.

Sandy ocean beach with low cliffs on the right side. Ocean visible at left side. One person walking on beach
Sandy beach and cliffs at Moss Landing, California. (Credit: Daniel Hoover, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Although Pacific Northwest beaches were buffered from catastrophic damage, study co-author and Oregon State University coastal hazards expert Peter Ruggiero said, “several beaches did experience significant retreat and it may take a while for those beaches to rebuild. We’re not completely recovered yet and it may take years for some beaches to build back up. After the 1997-98 El Niño, it took some beaches a decade to recover.”

Scientist walking along beach wearing a bulky backpack with an antenna. Several pelicans sitting on the beach.
USGS scientist, Alex Snyder gathers topographic data by walking beach transects northwest of Moss Landing, California to help researchers understand how Monterey Bay will respond to changing environmental conditions. (Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological, Survey. Public domain.)

The full report, “Extreme oceanographic forcing and coastal response due to the 2015-16 El Niño,” was published online today in the journal “Nature Communications.”

When the sea rises, Santa Cruz’s wastewater treatment plant will face big questions

One of the secondary clarifier tanks--now empty--sits below ground level at the Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility in Neary Lagoon. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 06/10/17, 8:00 PM PDT

The Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility, which disposes the sewage of Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola, Soquel, Aptos, Watsonville and Scotts Valley, is stuck in a difficult spot.

It sits near the coast next to Neary Lagoon, on the floodplain of the San Lorenzo River, at one of the lowest elevations in Santa Cruz.

The plant is also built on a high aquifer — dig down 3 to 5 feet at several spots, and you’re likely to hit fresh water.

The award-winning plant is not in any immediate danger from flooding or saturated soil, as it’s designed to handle today’s wettest conditions.

But imagine it’s the year 2100, and the sea level has rises 2 to 4 feet, as scientists predict, or even as high as 10 feet, if Antarctic ice sheets collapse and melt faster.

What happens to the plant then?

Plant operators must guard against two natural hazards: flooding from Neary Lagoon and high groundwater levels, which push against the underground tanks and cause cracking.

From his office at the plant, Operations Manager Mike Sanders can control the security camera overlooking what he calls the “King Kong gates.”

“If water came in from Neary Lagoon, it would come in there, at that access point, because that’s the lowest point,” said Sanders, zooming his camera in on two massive, thick wooden doors in a concrete wall.

Next to the gate is a stack of 12-foot boards, which fit into slots along the entryway and are designed to hold back floodwater.

Sanders said in his 27 years at the plant, lagoon floodwaters have never breached the door. His staff has only slotted the “King Kong” boards once, during a 2011 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Japan.

The other natural hazard, high groundwater levels, the plant deals with on a regular basis. Every year, the city’s public works department spends $30,000 to epoxy cracks in the plant’s pair of 1.3-million gallon underground tanks, caused by groundwater pushing up against the floor.

“That’s a constant maintenance,” said Mark Dettle, Santa Cruz’s public works director.

But, he added, “We’re not worried about the tanks at all.”

For one, the tanks are built on iron columns that extend 90 feet into the earth. These columns keep the tanks seated in the ground, preventing them popping up like cork, from the push of the groundwater underneath.

Secondly, the tanks have release valves on their floors, and when the groundwater gets high enough, it seeps up into the tank, relieving pressure.

At current sea levels, the ocean already creeps into the San Lorenzo River floodplain.

In summer, when the river’s flow is weak and its mouth isn’t blocked by sand, ocean water flows upstream. Sometimes, the ocean can reach past the Laurel Street, Soquel Avenue and Water Street bridges, all the way to Highway 1, said UC Santa Cruz professor Gary Griggs, who co-authored the 2011 Santa Cruz Climate Change Vulnerability Report.

Adding significant sea level rise to that picture would not only push the ocean deeper into the floodplain, but also raise groundwater levels, said Griggs, eventually pushing water under the downtown buildings and the sewage treatment plant.

Sea levels are rising. We can slow it, but we can’t stop it, said Griggs, who also co-authored an April report on California’s sea level rise, at the governor’s and other state agencies’ request.

“If we do nothing, we’re just going further down the wrong road. That sea level’s going to be higher because the ocean’s going to warm more,” Griggs said.

Griggs said the Santa Cruz treatment plant is probably safe until the year 2050, until sea level rise is forecasted to accelerate.

“I think we’re fine for at least a couple of decades, 20 years, 25 years. And then the uncertainty is how fast sea level’s going to rise, and right now, our estimates for midcentury is a foot or two feet. They could probably still handle that. So I don’t think there’s any immediate need, unless things start to break up really fast in Antarctica, but the probability’s not really high.”

With the looming threats of sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion, coastal cities across the state are all facing the same questions: how to protect infrastructure and when to begin managed retreat from the ocean.

The city of Santa Cruz is in the midst of preparing its Climate Adaptation Plan update, which is due in August.

In the next few months, Santa Cruz City Council and its advisory bodies will hear about the update, which includes maps modeling how rising tides, coastal storms and erosion will affect the city in 2030, 2060 and 2100.

The current plan, which was written in 2011, listed “upgrading/relocating city buildings and infrastructure,” including the treatment plant, as a top priority.

The plan doesn’t specify whether relocation is the endgame for the treatment plant. The update also doesn’t address relocation for the plant, said Tiffany Wise-West, the city’s sustainability and climate action coordinator overseeing the update.

It’s time for the city to start having those discussions about long-term plans, said Wise-West.

“It’s the cost benefit (analysis) and high-level conversations internally and with regulatory agencies like the Coastal Commission that will ultimately reveal what we’re going to do in terms of relocation, managed retreat and upgrades,” Wise-West said.

In cities across the world, wastewater treatment plants are placed at the lowest elevation points. That’s good design, to let gravity pull sewage through the pipes, said Sanders, the Santa Cruz operations manager.

But what that means is, all along the coasts, cities have placed their treatment plants close to shore, which is typically the lowest spot. In the years to come, many treatment plants will face the same issues as Santa Cruz’.

“They’re going to have to do something. This place is going to be underwater, and they’re going to have to relocate. Man, a lot of people are going to have to relocate” Sanders said.

Helicopter used to forecast saltwater intrusion in Santa Cruz County

By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 05/22/17, 6:43 PM PDT


Emerging from the heavy fog with a staccato roar, a low-flying helicopter lowered a nearly 3,700-square-foot fiberglass frame onto Seascape Park Monday morning.

Nearby resident Veronica Joyce-Gallart, out for a walk at the time, was surprised.

“I wasn’t sure what it was from a distance,” Joyce-Gallart said. “My first thought was, what on earth is that? I had no clue.”

As part of a Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency survey to forecast saltwater intrusion, the helicopter carried electromagnetic sensors to map freshwater aquifers under the sea floor. Based on how the water conducts electrical pulses generated by the frame, analysis will be able to show an outline of how far ocean saltwater has crept landward.

The least promising news for local groundwater-dependent utilities would be if no freshwater could be detected spreading out beneath the ocean. In that case, saltwater likely has snuck into underground drinking water supplies.

This so-called saltwater intrusion occurs when underground aquifers have been overdrafted, and the pressure gradient pushes seawater inland and underground. Saltwater intrusion is a problem in the southern part of Santa Cruz County and nearby Monterey County, and is slowly contaminating the drinking supply,

The helicopter is scheduled to take numerous passes up and down coastal waters, from the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor south to Seascape Resort and out as far as a mile offshore. The helicopter is not approved to pass over homes for its low-flying flights, and so will only dip inland over select locations, officials said Monday.

Soquel Creek Water District General Manager Ron Duncan said the work is akin to using a 1,300-pound water-seeking metal detector.

The $100,000 project is a leap forward for the Santa Cruz Mid-County Groundwater Agency, which has gathered similar data along the beach with the help of Stanford researchers. Data collected will take about three months to compile into a final report and will be folded into a years-long groundwater modeling project. Santa Cruz County Water Resources Planner Sierra Ryan described the latest effort as a “key piece of the puzzle” to ongoing efforts to chart the impacts of water overuse in the area.

“Nobody’s ever done this in California before. We’ve never had the technology,” Ryan said. “It has to be able to penetrate through the ocean. What we’ve done similar to this is we drill wells, but we’re not drilling monitoring wells offshore.”

Soquel Creek Water District, the city of Santa Cruz, the county of Santa Cruz, Central Water District and several private well owner representatives make up the Mid-County Groundwater Agency. Per state law, the group is building a 20-year plan to balance use of the underground Purisima Aquifer Formation and the Aromas Red Sands Aquifer supplies so that demand does not exceed availability of the drinking water supply.

Though the effort, run by Denmark-based contractors SkyTEM and Ramboll, was set to begin Monday, persistent low fog delayed the effort by at least a day. Technicians were conducting similar survey work nearby last week for Marina Coast Water District’s Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, but flew primarily over land, rather than water, officials said. It heads next to Wyoming.

Santa Cruz County’s construction jobs are taking off

An army of workers scrambles to finish construction of 1440 Multiversity at 800 Bethany Drive in Scotts Valley before the May 26 opening. A waterway is being built to course through the center of the campus. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Posted: 05/12/17, 6:17 PM PDT By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Construction rebounded dramatically in Santa Cruz County in the first quarter of the year, adding up to 800 jobs from a year ago, a 17 percent increase.

Construction jobs jumped to 4,600 in January, compared to 3,800 a year ago, then ticked up to 4,700 in February and 4,800 in March, according to the state Economic Development Department.

Until now, the 2008 housing crash halted investment in residential development, with much of the recent activity involving hotels. But now homes and apartments are being built and more homeowners are remodeling.

“There definitely is a peak of work going on — people are ramping up to meet it after everything being so slow,” said Chris Perri of Apple Homes, who is building three homes on Timber Ridge Lane off Highway 17 and expects to start building The Terrace, 19 town homes, this summer on Scotts Valley Drive.

Up to 200 construction workers a day have been hustling to finish 1440 Multiversity by Memorial Day weekend, according to Kelly Vogt Campbell, who is handling media queries.

The retreat center, envisioned by Scott and Joanie Kriens with classrooms, dining and overnight accommodations tucked into the redwoods at 800 Bethany Drive in Scotts Valley, has 3,000 reservations so far,

“We have already seen guests registering to come from across the U.S. as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and South America,” said Vogt Campbell.

The project’s price tag has grown from $38 million last year to $48.6 million this year, according to permits issued by the Scotts Valley Building Department.

South Bay Construction of Campbell is the general contractor, with Granite Construction of Watsonville a major subcontractor, adding to the local job count.

The largest project dollar-wise is the UC Santa Cruz Coastal Biology building, part of a new marine science campus off Delaware Avenue in Santa Cruz. Building construction is estimated at $54 million, with the overall cost pegged at $73 million.

Barry Swenson Builder has two big projects, the $40 million Aptos Village and 555 Pacific Ave., 94 rental/condo units close to downtown Santa Cruz. The latter is a $27.7 million project, according to Colliers International, a commercial real estate company.

Five homes under construction on Scotts Valley Drive will be finished in two months, according to developer Michael Tansy of Santa Barbara.

Local contractors and designers say they are busy.

“Construction projects are taking off like wildfire,” said Kevin Gallagher of KG Construction of Santa Cruz.

He’s working on a residential addition-remodel and an accessory dwelling to be legalized, with two-bathroom remodels and a kitchen remodel waiting to be done along with two more additions.

“I’m looking at two to three new projects every week,” he said. “In talking to other contractors in the area, we’re all in the same boat... I’ve gone ahead and hired another crew, two carpenters, this summer just to keep up with the demand.”

Jeffrey Talmadge of Talmadge Construction in Aptos said he expects to do $3.2 million in business in the county this year. He employs 14 people.

Talmadge has finished several kitchens and baths, decks and a “catio” enclosure for a cat. He’s planning to install a pneumatic elevator, which takes up less space than a cable version, in a three-story home for a client, and has two projects in the design phase: A remodel on the bluff in Aptos Seascape and a new home near the Cowell Beach stairs.

“As a design-build company, 2017 is perhaps our busiest year to date in terms of projects in the queue,” said Michelle Landegger of Boa Constructor in Watsonville, who recently finished a 1,350-square-foot straw bale passive solar home.

Shermis Construction remodeled space at the Farmer’s Exchange, 415 River St., Santa Cruz, to create Oasis Tasting Room & Kitchen for Uncommon Brewers and El Salchichero. General Manager Sarah Thorp said grand opening is May 19.

Abbott Square, a $5 million project by the Museum of Art & History to create a hub of new eateries, art exhibits and performances in downtown Santa Cruz, is slated to open June 2.

Big Projects:

-UC Santa Cruz Coastal Biology building: $73 million.

-1440 Multiversity, 800 Bethany Drive, Scotts Valley: $46.8 million. Retreat for learning to open Memorial Day weekend.

-Aptos Village, Aptos: $40 million. Town homes, condos, commercial space.

-555 Pacific Ave., 94 apartments/condos, Santa Cruz: $27.7 million.

-Hyatt Place hotel, 107 rooms, 407 Broadway, Santa Cruz: $25 million.

-Lexington Hotel, 128 rooms, 5030 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley: $21 million.

-Beachwood, 1018 Rodriguez St., Live Oak: 15 three-bedroom homes, five four-bedroom homes from the “low $1,000,000s.” 831-854-7454.

-Abbott Square, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz: $5 million. New eateries, art exhibits, performances to open June 2.

-14 apartments, Riverside Drive, Watsonville: Nearing completion.

-716 Darwin, 15 luxury apartments, Santa Cruz: 877-997-6776. Two-bedroom, two-bath unit, 985 square feet, listed for $3,225 monthly rent on Trulia.com.

-Brookdale Inn, 11570 Highway 9, Brookdale: Hotelier Pravin Patel hopes for a “soft opening” by summer’s end.

California cracks down on last beachfront sand-mining operation in U.S.

The CEMEX Lapis Sand Plant in Marina on August 21, 2013.  (Vern Fisher/Monterey County Herald)

Posted: 05/16/17, 9:01 AM PDT By Paul Rogers, progers@bayareanewsgroup.com

Moving in on the last coastal sand mining operation in the United States, California regulators are ordering a Mexican-based company to obtain permits and pay state royalties for its Monterey County plant or shut down — amid a chorus of complaints that its causing significant erosion of beaches along Monterey Bay.

The facility, known as the CEMEX Lapis plant, has been in operation since 1906 and is located between Marina and Moss Landing. With smokestacks, conveyor belts and dredges, it produces an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of sand a year — enough to fill up to 30,000 dump trucks — that sells for about $4.70 a bag for a variety of uses from sand blasting to golf course sand traps to lining utility trenches.

On Tuesday, the State Lands Commission, an agency that regulates offshore oil drilling in state waters and submerged tidal lands, sent a letter to CEMEX officials demanding that the company obtain a lease from the commission and begin paying royalties, or shut down.

“Stealing public resources for private profit without a lease is a violation of the state constitution,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, chairman of the State Lands Commission. “This mine is a relic of an era that California and the nation rejected a long time ago, and it is past time that CEMEX engage in a dialogue on the future of operations.”

Walker Robinson, a CEMEX spokesman at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Houston, did not comment.

Last year, CEMEX spokeswoman Megan Lawrence told this newspaper that the company operates the mine in an “environmentally responsible manner and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.” The mine is also “a much needed resource for many local projects including municipalities, infrastructure and recreational facilities,” she said.

Scientists and environmental groups, however, say the facility is causing significant erosion of beaches along Monterey Bay, from Marina south to Del Monte Beach in Monterey.

“If you take that much sand directly off the beach every year, the waves keep breaking,” said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC-Santa Cruz. “The southern end of the bay is eroding at a much faster rate than it would naturally.”

Griggs, who has studied coastal erosion for more than 40 years, said that areas south of the sand plant, along the site of the former Fort Ord military base and down to the Monterey Tides Hotel in Monterey, are eroding at roughly 3 to 6 feet a year. Stilwell Hall, the former World War II-era officer’s club at Fort Ord, had to be demolished in 2003 when cliff erosion threatened to send it crashing into the ocean.

Without the sand plant, Griggs said, the coast in that area would erode by roughly 1-2 feet a year, if not less.

In decades past, there were six major sand mining plants along the shores of Monterey Bay. They used a technique called “drag lining,” in which they scraped and dragged sand with massive metal scoops from the surf line. The companies were closed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1986 and 1990, however, after the agency enforced prohibitions on sand mining below the tide line.

The Lapis mine remained open, however, because it had shifted to a method in which it pumps sand from a lagoon on the back of the beach in an area where it owns several hundred acres. After the California Coastal Commission last year said it will require permits, a case that is still open, CEMEX argued that it predates the 1976 Coastal Act.

The State Lands Commission noted in its letter this week to CEMEX that the company’s predecessor, Pacific Cement and Aggregates, had a 5-year state lease and paid royalties. It said the sand in the lagoon comes in with the tides, so is subject to its jurisdiction. If CEMEX does not apply for a lease, conduct environmental studies and pay royalties, it could face civil liability and damages, the commission said.


Santa Cruz County wants more accessory dwellings

Marian Wolfe of Vernazza-Wolfe Associates explains costs to build an accessory dwelling and financing options at a meeting in Ben Lomond hosted by the Santa Cruz County Planning Department. (Jondi Gumz -- Sentinel)

Posted: 04/24/17, 6:55 PM PDT By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel

People are building accessory dwellings in the unincorporated parts of Santa Cruz County, but half of them are doing it without a permit.

That is one of the findings of a monthlong online survey that brought in 670 responses, more than county planners expected.They shared the results last week at an open house at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Ben Lomond attended by close to 50 people, and will repeat the presentation for MidCounty residents 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Simpkins Family Swim Center Community Room, 979 17th Ave., Santa Cruz.

“We are looking for what doesn’t work,” said Julie Conway, the county’s housing program manager.

Conway herself built a second unit in 2010, part of her retirement plan, and expects to pay off the financing in 10 to 12 years.

Some 65 percent of those who took the survey said they were interested in building an accessory dwelling, or ADU, and 11 percent were contractors with experience or interest in building the units. About 22 percent were property owners who have an ADU, and 2 percent were property owners with an ADU project in the pipeline.

The median rent, the midpoint of what was charged, was $1,250 per month; two-thirds of owners did not charge for utilities.Some 2 percent rented their ADU by the night or week, with median rent $125 a night and $950 a week.

County planners had expected many homes built over the next seven years would be smaller accessory dwellings, up to 40 a year. Last year, only 18 county permits for ADUs were granted, leading to the current effort to identify and address obstacles.

The county has brought in planners from Dyett & Bhatia of San Francisco and real estate economist Marian Wolfe of Berkeley to assist.

Cost is a big obstacle.

Based on the survey responses, the average accessory dwelling is 500 to 535 square feet, and the average cost can range from $50,000 for a conversion to $80,000 for an attached unit, $99.250 for a unit above a garage and $140,000 for a detatched unit.

Labor and materials add up to $95,600, design, $7,700, permits, $13,700, utility hookups, $10,400, with an estimated $16,000 in other costs, based on survey results.

As one respondent put it, “It really comes down to the high cost of both permit acquisition and construction and how long will it take to pay off as a rental. It often makes no economic sense.”

The survey found only 46 percent reported their accessory dwelling was permitted.

Other challenges are new requirements for accessibility, and septic system complications, and the cost of sprinklers. A new state ruling means sprinklers are not required when the existing home has no sprinklers.

“A reduction in permit fees would be very encouraging,” said one attendee who did not give her name.

“I’m really glad this is being done,” said Robert Holms, a Boulder Creek property owner who attended with his wife.

Caroline Elam was not so sure.

“It seems too complicated,” she said. “I might consider it.”

SB 1069, a new law, was hailed as a way to cut costs by not requiring a separate water hookup for the accessory dwelling, but questions have been raised about whether it applies to special districts supplying water because of the way the law was written.

Santa Cruz County’s air quality receives ‘F,’ San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime wood smoke to blame

Smoke and steam rise from houses on Laurent Street on Santa Cruz’s Westside as fireplaces and wood stoves are fired up to take out the morning chill on Nov. 26, 2012. On Wednesday, the American Lung Association released a report giving Santa Cruz County air quality an ‘F’ grade, due to the San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime wood smoke. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 04/20/17, 6:20 PM PDT

Santa Cruz County’s air quality has received a failing grade from the American Lung Association, due to wintertime wood smoke pollution in the San Lorenzo Valley.

The American Lung Association report, released Wednesday, listed the county as the 20th most polluted in the country by particle pollution. The report was based on data from 2013 to 2015.

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is microscopic dust and liquid droplets released by burning of wood and fossil fuels, said Will Barrett, the American Lung Association in California’s senior policy analyst. Santa Cruz County’s particle pollution is primarily caused by wood-burning stoves in the San Lorenzo Valley in the winter, he said.

“When you breathe (the particles) in, they’ll bypass the body’s natural defenses and get deep into your lungs, so much that they’ll cross into your bloodstream,” said Barrett.

Particle pollution increases risk of heart disease, lung cancer, asthma attacks, according to the lung association.

Santa Cruz County has more than double the rate of pediatric asthma, compared to the state average.

The most recent available data from 2014 shows 27 percent of Santa Cruz County children aged 5 to 17 had an asthma attack within the previous year, compared to the state average of 12 percent, according to California Breathing, an asthma nonprofit.

“The state estimates 7,000 premature deaths every year in California due to particle pollution, so they’re real numbers,” said Barrett. “Particle pollution is an extremely problematic situation that we have to get rid of.”

Richard Stedman, executive director of the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, said he thought the lung association’s report’s “F” grade for Santa Cruz County wasn’t accurate.

“The San Lorenzo Valley should not be a surrogate for the entire county,” said Stedman. “We see along the coast some of the cleanest air in the country in Santa Cruz. I think it’s a little bit unfair.”

The San Lorenzo Valley’s wintertime air pollution has been improved in the past four years. That’s mostly due to the past two stormy winters, which helped clear the pollution from the valley, said Stedman. Last winter, the San Lorenzo Valley only had two unhealthy air days, compared to four years ago, when it had dozens, exceeding the healthy threshold by “huge” amounts, Stedman said.

“It was like the air quality in Beijing,” Stedman said.

The district’s main solution is offering residents financial incentives to trade their wood stoves for cleaner-burning ones. In the past few years, the district’s program has disbursed $70,000 to San Lorenzo Valley residents, resulting in “a couple hundred” cleaner-burning stoves, Stedman said.

But the incentive program has its obstacles.

Some people just don’t want to change their stoves, said Stedman, whether it’s because they don’t trust government funding, or because they think wood burning is a “god-given right,” a tradition they’d never give up. Some people would rather burn wood because they have plenty of it on their properties, and don’t have to pay for it, he said.

Stedman said he thinks the biggest potential for impact would be requiring all homes on the market to update their wood-burning stoves at the point of sale. The district attempted to create that rule last year, but the Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS fought back and killed the program, he said.

“Last we checked, there were about 100 homes (in the San Lorenzo Valley) that changed hands during that year. That’s a lot of stoves and we would have really liked to have been involved,” Stedman said.

Easy ways to reduce wood smoke

• Burning dry instead of wet wood.

• Extinguishing fires at night instead of dampening them down overnight, which is inefficient and increases smoke.

Soquel Creek Water District sues Dow, Shell over contaminated well

Aptos resident Eike Waltz opens a new tap water filter at his home near Seascape on Wednesday afternoon. Waltz is concerned about the cancer-causing byproduct from a pesticide created by Dow and Shell. He attended the Soquel Creek Water District’s meeting in 2009 announcing the TCP contamination, and has been searching for the best water filter since. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 04/12/17, 7:16 PM PDT

Soquel Creek Water District has filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical and Shell Oil Co., the major manufacturers of a cancer-causing chemical found in pesticides which contaminated a well near the Seascape Golf Course.

The water district has known about 1,2,3-trichloropropane, commonly known as TCP, in its well on Balustrol Drive since 2008, according to its board meeting notes. Levels of TCP in that well have ranged between 1 to 15 parts per trillion since, according to a state database.

David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, said a contamination level of 0.7 parts per trillion of TCP has a risk of 1 excessive case of cancer per million people drinking that water over their lifetimes. TCP typically causes stomach and liver cancers, he said, at least in the studies on rats.

The state currently has no regulations on how much TCP is allowed in drinking water. Andrews’ group, along with others, is pushing the state water board to set a limit for TCP levels at 5 parts per trillion. A state decision is expected by early summer.

Andrews said the level of risk for Aptos residents depends on how much the Balustrol Drive well mixes with water from other wells before reaching customers.

The Balustrol Drive well is one of five that serve customers in the area between Rio del Mar and Seascape boulevards. The well pumps 170,000 gallons in a seven-hour span each day. When the well is on, it serves homes in the vicinity. When it’s off, those homes receive water mixture of water from the four other wells, according to Christine Mead, the district’s operations and maintenance manager.

Recent data shows that TCP has been detected not only in the well, but in the distribution system at a sampling site close to the well, at similar levels as those in the well, said Mead.

Rio Del Mar’s TCP problem stems from strawberry farming in the 1950s, when pesticides manufactured by Dow and Shell were used in the area. Statewide, the use of TCP-laced pesticides was discontinued or reformulated in the 1980s.

Last year, the district filed its lawsuit against Dow and Shell, as well as the major distributors of TCP products, as a way to recoup its future costs of cleaning the well. The district hired San Francisco lawyer Todd Robins, who specializes in TCP litigation.

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to ensure that the responsible parties, rather than the ratepayers of Soquel Creek Water District, bear the cost of cleaning this up,” said Robins.

The ironic part is, said Robins, that TCP had no effect as a pesticide, and was an unnecessary byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dow and Shell knew of TCP’s cancer-causing effects and its inefficacy at deterring pests from the beginning, but misleadingly labeled their products, said Robins. Both companies failed to remove TCP, but rather, willfully placed it in its products as a way to unload a hazardous chemical and avoid disposal costs, he said.

The district is joining dozens of other water companies across the state in filing independent lawsuits against Dow and Shell. The cases are not part of a class-action lawsuit, but will be heard by a single judge in San Bernardino County. Todd said the case proceedings were a “log jam.”

“Soquel Creek is still waiting and probably will be waiting for some time for their day in court,” Robins said.

Meanwhile, an engineering study is underway to determine the cost of treating the Balustrol Drive well.

“It will be millions of dollars,” said Robins. “It will definitely be at that scale.”

In addition to the lawsuit and the engineering study, Mead said the district is also looking at reducing or stopping use of the affected well until treatment is in place.

Andrews, the Environmental Working Group senior scientist, said he didn’t know of a district in California that’s begun treating its TCP-contaminated wells. Because treatment is so expensive, districts are waiting for the state to set a legal requirement.

Treatment involves installing a granular activated carbon filtration system on the affected wells, which the state water board has estimated to cost around $34 million statewide annually, said Andrews.

He said Dow and Shell had a “callous disregard for human health and drinking water contamination just so they could save a few million dollars per year.”

“The thing it comes back to, is one, how negligent these companies were, but also two, how long it takes for even a progressive state like California that follows these issues, as well as the federal government really, to pursue and establish drinking water regulations for contaminants,” Andrews said.

Statewide Water Savings Exceed 25 Percent in February; Conservation to Remain a California Way of Life

April 7, 2017 Governor's Press Office: (916)445-4571

Following unprecedented water conservation and plentiful winter rain and snow, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today ended the drought state of emergency in most of California, while maintaining water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices, such as watering during or right after rainfall.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” said Governor Brown. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”   

Executive Order B-40-17 lifts the drought emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. Today’s order also rescinds two emergency proclamations from January and April 2014 and four drought-relatedexecutive orders issued in 2014 and 2015. 

Executive Order B-40-17 builds on actions taken in Executive Order B-37-16, which remains in effect, to continue making water conservation a way of life in California:

  • The State Water Resources Control Board will maintain urban water use reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices such as watering during or after rainfall, hosing off sidewalks and irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians. 

  • The state will continue its work to coordinate a statewide response on the unprecedented bark beetle outbreak in drought-stressed forests that has killed millions of trees across California.

In a related action, state agencies today issued a plan to continue to make conservation a way of life in Calidornia as directed by Governor Brown in May 2016. The framework requires new legislation to establish long-term water conservation measures and improved planning for more frequent and severe droughts.

Although the severely dry conditions that afflicted much of the state starting in the winter of 2011-12 are gone, damage from the drought will linger for years in many areas. The drought reduced farm production in some regions, killed an estimated 100 million trees, harmed wildlife and disrupted drinking water supplies for many rural communities. The consequences of millions of dead trees and the diminished groundwater basins will continue to challenge areas of the state for years.

California’s Drought Response

The drought that spanned water years 2012 through 2016 included the driest four-year statewide precipitation on record (2012-2015) and the smallest Sierra-Cascades snowpack on record (2015, with 5 percent of average). It was marked by extraordinary heat: 2014, 2015 and 2016 were California’s first, second and third warmest year in terms of statewide average temperatures.

The state responded to the emergency with actions and investments that also advanced the California Water Action Plan, the Administration’s five-year blueprint for more reliable, resilient water systems to prepare for climate change and population growth. To advance the priorities of the Water Action Plan and respond to drought, the voters passed a comprehensive water bond, the Legislature appropriated and accelerated funding and state agencies accelerated grants and loans to water projects.

California also enacted the historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, took action to improve measurement and management of water, retrofitted tens of thousands of inefficient toilets, replaced lawns with water-wise landscaping and provided safe drinking water to impacted communities. 

Californians also responded to the drought with tremendous levels of water conservation, including a nearly 25 percent average reduction in urban water use across the state. 

North Coast Rail Trail plans hit a hurdle: the property line

Plans for the Rail Trail between Santa Cruz and Davenport may have to be redesigned, after planners recently discovered that the property line was not where they thought. This segment of the Rail Trail would pass Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, pictured here. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel/LightHawk)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 04/06/17, 5:31 PM PDT

Rail Trail plans between Santa Cruz and Davenport have hit a hurdle: the property line isn’t where the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission thought it would be.

The Rail Trail’s master plan calls for a 12-foot paved trail and 6-foot wide gravel path along the coastal side of the train tracks, based on the belief that the publicly-owned strip of land along the railroad right-of-way is centered on the tracks. But as the commission recently learned, on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast, the bulk of publicly-owned land is on the inland side of the tracks.

The commission was presented with its options Thursday at its regular meeting at the county board of supervisors’ chambers, ultimately unanimously approving an economic and environmental analysis of the North Coast rail corridor.

Those analyses would inform the commission’s decision on where to align the trail.

Vince Auriemma, Office of Federal Lands Highway project manager heading the trail’s design work, presented three options for the trail’s position on the North Coast.

The first option is keeping the trail on the coastal side of the tracks, as originally designed.

The second is removing the railroad and replacing it with a 10-foot wide paved path and a 4-foot shoulder on the coastal side.

The third is moving the path to the inland side of the tracks, which would require significant “earthwork,” environmental impact and retaining walls between Davenport and Scaroni Road.

Cory Caletti, senior transportation planner and Rail Trail project manager for the commission, said the first option is preferred. Although it would require securing property rights from California State Parks through an easement or land swap, she said she’s confident it would be the fastest option.

It could be done by 2020, since some of the design and technical work is already done.

That 2020 deadline is important for funding, she said. For example, a $6.3 million Federal Lands Access Program grant and a $3.3 million matching grant from the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, both allocated for the North Coast Rail Trail, have a 2020 deadline for the project to be underway, otherwise the funds are lost.

Already, commission staff has had to redistribute parts of a $1 million grant from the Coastal Conservancy for the North Coast Rail Trail, to meet that grant’s deadlines.

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, a commissioner, said it makes sense to move forward with the state- and federally-required environmental analyses, so the commission can best choose between its three options.

“I feel like that gives us the best fighting shot at meeting this deadline,” Coonerty said.

Santa Cruz resident Mark Mesiti-Miller, member of Friends of the Rail & Trail, was one of a handful of residents who spoke in favor of the first option, keeping the original plan.

“There’s about $10 million at risk. Option No. 1 is the best because it gives us the best chance at preserving that funding,” Mesiti-Miller said.

Miles Reiter, former CEO of Driscoll’s, Inc., urged the commissioners to consider option No. 2, removing the rail.

“You’d have large scale earth-moving with option No. 1 or 3, and extensive intrusion upon and damage to the farms and other properties that have been operating in that area next to an existing rail corridor for well over 100 years,” Reiter said.

Paul Schoellhamer, a South County resident, co-produced a video on the Rail Trail for one of the commission’s grant applications. He spoke in favor of keeping the design as is.

“The North Coast is an extraordinarily beautiful place, with dramatic vistas everywhere, one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” said Schoellhamer. “For much of the rail line (along the North Coast), you can’t see much of that beauty because for much of the time that rail line is in a deep ditch, and all you can see is the earthen embankments on each side and a strip of sky overhead.”

Schoellhamer added, “Putting the trail down where the tracks are would just create the world’s most expensive recreational ditch.”

Pacific Grove moves forward with seawall repair

By Carly Mayberry, Monterey Herald Posted: 03/29/17, 5:17 PM PDT

Audrey Mindoro of Monterey pulls her son Kaelen, 4, on his scooter past one of the areas damaged by recent storms on the Recreation Trail near Lovers Point in Pacific Grove on Wednesday.

The city is moving ahead with plans to repair the large portion of seawall that was washed away in the Lovers Point area this winter during a record storm.

Dan Gho, the city’s director of public works, said Wednesday his department received preliminary plans late last week for repair of the seawall and the city is moving forward with the project.

“We are still working with the Coastal Commission on what needs to be done there,” said Gho, noting plans are for the new concrete structure to be 30 feet in length and anchored in the existing native boulders that are already there.

“This is a rock and mortar wall that will match what’s currently there,” he added.

In January, record-breaking 34-foot waves took out a 10- to 15-foot portion of wall along the pedestrian trail on Ocean View Boulevard between Lovers Point and Sea Palm Park.

The city hired engineering firm Haro, Kasunich and Associates to repair the wall. The firm has performed previous work on the city’s coastal infrastructure.

Gho did not comment on cost or how long the seawall project would take.

Meanwhile, there are still several repairs to be made along the Rec Trail east from Lovers Point between 14th and 8th streets, where additional areas were damaged by the high surf.

According to Gho, five separate sections, which are currently cordoned off, need fixing.

“A few areas were washed out due to high surf and our recent storm events,” said Gho, noting that all the work — like fixing a 4-by-4 section of fence railing and restoring some of the loose and decomposed granite — is being done in-house. But he noted that his 17-member maintenance crew is currently stretched thin, helping assist with planning and setup of Pacific Grove’s Good Old Days, which runs April 8-9.

“We’re making necessary repairs to trails as time allows,” he said. “It’s a long stretch and it all needs to have work done but it’s not impeding traffic and it’s safely secured. And if we do it prior to having more storms, then it’s redundant.”

Boulder Creek: Rain, resilience in one of state’s wettest towns

By Sukee Bennett, Bay Area News Group Posted: 03/23/17, 7:13 PM PDT

Store fronts glow in the late afternoon sun after a break in the storm  March 5 in Boulder Creek where more than 80 inches of rain has fallen this winter. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Even in years when drought parches most of California, rain drenches this mountain town, nestled among Big Basin State Park’s towering redwoods.

And when the winter clouds burst as they have this year, they bring downpours of epic proportions. More than 80 inches of rain has fallen on Boulder Creek since Oct. 1, making it one of the wettest places in California. In the town’s record year of precipitation — 1889 — its 124.26 inches of rainfall rivaled that of the Amazon.

In his 41 years of living here, Ted Tahira, 78, doesn’t recall ever seeing so much weather as this winter.

“We had six weeks of getting wet, and in the last three days I’ve had a drippy nose,” he said following one recent series of storms as he pointed to his face, worn by years of gardening. “But Boulder Creek is a survivor.”

The community’s precarious cliff-side roads, which carry commuters on a winding 30- to 45-minute journey to Silicon Valley through verdant redwood forest and humble homesteads, are now dappled with “slide ahead” signs and fresh potholes.

Will Pi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said it’s the Santa Cruz Mountains that make Boulder Creek so wet.

“All the air rises as it comes into the mountains and it just squeezes out a lot more moisture, so they get extra rainfall,” Pi said, adding that by the time the air cascades over the mountain, it’s much drier. “Usually they’ll get 5 to 6 inches in the mountains and less than an inch in San Jose, just on the other side.”

Even on its wettest days, the town’s locals stand by their community.

“We’re isolated and individualized,” said Rebekah Croll, whose family owns a farm outside of town. Croll, who lived in San Jose for 10 years, said she “couldn’t wait to get back” to Boulder Creek, despite it being five times as wet.

For much of the last five months, Boulder Creek has reeked of rain. In just the week of Feb. 13, 10 inches fell on the town and its population of about 5,000, the National Weather Service reported. That’s three-and-a-half times the average annual rainfall in Anza and Holtville, the two driest towns in the country.

There’s one gauge in the San Lorenzo Valley that picked up more rain than Boulder Creek’s, meteorologist Pi said. It sits on the outskirts of Big Basin Redwoods State Park on Empire Grade, a two-and-a-half mile toss from downtown Boulder Creek. ​The gauge has recorded more than 100 inches of rain since Oct. 1. But the remote area is largely uninhabited, with the exception of the nearby Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation center.

Boulder Creek’s rain gauge — the one that has recorded 81.5 inches of rainfall this winter — lives on the side of Highway 236, a couple of miles northwest of the center of town.

Chey Houck, 29, commutes every day on the same winding artery, between her home near Big Basin and her job at the Boulder Creek Roasting Co. One night, the relentless rain knocked a tree down across the two-lane pass.

But Houck wasn’t stuck for long.

“Locals have chainsaws and cut the downed tree away,” she said. Now, Houck drives around with a chainsaw, too.

Croll, 49, and her 27-year-old daughter, Rachel — both born and raised in Boulder Creek — rely on a different kind of technology than power tools. Social media sites such as Facebook have kept them up-to-date on road closures and power outages throughout the San Lorenzo Valley.

“Facebook made a big difference up here,” Rebekah Croll said. “One night we were playing dominos and had a couple of gals over. Then our lights go out. On Facebook, at least 15 people said their power went out, too.”

Added Rachel: “It’s like an instant map.”

The Crolls, who are more surprised about the damage to infrastructure than the actual amount of rainfall this winter, regularly check a Facebook page called “Ben Lomond Mountain Roads” for updates on road closures and to check that the town’s homeless stay safe during strong storms. Users of the page provide updates at least every 15 minutes, they said, adding the site has been more reliable than navigation apps such as Waze.

One night, an older woman who didn’t want to drive in the dark got trapped in town, Rachel said.

“It went out on our Facebook page that she was stuck. Someone offered her a room to stay in,” Rebekah said. “A couple ended up driving her home. ... It was very, very cool to see.”

There were days where the Crolls, too, had problems driving. Rachel, a nanny for a local family, has had trouble picking up one of the children she cares for from school in Watsonville. She would often pack extra clothes and plan to stay with a friend in Aptos.

Rachel was visiting her mother when January’s Bear Creek Road flood inundated her way home to downtown Boulder Creek. She was stuck on the family farm for a couple days. “We cooked everything on the wood stove,” she said.

And there was plenty of wood to burn; her mother chops and sells kindling to make ends meet.

On the infrequent days when the sun shines, the blonde duo ride their horses — a pair of brown and white pintos named Jessie James and Flare — from Rebekah’s home on Bear Creek Road to the heart of town on Highway 9.

“People like to see the horses,” she said, pausing to say hello to Tahira at the counter of Jenna Sue’s Café. Rebekah’s father and Tahira — a landscaper whose “specialty is knowing how many Chinese words are in the New Testament” — worked together for many years.

In the month-and-a-half long deluge, Jenna Sue’s stayed warm. But 1,000 feet down the road, the interior of the Boulder Creek Roasting Co. was blasted with rain.

“We had weather inside our shop. Lots of weather. Our bathroom door literally soaked its way off the wall,” said Houck, a former handyman and avid science-fiction writer who’s been serving the shop’s patrons under the din of Tiki lights for eight months.

She blames the ancient redwood, a town landmark that sprouts from the floor of the Boulder Creek Roasting Company through its ceiling, for the indoor torrent. The emerald carpet surrounding the giant tree is now dotted with water stains.

“I tell people that it’s like the Rainforest Café,” Houck, a lifelong resident with bright eyes and a half-shaved head, said with a laugh. “People pay extra for that kind of experience.”

Santa Cruz Mountains’ Soquel-San Jose Road closure to last months, county pursues bridge project

By Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 03/16/17, 6:42 PM PDT

The slipout on Soquel San Jose Road continues to grow. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Larry Lopt has lived on Soquel-San Jose Road 45 years and he never has seen so many people affected by one traffic hazard — in this case, an ever-widening washout that closed the road south of Amaya Ridge and north of Olson Road on Feb. 13.

As a result, Lopt said he’s hopeful about a new plan to put a prebuilt, two-lane bridge over the widening gap of Soquel-San Jose Road.

The county is working with engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and Caltrans to install a 150-foot bridge, Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold said. The expense will depend on the type of bridge and whether the county buys or leases the infrastructure.

The bridge, if funding is approved, will take months to plan and install, according to Santa Cruz County officials.

On the whole, Santa Cruz County estimates that 140 damaged county roads — including Soquel-San Jose Road — will cost roughly $70 million to repair. However, 43 storm-damaged roads have not been assessed.

“We could be looking at a road-repair bill of $90-$100 million,” Leopold said of the total expected county road damage. “We’re looking for ways to fund the local match. The best-case scenario — the county would only have to pick up a quarter of that.”

Soquel-San Jose Road is among four damaged roads the county considers “top priorities” for repairs, Leopold said. Glenwood Drive and Valencia Road, which experienced sinkholes, and Bear Creek Road are among that group.

The county has filed paperwork with Cal OES and the Federal Highway Administration to seek funding for 60 roads so far. Leopold said that’s an early start.

Meanwhile, Soquel-San Jose Road’s washout “is still moving,” Leopold said. In February, when the sinking started to accelerate, the county assigned a geologist who advised the road should be closed. A second geologist concurred. The washout area had been reduced to one lane of traffic. Rush-hour commuters, who use the route to avoid Highway 17 congestion, resorted to allowing one vehicle to pass at a time, according to county officials.

“Our rural residents have experienced the vast majority of this impact,” said Leopold. “They are cut off from the rest of the county. They’re worried about emergency response.”

Many people in the Summit area commute to Soquel and Capitola, since shopping and services are limited to nonexistent in the mountains. That commute has grown from 20 minutes to more than an hour since winter storms washed out Soquel-San Jose Road at mile marker 5.9 last month.

“This would not be a good season to have a heart attack up here,” Lopt said.

Lopt said Soquel San Jose Road needs to be repaired as fast as possible.

“It affects more people than it ever has before,” Lopt said. “All these people living down this road are in a cul-de-sac now. If something happens further up the road, they can’t get out.”

The closure has altered the daily flow of business at the Summit Store at North Summit Road in Los Gatos.

“We don’t see some of our regular commuters,” store spokesman Ben Abeln said. “There is some hope that a bridge might get put in.”

Storms render 20 homes unsafe in Santa Cruz County

By Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel Posted: 03/15/17, 6:28 PM PDT

A U.S. Small Business Administration inspector assesses storm damage at this Scotts Valley home on Wednesday. (Santa Cruz County -- contributed)

Historic winter storm damage left 20 Santa Cruz County dwellings unfit for habitation. The county expects to learn this week whether such uninsured losses qualify for low-interest Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, or Cal OES, and SBA officials inspected those 20 sites — and 20 others with severe damage — Tuesday and Wednesday, county spokesman Jason Hoppin said.

The county’s goal is to present 25 properties with at least 40 percent damage, Hoppin said. If the county meets that requirement, private homeowners would qualify loans for storm-related damage not covered by insurance.

Hoppin said the county likely will meet the requirement for the loans, which provide up to $200,000 to repair or replace a primary home, according to disasterassistance.gov. SBA also offers mortgage refinancing up to $200,000 for owners denied that service in the private sector.

“There’s a lot more damage than 40 sites,” Hoppin said of the inspected homes. “Those are the large-impact sites. Lots of them have geologic damage.”

SBA loans are part of the latest quest for funding after storms in December, January and February soaked the Santa Cruz Mountains and battered the Central Coast. In a matter of months, the storms reversed one of the worst droughts in California’s history and triggered roughly 100 landslides in Santa Cruz County. As a result, the county has declared three emergencies and amassed more than $70 million in county road damage.

Emergency declarations start the process to acquire state assistance and potentially federal emergency funding for damaged roads.

Homeowners’ losses are not included in the total damage to roads.

Hoppin said the county is investigating the total damage to private property, which will be millions of dollars. If the county qualifies for SBA loans, the administration would set up an office in Santa Cruz County to start the application process.

“For a lot of people who’ve suffered storm damage, it’s going to be an avenue to repair their homes,” Hoppin said. “But it’s not a grant program.”

Santa Cruz County Planning Department issued red tags to homes primarily in the San Lorenzo Valley, most of which were severely damaged by geologic hazards. Hoppin did not immediately have a list of those homes Wednesday.

Moss Caballero’s Felton home on Brookside Drive was among the 20 homes in the county to receive red tags. Caballero’s home was damaged by a landslide Feb. 7. He received a notice of geologic hazard and is trying to rebuild. He said he hopes the SBA loans are approved so he can consider that option.

“This structure or site has the potential for further damage or collapse at any time and is unsafe,” according to the tag placed by county building inspector Anthony Malich on Feb. 21. Occupation is up to the occupant’s risk, according to the tag at Caballero’s home.

Caballero said his home’s damage is not covered by his insurance. He said he is trying to arrange a lower tax value to reduce his tax bill.

“I’ve also sent in the hardship package to my lender to let them know I won’t be able to make a payment,” Caballero said. “I’m trying to be proactive instead of just walking away.”

Hoppin said SBA inspectors assessed many homes damaged by land “moving out from under them.” Caballero’s is an extreme example of such a geologic hazard.

“Hopefully, we hear back from the Small Business Administration in a week,” Hoppin said. “It’s a pretty quick process.”

Santa Cruz County’s damaged roads to cost more than $70M to repair

By Michael Todd, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted: 03/10/17, 6:31 PM PST

Valencia Road in Aptos sank as a result of the severe winter storms and crushed the creek culvert beneath. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Until Thursday, the winter storms’ estimated impact was $40 million to repair portions of Santa Cruz County roads. That figure has risen to more than $70 million to fix 170 damaged portions of county roads, Santa Cruz County Public Works Director John Presleigh said.

The total cost is expected to rise, Presleigh said.

In a county news release Thursday about the collapse of Valencia Road — an anticipated $4 million repair, the total almost doubled from estimates in January and February as storms continued to batter the saturated Central Coast. Presleigh said the winter’s storm damage is the most he has seen in Santa Cruz County. He also said it is among the highest of any county in the state after months of precipitation soaked the region, flooded local creeks multiple times and triggered almost 100 landslides.

“It’s probably going to go up, too,” Presleigh said of the $70 million total. “I’m hoping it doesn’t rise too much higher or I’m going to have a heart attack.”

Slipouts are the most complicated, and costly, to repair, Presleigh said. The county has had a challenge finding suitable locations to place the excavated material from those problems at Upper Zayante Road in the Narrows area, for example. A slipout refers to any portion of road that slips from the rest of the surface. “We’re running out of storage capacity for where we’re going to put all this material,” Presleigh said. “We put a lot of it at Buena Vista (Landfill) to let it dry. We’re going to have to move it all.”

Large slipouts caused collapsed portions of Bear Creek Road, Valencia Road and Soquel-San Jose Road.

“We’re trying to get to those big arteries that serve as alternatives to the state highways,” Presleigh said.

The timeline for Valencia Road’s repair is uncertain even after the Federal Highway Administration approved $4 million for the project Thursday.

“That’s a big project. We have to put a new culvert 50 to 60 feet down,” Presleigh said.

Friday, water trickled through the crushed, corrugated metal pipe below the road that has been closed since Jan. 23 after the road dropped 12 inches over the unstable culvert. That prompted a 10-mile detour via Freedom Boulevard for parents of students at Valencia Elementary School. Those students wrote to leaders at Caltrans and Presleigh said their letters, and the support of local delegates to congress and political leaders, helped to propel the federal funding.

“Yeah, when a child writes ‘My school is closed,’ that helps,” Presleigh said. “It’s a complicated project because it’s so deep.”

Before construction starts, the county has to determine whether the replacement culvert must be of different size and material.

“If we are required to put in a more substantial culvert, such as concrete, it’s going to delay the opening,” he said. It is not likely that Valencia Road will reopen before June, he said.

“It’s a miracle we even got approval on that project so soon,” Presleigh said. He said there also are 70 other damaged roads that are considered secondary to major highways. Those damaged areas have to be assessed in the coming months.

“You have to do assessments on those projects,” Presleigh said. “Our engineering staff, they’ve got about 20 of the required forms in to request funding. It’s a full-on analysis of what we’re proposing to do, including cost estimates.”

He said the county is “ahead of the game,” but the process will be laborious.

“You have 70 projects. Then, you have to work through what they’re going to fund as an eligible project,” Presleigh said. “We are trying to get this done as quickly as possible.”

Landslide cuts off access to San Lorenzo Valley water facilities

By Ryan Masters, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 03/01/17, 5:50 PM PST
A landslide has destroyed the access road leading to the San Lorenzo Valley Water District's Lyon Water Treatment Plant in Boulder Creek. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
BOULDER CREEK >> As spring approaches, the sound of water rushing down the streams and creeks of the San Lorenzo Valley Watershed is music to Rick Rogers’ ears. But the director of operations for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District concedes there can always be too much of a good thing.
That’s because this winter’s torrential rains also triggered a 200-foot by 200-foot landslide that has dramatically buckled and cracked the steep access road leading to SLVWD’s 3-million-gallon Lyon storage tank and water treatment plant.
“It looks really alarming, but our geologists and soil engineers have assured us there’s no threat to the tank,” said Rogers.
While that is undoubtedly good news, the landslide has complicated day-to-day operations — SLVWD employees must carry all the tools they need, the water samples for testing and, twice a week, 55 gallons of chlorine.
“Yes, it’s dramatic; yes, it’s impacting our operations; but it has resulted in zero service interruptions and testing has shown it has had no impact on the quality of our water,” said Gene Ratcliffe, president of the SLVWD board of directors.
Which is fortunate because the facilities are vital to supplying San Lorenzo Valley residents with roughly 95 percent of their water, according to SLVWD Environmental Manager Jen Michelsen.
“We divert water from five streams. In a normal year, 50 percent of our water comes from these surface water sources in the winter and spring; the other 50 percent comes from ground water sources,” said Michelsen.
The landslide’s initial fissure appeared approximately three weeks ago. A week later, it had widened far enough to cripple the road. Until a few days ago, it had continued to detach from the hillside an additional 6- to 12-inches a day.
“We used this site to store a lot of heavy equipment before the slide too,” said Rogers. “Fortunately, we were able to get it clear and store it in other yards before the road was impassable.”
While no homes are threatened by the slide, it has clearly compromised the slope below the road where a half dozen firs and redwoods lean drunkenly at alarming angles above Hessey Creek.
“I expect all those trees to come down in the next week or so,” said Rogers.
The SLVWD board of directors authorized $150,000 in emergency funding to repair the access road on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, a team of engineers deployed wheeled robots fixed with CCTV cameras to inspect and measure the underground drains and culverts around the landslide.
“This is a very old site. Before we built the water tank, there was an in-ground, open reservoir here,” said Rogers, who has worked at SLVWD and lived in Brookdale for the last 40 years. “As a result, a lot of these drains and culverts are no longer used, but we need to know what’s there.”
SLVWD also plans to apply for federal emergency funds in order to pay for repairs to the access road, as well as other sites such as the Bear Creek Road slide, which damaged a water main.
“We’ll be looking for every penny the state and the feds can give us,” said SLVWD district manager Brian Lee.

Committee approves Santa Cruz County flight path move

Posted: 11/17/16

Demonstrators rally outside of Anna Jean Cummings Park in Soquel in August 2015 in protest of the new FFA flight path that residents say is causing too much noise in Capitola, Soquel and Scotts Valley. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)
Demonstrators rally outside of Anna Jean Cummings Park in Soquel in August 2015 in protest of the new FFA flight path that residents say is causing too much noise in Capitola, Soquel and Scotts Valley. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 11/17/16, 6:58 PM PST |

Opponents of the FAA flight path over Soquel stand to cheer in response to Rep. Sam Farr’s remarks about the subject during a town hall style meeting at Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz in September 2015. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

Opponents of the FAA flight path over Soquel stand to cheer in response to Rep. Sam Farr’s remarks about the subject during a town hall style meeting at Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz in September 2015. (Kevin Johnson -- Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

PALO ALTO >> The Select Committee on South Bay Arrivals made a historic decision Thursday to move a flight path back to its original ground track, over Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo Valley ridgeline.
The crowd at Palo Alto City Hall reacted to the 8-4 vote with mostly cheers and applause.
The proposal, made by Supervisor John Leopold, sets criteria for the new path to San Francisco International Airport, including: altitudes equal to or preferably higher than the historic path, waypoints that achieve a quiet, gliding descent, the avoidance of noisy braking and a minimum altitude of 12,500 feet when planes cross the Santa Cruz County coastline.
Leopold’s proposal requires the FAA to meet with the affected communities within three months after the path is implemented, to ensure the criteria are met.
The plan will be implemented as soon as possible, but not before January 2018.
It also requires the FAA to continue searching, with urgency, for a “perfect” route — one that meets all the criteria and takes maximum advantage of nonresidential areas.
Don Lane, Santa Cruz City Councilman, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and South San Francisco Mayor Mark Addiego voted against the flight path move, but supported the rest of the proposal.
Lane offered an alternative, having the FAA pick the best route based on a list of similar criteria, but it didn’t receive enough support. After his alternative was voted down, and before the committee voted on Leopold’s proposal, Lane said it’s somewhat his job as a Santa Cruz City Councilman to ask his Congress members not to support the flight path move.
Lane said, “I feel like I’ve spent the past four months in my community saying, ‘Hey, I think this is going to work out fine for my community.’ So I think we’re on the verge of my not being able to say that anymore, and I really want to ask you all who are going to support this motion to talk to me about what do you think I should say to my community.”
Leopold acknowledged that his proposal would make some unhappy, but it lists criteria that would help the new flight path be equal to or better than the historic route and ensures the FAA will stay involved with the public.
“It’s a very forward-looking piece, to return us to conditions when we had fewer problems, to give us some feedback loop that can happen relatively quickly and to have a longer-term effort to find something that is truly the least impactful,” Leopold said. “So that’s not throwing people to the wolves. That’s coming up with a reasonable policy choice or recommendation that we are asking the FAA to complete and to work with our members of Congress to make sure that it actually happens.”
The committee also approved several other recommendations for the FAA and members of Congress, including establishing a permanent entity to address airplane noise, increasing all flight path altitudes into and out of San Francisco International Airport, and identifying locations for flight vectoring that would minimize noise impact, such as over the Pacific Ocean or San Francisco Bay.

Tunnels in works to protect wildlife

By Lisa M. Krieger, Bay Area News Group

Two blacktail deer investigate a culvert beneath a roadway in March of 2015.

Two blacktail deer investigate a culvert beneath a roadway in March of 2015. Tanya Diamond — Pathways for Wildlife

Sonoma State University graduate student Tracy Bain checks netting that leads into a Tiger Salamander tunnel crossing in southwest Sonoma County near Petaluma. Bain’s thesis was to study whether or not the salamanders were using the tunnels to migrate on rainy nights. Bain also set up infrared cameras to capture images of salamanders using the tubes.

By Lisa M. Krieger, Bay Area News Group: 10/15/16, 3:47 PM PDT

Sonoma State University graduate student Tracy Bain checks netting that leads into a Tiger Salamander tunnel crossing in southwest Sonoma County near Petaluma. Bain’s thesis was to study whether or not the salamanders were using the tunnels to migrate on rainy nights. Bain also set up infrared cameras to capture images of salamanders using the tubes. Kent Porter — Press Democrat
As cars whiz by below, Wyoming’s pronghorn antelope migrate safely across bridges built just for them. Underneath the Florida Everglades’ “Alligator Alley,” tunnels offer a low-lying route for Florida’s elegant and endangered panthers.
And by the end of this decade, mountain lions, deer and other wildlife that live in the Santa Cruz Mountains will have their own protected passage across notoriously dangerous Highway 17 when Northern California’s first major “wildlife corridors” are constructed to cut down on road kills and enhance driver safety.
Two new tunnels under the serpentine highway — one near Lexington Reservoir in Santa Clara County, the other near Laurel Curve in Santa Cruz County — will provide much-needed links in an area where home construction and asphalt have fragmented once-continuous habitat, connecting two major wilderness areas where animals roam for food, mates and new territory.
The recently unveiled construction projects — which will cost up to $32 million and be funded by a grab bag of private, county and state sources — are among the most ambitious in an expanding national effort to reduce roadside carnage.
“We’ve identified the huge hot spots” of wildlife routes, said wildlife ecologist Tanya Diamond, of Los Gatos-based Pathways for Wildlife, who helped initiate the project research after witnessing the death of a cougar on southbound 17 seven years ago.
“There are so many wonderful preserves on either side of Highway 17, but it’s heartbreaking to see animals unable to connect,” she said.
Every year, about 200 Americans are killed in as many as 2 million collisions between wildlife and vehicles, according to the Western Transportation Institute. And the numbers are expected to increase as development expands into rural regions. In the past two decades, by one estimate, almost 40 percent of the new homes built in the West are in the “urban wildland interface.”
Steve Mandel, of Soquel, still aches over his fatal collision with a young male mountain lion on Highway 17 on Dec. 23. Mandel, a management consultant and wildlife photographer who volunteers his work to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, was driving home from San Jose with his wife and two sons in the car. It was dusk, and they were approaching the summit.
“I saw it sitting on the side of the road. In a split second, it dashed out and was immediately hit by the car on my right,” he recalled.
The puma was flung forward, right in front of Mandel’s car. “All I could do was hold the steering wheel steady and run over it,” he said. “I had to keep going. If I veered to the right, I’d hit the other car; if I veered to the left, I’d hit the center divide. If I hit the brakes, there would have been an accident behind me.”
“We were traumatized,” said Mandel, who now works to help raise funds for the Laurel Curve tunnel. “To hit this beautiful animal on 17 was so upsetting.”
The goal of the Santa Cruz Mountains projects is not just to save lives. Advocates envision a future landscape in which large populations of wildlife can thrive, avoiding the genetic perils of isolated clusters trapped in shrinking and fragmented habitats.
Caltrans has been involved in other — albeit smaller — projects in other regions of California.
Endangered California tiger salamanders wend their way through a series of three small tunnels, constructed with 35-foot steel pipes, under Stony Point Road in the Sonoma County town of Cotati. They’re also helped near Lompoc, where Caltrans has installed several 7-foot diameter pipes, each with a dirt path, under Highway 246. In Tahoe National Park, mule deer travel through a new pair of undercrossings, completed last spring, along a busy 25-mile stretch of state Highway 89, from Sierraville to Truckee.
The world’s largest wildlife corridor is under consideration in Southern California, where a bridge may traverse the eight-lane Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, connecting the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Susana Mountains.
A key part of the Highway 17 projects was identifying exactly where animals cross. Diamond and her team analyzed data from three sources: roadkill, collected by Caltrans; radio signals, from collars worn by pumas; and motion-detecting cameras, along existing culverts. Then they overlaid the crossing points onto highway maps to select the ideal spots for constructing the tunnels.
The highway presents unique challenges to excavation. It is a busy, winding and narrow state road with steep topography and unstable geology, traversing two different counties.
The tunnels must be wide enough to be inviting to animals. The Santa Clara County tunnel could measure up to 400 feet long; the Santa Cruz County tunnel, where the route is a bit narrower, could be as short as 120 feet. They’ll require wire fencing to funnel wildlife into safe passage.
A multitude of agencies are involved with the projects, from Caltrans and MidPeninsula Open Space District to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz. Full funding is already in place for the Santa Clara County project. Funding is not yet secured for the Santa Cruz County project, which has been dependent on private donations, but it could get a boost if Measure D, a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in Santa Cruz County, passes on Nov. 8. Both projects are expected to be completed by 2020.
As Bay Area traffic grows, crossing Highway 17 has become increasingly difficult. Up to 6,000 vehicles an hour travel the route, making it impenetrable most of the time, even to the fastest cougars. More than 350 animals of 82 different species, including 13 pumas, have been hit on Highway 17 in the last eight years, according to Caltrans data.
Cameras show that animals frequently approach the entrances to the highway’s dark and narrow culverts but then turn away, choosing instead to climb up the bank and cross the highway.
Autumn is peak season for collisions with deer because it is mating season, when they are distracted and on the move. The end of Daylight Saving Time on Nov. 6 will make things worse because more commuters are on the roads at dusk, when animals are active but often find it difficult to see.
Many mountain commuters, who say they’d welcome the tunnels, tell tales of harrowing near-misses.
Cherri Nelson, of Los Gatos, witnessed a fellow driver slow down just in time to spare a large buck, with antlers. The animal jumped two cement dividers and crossed both north and southbound lanes of Highway 17.
“My heart was pounding, for the deer and the driver,” she said. “Had it been just as commute or beach traffic times were beginning, there would have been a horrific accident.”
Mandel, the trauma of his encounter with a mountain lion still fresh in his mind, hopes the planned tunnels will spare others the same tragedy.
“The wildlife crossings will go a long way to solve this problem,” he said. “The death of the mountain lion wasn’t in vain.”
“They’ll help people, and they’ll help animals.”

California coast: Where Obama may establish new national monuments

An ariel view of a part of the Coast Dairies property, which is located east of Highway 1 by Davenport, on

An ariel view of a part of the Coast Dairies property, which is located east of Highway 1 by Davenport, on Dai Sugano — Bay Area News Group

By Paul Rogers, Bay Area News Group

Posted: 09/14/16

An ariel view of a part of the Coast Dairies property, which is located east of Highway 1 by Davenport, on

An ariel view of a part of the Coast Dairies property, which is located east of Highway 1 by Davenport, on Dai Sugano — Bay Area News Group

President Barack Obama significantly expanded his conservation legacy last month when he established a new national monument in Maine’s North Woods and then quadrupled the size of an existing monument around the remote Northern Hawaiian Islands, banning commercial fishing and deep sea mining there forever.

Now, California’s coast may be next on his list.

Environmental groups and Democratic congressional leaders are pushing for the president, who only has four months left in office, to add six pieces of land to the existing California Coastal National Monument, an area set up 16 years ago by President Bill Clinton to protect offshore rocks and islands.

The properties, all owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, total roughly 6,300 acres. They include rugged oceanfront bluffs along Humboldt County’s Lost Coast, a six-mile-long stretch of the north coast of Santa Cruz County near the town of Davenport and the historic Piedras Blancas lighthouse near Hearst Castle.

Congressional supporters will hold a public meeting Friday in Cambria, San Luis Obispo County, with Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, to get public comments. Such public meetings with White House officials in the past have been the final step before Obama has established monuments.

“President Obama has done so much to preserve our public lands, including in California,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is hosting the public meeting. “This could be another great addition to his conservation legacy.”

Presidents can establish national monuments on federally owned land where logging, mining and other activities are banned without a vote of Congress, using their authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Nearly every president has used the law since it was first signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to establish new national monuments, and many eventually were upgraded by Congress to become national parks. Roosevelt used it to set aside the Grand Canyon, Herbert Hoover used it to protect Arches in Utah and Death Valley in California, and President George W. Bush used it to set aside vast areas of the remote Pacific Ocean, including the world’s deepest location, the Marianas Trench.

Most of the properties under consideration are not controversial.

But critics who live near the Santa Cruz property, a 5,800-acre expanse known as Coast Dairies, are urging a delay. They fear the designation could entice hordes of people with no place to park, no restrooms and other problems to descend on the area along Highway 1, particularly since monument designation doesn’t guarantee any new federal funding or rangers.

“There’s a very, very good chance we put out a huge welcome sign to everybody on the planet and that will bring illegal camping, people dumping garbage and forest fires,” said Andy Davidson, a software engineer who is chairman of the Rural Bonny Doon Association, a community group in northern Santa Cruz County. “The Big Sur fire burning right now was started by an illegal campfire.”

Home to postcard-worthy rolling hills, redwood forests and scenic trails, Coast Dairies was preserved from development in 1998 when environmentalists purchased the land with roughly $40 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

For most of the 20th century, the property was run as a farm and ranching operation by the descendants of two Swiss families. After purchase by Save the Redwoods League in 1998, it was transferred to the Trust for Public Land. Then, in 2006, about 400 acres of its beaches were donated to the state parks department. And in 2014, the trust transferred most of the rest of the land to the Bureau of Land Management with permanent deed restrictions banning mining, fracking, recreational motorcycle riding and other uses.

Last year, the BLM began docent-led hiking tours and is now patrolling the land. But it has not yet set a date for broad public access because of the limited number of rangers and funds. Although BLM has owned the property for two years, there are no signs, parking areas or restrooms, or a management plan for the land, which is padlocked.

In fact, there are only four law enforcement rangers in the BLM’s entire Central Coast field office, an area of 284,000 acres — 10 times the size of the city of San Francisco — that stretches from the Coast Dairies property to southern Monterey County and out to Interstate 5 near San Luis Reservoir in Merced County.

Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit environmental group based in Los Altos, is leading the effort to have Coast Dairies declared a national monument, under the name Cotoni-Coast Dairies, a reference to an Indian tribe that once lived on the property.

“Monument status brings a kind of national attention and recognition that will attract financial resources and staffing resources to help restore the landscape,” said Sara Barth, the group’s executive director. “It becomes part of a large network of lands that are of gold star value, which can attract private and public resources.”

Barth said her group envisions a public visitor center and parking area one day at the site of the former Cemex cement plant in Davenport, an industrial facility that closed several years ago. From there trails could lead into Coast Dairies and nearby properties like Wilder Ranch State Park and San Vicente Redwoods, an 8,000-acre property owned by several land trusts.

“I understand the concerns of people who worry it isn’t going to give guaranteed new funding,” she said. “But the alternative is certainly no funding.”

David Christy, a BLM spokesman, said there is about $5 million a year in the California BLM budget to pay for staffing, signs, restrooms, trails and other needs at nine BLM properties from the King Range in Humboldt County to the Carrizo Plain near Paso Robles to desert areas in Palm Springs.

He said that after Obama designated a new national monument in 2012 on more than 14,000 acres at the former Fort Ord Army base in Monterey County, the number of visitors jumped from 250,000 a year to 400,000. His agency will figure out a way to shift resources to protect Coast Dairies if monument status comes, he said, and likely wouldn’t open it to broad public access for about three years while plans were drawn up to protect sensitive plants and animals.

“In the short term, we’ll use the resources we have,” he said.


Rural Santa Cruz County residents warned of wildfire

By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 07/22/16, 4:34 PM PDT

Create: A 30-foot ‘lean, clean and green’ area should be maintained around homes with 100 feet of defensible space around it.
Clear: Vegetation should be cleared around address markers, water standpipes and other water sources on roads.
Map: Plan a wildfire exit route and keep a checklist of items to pack.
Details: Visit Readyforwildfire.org.
Source: Cal Fire

FELTON >> Cal Fire leaders in Santa Cruz County say they want rural residents to help prevent wildfires by clearing defensible space around their homes, but they want people to be wary of starting fires with landscaping equipment.
Rich Sampson, division chief of Cal Fire’s Santa Cruz-San Mateo Unit, said three small wildfires were started in the past two weeks by residents on riding lawn mowers who cut dry grass on rocky soil in the late afternoon. Sparks started the blazes, Sampson said.
“While the department is supportive of landowners maintaining defensible space, the time for equipment operations is during the cooler part of the day,” Sampson said. He advised residents and landscaping crews to mow before 10 a.m. and “preferably during wet or foggy conditions with lower temperatures and higher relative humidity.”
Cal Fire leaders said that because Santa Cruz County had an “average” winter of rain after five years of drought, there is more vegetation prone to wildfire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Friday afternoon, Cal firefighters in Big Sur battled a wildfire that grew to more than 1,100 acres about 5 miles south of Garrapata State Park. Firefighters have not yet said what started that blaze Friday morning.
Another wildfire in Wilder Ranch State Park burned 1.6 acres on Wednesday.
Dry conditions this summer prompted Cal Fire to ban backyard burns June 27 in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
“As conditions across California are drying out further we must take every step to prevent new wildfires from sparking,” said Cal Fire director Ken Pimlott. “Residents must ensure they have defensible space by removing dead trees and overgrown vegetation from around their homes, but do so safely.”
Firefighters advised residents to clear all dead and dying leaves and other vegetation 100 feet from buildings. Residents also should consider plants that resist ignition such as rockrose, ice plant and aloe, according to Cal Fire. Less flammable shrubs include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant. Maple, poplar and cherry trees also are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers, according to Cal Fire.
Wood chipping, rather than burning, also is a good way to get rid of dead branches and wood debris. The Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County has a wood chipping program where residents can get technical support and apply for reimbursements for chipping services, Sampson said.

The Resource Conservation District’s website is at Rcdsantacruz.org.
More information about preparing for wildfire is on Cal Fire’s ReadyForWildfire.org.
Create: A 30-foot ‘lean, clean and green’ area should be maintained around homes with 100 feet of defensible space around it.
Clear: Vegetation should be cleared around address markers, water standpipes and other water sources on roads.
Map: Plan a wildfire exit route and keep a checklist of items to pack.
More information: Visit Readyforwildfire.org.
Source: Cal Fire

November Transportation Ballot Measure Approved by Cities & County

June 29, 2016

The Regional Transportation Commission’s “Safety, Pothole Repair, Traffic Relief, Transit Improvement Measure” will appear on the November 8, 2016 ballot after securing approval from the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the cities of Capitola, Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

The measure includes a balanced mix of projects across transportation modes and geographic areas of Santa Cruz County, many of which are needed improvements to the local transportation network that will not happen without new local funding. The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) developed the ballot measure over the last two years based on extensive public input and support.

Projects in the plan will improve safety for children walking and bicycling near schools; repair potholes; repave streets; improve traffic flow on Highway 1; maintain transportation for seniors and people with disabilities; reduce global warming and air pollution by providing transportation options like sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails; preserve and analyze transit options in the rail corridor; and deliver other projects to meet the mobility needs of current and future generations. If approved by the voters in November, the half-cent sales tax measure would also reduce reliance on Sacramento and Washington for transportation funding, create local jobs and stimulate local economic vitality.

Based on vast and broad community input, the 2016 Transportation Improvement Measure boosts transit funding, especially for seniors and people with disabilities, and pares down projects in the rail corridor to only include property management/maintenance and a transparent public analysis of future transportation uses of the corridor.

The one-half cent sales tax measure includes citizen oversight, independent audits, and strict financial accounting requirements. With the state’s ¼ cent sales tax increase expiring at the end of the year, the measure would effectively only increase sales taxes by ¼ cent over current levels.

Supervisor Zach Friend noted that the measure represents a holistic transportation plan to meet the varied needs of the community; Supervisor John Leopold confirmed that the measure reflects public input, Supervisor Ryan Coonerty stated that the success of the measure will now be decided by the voters, and Supervisor Bruce McPherson reiterated the need to become a transportation “self help” county in order to receive matching dollars from federal and state transportation funds.

More information about projects in the expenditure plan, and ordinance for the ballot measure is available on the RTC website: www.sccrtc.org/move.


It will take years of wet weather before California recovers from drought, study finds

Sierra Nevada snowpack
An aerial view of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite National Park in January. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times) Matt Stevens

When forecasters last year warned of a massive El Niño, some Californians held out hope that a single extremely wet year could bust the state’s severe drought.

But a study published Tuesday in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, offered support for the argument that state hydrologists have been making for months: It will take several years to recover from the four-year water shortage.

Specifically, researchers studied the Sierra Nevada and found that the lackluster snowpack there, year after year, created a sizable water deficit that the state may not recoup until 2019.

“The main take-home is thinking about drought over longer time scales,” said the study’s principal investigator, Steve Margulis of UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. “The first wet year doesn’t necessarily solve the longer-term problem.”

The size of California’s snowpack became a statewide concern in April 2015 when its water content hit 5% of average -- the lowest in 500 years. Gov. Jerry Brown made a point of standing on a barren field that should have been blanketed in powder when he ordered a 25% reduction in urban water usage to free up the resource during the drought.   

Since then, many Californians have closely monitored the health of the Sierra Nevada snowpack. As snow melts, it runs off into the state’s reservoirs, providing Californians with roughly a third of their water supply in a typical year.

As 2015 wound to a close, forecasters predicted that a strong El Niño would drench much of Southern California and part of northern California. But the winter turned out to be essentially average, dashing any hope that the drought would end abruptly.

On March 30, surveyors found that the water content held by the state’s snowpack was 87% of normal – a vast improvement from 5% the year prior, but still below average.

Margulis and his team used both the state’s records and satellite data to get a full picture of the Sierra Nevada snowpack and determine how large a water deficit the drought created over four years. They tallied the water that the state didn’t get from its snowpack each year and found that it added up to the highest cumulative deficit ever over the 65-year period the authors analyzed.

The researchers then used probability models based on the historical record to predict the volume of the snowpack in the coming years. The models did not incorporate factors such as temperature and climate change, Margulis said.

Their analysis found 14 of the 65 years studied would be classified as drought. In all but one of the drought events, the snowpack deficit recovered within a single year, the study said.

California’s most recent drought is different, though, the study said. The researchers found a 7% chance that the drought would be “fully alleviated” in 2016. A full recovery, they said, is expected to take about 4.4 years.
Margulis, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the snowpack might have been able to recover from four years of less severe drought in a single year. But the last four years were so “crazy,” that wasn’t possible.

“What we’ve seen the last four years might be the new normal going forward,” Margulis said. “Under climate change, if this kind of deficit happens more frequently, then longer-term recoveries will become more common.”

New maps of Monterey Bay sea floor reveal low sand, new fault lines

By Kara Guzman, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 04/08/16
Work crews fortify the cliffside foundation supporting a row of condominiums overlooking Sand Dollar Beach where exposed bedrock offshore may signal more erosion in store for the shoreline.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Work crews fortify the cliffside foundation supporting a row of condominiums overlooking Sand Dollar Beach where exposed bedrock offshore may signal more erosion in store for the shoreline. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Last winter’s storm surf took out the staircase leading from Sand Dollar Beach to Manresa Uplands Campground.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Last winter’s storm surf took out the staircase leading from Sand Dollar Beach to Manresa Uplands Campground. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ >> On a map of the Monterey Bay sea floor, U.S. Geological Survey researcher Sam Johnson pointed to something offshore of Manresa and Sunset state beaches.
It looked like tiny scratches on a black chalkboard.
“See those linear white dots?” Johnson said. “That’s really interesting. We haven’t seen those anywhere off the California coast.”
The lines, called “scour depressions,” are windows of exposed bedrock, signaling very little sand and mud in the area due to storms.
What that means is the Santa Cruz region may be more susceptible to erosion than previously thought due to a short supply of offshore sand to replenish the beaches. Wide beaches protect the cliffs from powerful waves.
On his computer, Johnson scanned through dozens of high-resolution maps of the Monterey Bay. These maps, which are publicly available online, are part of a series recently released by the U.S. Geological Survey, showing a detailed picture of California’s sea floor.
For the first time, researchers have a comprehensive view of the sea floor’s depth, its texture and composition, what lays beneath it, and the fault lines and habitats it contains.

The disciplined, statewide approach is new. Before, scientists had a patchwork of maps, only detailed in some places.
Scientists surveyed the coastline with instruments that sent sound waves to the bottom. They also rigged giant metal sleds with arrays of cameras, to get video and still photos, in a process called “groundtruthing.” More than 340 miles were videotaped and 87,000 photos were taken, all available online.
The $35 million project began eight years ago and is still ongoing. Maps of about 30 percent of state waters have been released, and the rest are expected within the next decade, said Johnson.
It’s the result of a collaboration between dozens of researchers, mainly from the Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state’s Ocean Protection Council and Cal State Monterey Bay.
Each entity had its own goals for mapping, said Johnson, who helped lead the project. The Geological Survey wanted a baseline for measuring changes due to climate change and sea level rise, and to predict hazards such as flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis. NOAA wanted to update its nautical charts. The state wanted to designate and monitor its marine protected areas, and CSUMB wanted to further research and train students, he said.
“People had different reasons for collecting these data but everybody wanted them,” Johnson said. “That was the cool thing about this project. It brought a bunch of different interests together that could each leverage their own institutions and contribute to the greater whole.”
Another surprise about the local sea floor: It has more fault lines than anticipated, said Johnson. The Monterey Bay lies between the San Andreas Fault to the east and the San Gregorio Fault to the west. Between the two larger lines, the maps revealed a fabric of shorter faults, some previously unknown, Johnson said.
Unlike the San Andreas and San Gregorio faults, these smaller lines result in “up-and-down” movement, instead of lateral movement and folding, Johnson said.
“So it’s more like keystones,” Johnson said. “If you pulled apart some blocks, then some would fall down deeper than the others. We now know that there are sources of earthquakes out there that we didn’t know of before.”

Santa Cruz’s West Cliff Drive sinkhole expands as work continues to shore up cliff
Repairs continue on the sinkhole that developed in the West Cliff bike path between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue.  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)  (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Repairs continue on the sinkhole that developed in the West Cliff bike path between Columbia Street and Woodrow Avenue. (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel) (Dan Coyro -- Santa Cruz Sentinel)
By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 03/31/16, 5:06 PM PDT |

A large boulder is place inside a West Cliff Drive sinkhole in early March to armor the adjacent retaining wall. (Santa Cruz Public Works -- Contributed)

A large boulder is place inside a West Cliff Drive sinkhole in early March to armor the adjacent retaining wall. (Santa Cruz Public Works -- Contributed)

SANTA CRUZ >> What began in January as one of two West Cliff Drive weather damaged sidewalk areas has expanded into a fenced-off 20-foot-deep hole east of Woodrow Avenue.

The sinkhole opened up after winter storms pushed heavy swells against the bluff, eroding the sandstone wall and protective boulders. The city project to repair the 34-by-20-foot hole has involved intermittent rerouting of West Cliff traffic around the site as it entered its second phase last week. Work is expected to continue for another two weeks, including final paving.
“We have had to close the roadway surrounding the project a handful of times, like today, however, the detour is an easy one and we are not aware of complaints from neighbors,” city Public Works Department spokeswoman Janice Bisgaard said Thursday.
Sinkholes are not a new occurrence for the bedrock bluff along West Cliff Drive, which is particularly vulnerable to the natural process of erosion and is why there are so many caves in this area, Bisgaard said. West Cliff has eroded at an estimated rate of up 6 inches a year in recent decades, according to Gary Griggs, a coastal geologist and director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz.
The area’s last major sinkhole, about 150 feet east of the current one and deep enough to fit a small car, opened in 2014 next to the bike path and revealed a cave to the ocean, as it has done about every 10 years in the same location.
In the process of plugging the latest sinkhole, Salinas-based contractor Don Chapin Co. needed to shore up the retaining wall to protect the area from further damage, said Bisgaard. In the project’s first phase, coming with about a $100,000 price tag, some 3 to 5 tons of boulders were brought in to act as armor for the exterior cliff, she said.
Last week, construction work began on the second phase, concentrating on ensuring the long-term viability of the area. Josh Spangrud, a city senior civil engineer, said the work involves creating a retaining wall separate from the existing structure to plug the sinkhole’s bottom. The void will be filled with 90 cubic yards of concrete and an unknown amount of drainage rock to prevent further erosion. The new infill will reinforce existing underground retaining wall and other supports, he said.
The total cost of phase two, for which the city hired Santa Cruz’s Mesiti-Miller Engineering and Watsonville-based geotechnical engineers Haro Kasunich & Associates, is not yet clear, said Bisgaard. The third phase will place more rock in the cove around the outside of the area for greater stabilization.

California drought: How will we know when it's over?

By Paul Rogers progers@mercurynews.com
Posted:   01/09/2016 04:39:25 PM

Now that 2016 has gotten off to a wet start, with a series of El Niño storms drenching California in recent days, the question is turning up with increasing frequency at dinner parties and coffee shops:
"How will we know when the drought is over?"
The answer, water experts say, is more complicated than you'd think.
Simply put: The drought could end this year, according to state water officials. But for that to happen, as California enters the fifth year of the worst drought in the state's history, rains will have to continue arriving in pounding, relentless waves through April to fill depleted reservoirs and dry rivers and push the Sierra snowpack to at least 150 percent of normal
"One week of rain doesn't make up for four years of historic drought. We are in a very deep hole," said Mike Anderson, California's state climatologist.
Other disasters are easier to understand. Everyone knows when a forest fire is contained, an earthquake stops shaking or a tornado has passed.
But with California droughts, there isn't widespread agreement among scientists and water managers about what signifies the finish line. California is a huge state, with many different climates, water sources and water users. Decent rain over a few months may be enough to grow green grass so that a Sacramento Valley cattle rancher's business returns to normal in one season. But it might not fill reservoirs enough so a Bay Area city can lift water conservation rules.
"As they say, all politics is local. And all droughts are local," said Jeanine Jones, a top drought manager at the state Department of Water Resources. "The impacts are in the eye of the beholder."
Many experts say that if the state's big reservoirs fill, the drought will be over because it will be nearly impossible to convince Californians there is a drought emergency when they see water rushing over spillways and headed out to sea.
Others say California needs to make up the sizable rainfall deficit over the past four years, which almost certainly won't happen this winter. Other experts say that California has to replace billions of gallons of overpumped groundwater to have a true recovery -- which will take decades.
"How will we know when the drought is over?" said Leon Szeptycki, a water use attorney and executive director of Stanford's Water in the West program. "That's a really good question. There are lots of different answers."
The final decision will rest with Gov. Jerry Brown.
He declared a statewide drought emergency Jan. 17, 2014, and he is the one who eventually will rescind it.

Frank Gehrke, right, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program for the Department of Water Resources, checks the snowpack depth as he conducts the first manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station near Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Jones said various state agencies have been meeting nearly every week as part of a drought task force. They will make a recommendation to the governor about whether to lift the drought declaration at the end of the winter rainy season -- probably not before April -- after it's clear how much rain and snow fell, she said.
How far do we still have to go?
Anderson researched years when other major droughts were widely considered to have ended: 1938, 1978 and 1993. In each case, the Sierra snowpack -- the source of one-third of California's water supply -- was roughly 150 percent of the historic average. And precipitation levels at eight key weather stations in Northern California, located in watersheds that feed Shasta, Oroville, Folsom and other massive reservoirs, also was between 130 percent and 150 percent of normal.
His conclusion: If California receives 150 percent snowpack by this April and 150 percent of normal precipitation in the north, that should be enough to fill the biggest reservoirs and probably end the drought.
On Friday, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was at 107 percent of the historic average, and the eight-station index was at 94 percent.
"I'm encouraged. It's glorious. I went up to the Sierra last week, and I wanted to kiss each snowflake," said Felicia Marcus, director of the State Water Resources Control Board. "It was spectacular. It was tinged with the fact that I know it could still get warmer and melt, but I'm trying to look at it as a glass half full."
On Feb. 2, the board will vote on whether to relax the mandatory water conservation rules that have been in place since last June. Those require a statewide reduction of 25 percent in urban water use, and cities and water companies that violate the rules face fines. They have forced hundreds of water agencies to impose water restrictions.
The board is expected to ease the rules somewhat in areas with hotter climates or fast population growth, while keeping most of them in place. However, it will come back in April for another look, Marcus said.
"If we are flush, then we'll drop them then," she said. "If we are in some middle ground, we might adjust them and ease up a bit."
One of the biggest problems statewide is that nearly every major reservoir is at dangerously low levels. Since Dec. 8, rain has boosted the level of Shasta Lake, the state's largest reservoir, by 12 feet, adding 168,000 acre feet of water -- enough for 840,000 people's needs for a year.
That's impressive, until you realize that all that water only increased Shasta's storage by 4 percentage points, to 33 percent full.
Similarly, all the recent rain raised the 10 reservoirs in Santa Clara County to 31 percent full, up from 29 percent on New Year's Day.
"There's still an awful lot of room in those reservoirs," Anderson said.
And then there is the rainfall deficit.
Since the drought began in 2011, most major cities in California are missing at least a year of supply.
San Francisco, for example, receives 23.65 inches of rain in an average year. So over five years, it should have received 118.25 inches. But so far, since the drought began, it has received just 72.37 inches. That means that to get "back to normal," the city would need 45.88 inches this rainy season.
The record wettest year in San Francisco was 49.27 inches, during the winter of 1861-62.
Similar shortfalls of 25 to nearly 40 inches exist in San Jose, Oakland, Fresno and Los Angeles.
In strong El Niño years like this one, history shows, the chance of a wet winter in California is greater. But it's not guaranteed.
"The big question is: Are we going to stay in a wet pattern?" said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services in Saratoga. "We don't have much skill after a week or two to know for sure.
"The fact that we have a very strong El Niño in place loads up the dice a little bit in favor of it being wetter," he said. "But even loaded dice don't always come up the way you want."
NASA scientists using satellite data estimate that California is 12 trillion gallons of water short because of the drought -- in rivers, creeks, snowpack and, most importantly, in underground aquifers that have been pumped at record levels by Central Valley farmers. Groundwater experts say that will take decades to recover. And it might not ever happen.
"California suffers from what I call 'chronic water scarcity.' We simply don't have enough water to do all the things that we want to do," said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and a UC Irvine professor of Earth systems science.
Famiglietti said farms need more drip irrigation, changes in water pricing and perhaps importing more water from out of state to stay sustainable in the future. Making up the lost 12 trillion gallons of water could take four years of normal or above-normal rainfall, he added.
When the drought does finally end, some leaders will push to make certain rules permanent, such as not allowing anyone to water grass within 48 hours of rainfall or requiring hotels to ask customers if they want to waive washing sheets and towels.
"It's rained a little, so we're all celebrating right now," said Dick Santos, a director with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. "It's like the economy. Things are going good right now, but they won't always be. Rainy days are going to come, but don't be fooled. Our population is growing, and California is a dry state. Droughts will come back. We should be better prepared next time than we were this time."
Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN


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Maps show Santa Cruz areas vulnerable to floods during El Nino storms

FEMA identified areas of Santa Cruz that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)

FEMA identified areas of Santa Cruz that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)
By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 10/16/15, 3:26 PM PDT |


A map of Santa Cruz shows areas that could be flooded with a 100-year storm. The map is based on elevation and waterways. (City of Santa Cruz -- Contributed)


Emergency Prep Fair

What: City leaders will lead an emergency preparedness fair to help residents get ready for severe winter storms predicted with El Nino. The event will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration, information from the American Red Cross and information about how to prepare homes for rain and potential flooding.
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Nov. 21.
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St.
Cost: Free.
Source: City of Santa Cruz.

SANTA CRUZ >> Big storms and long periods of rain from a predicted El Nino winter in Santa Cruz could bring floods to low areas near waterways, city leaders said this week.
Two maps made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, show the potential of a 100-year storm. If water were to breach the San Lorenzo River levee, it would flood downtown Santa Cruz from Pacific Avenue past Chestnut Street to the Santa Cruz High School playing fields, according to the maps.
Homes also are vulnerable to floods on the lower part of Arana Gulch, north of the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, parts of Branciforte and Carbonera creeks and the lower part of Moore Creek on the far Westside, city leaders said. Other vulnerable areas include the Beach Flats and Lower Ocean neighborhoods, as well as homes and businesses between River Street and the San Lorenzo River.
The chances of a San Lorenzo River levee breach are not great, said Santa Cruz Public Works Director Mark Dettle. But he noted that it’s been at least a decade since sediment has been dredged from a collection spot south of the Highway 1 bridge. The river’s flow slows there and sand tends to collect, raising the water level during heavy rain.

“It’s a concern if we get these extreme events,” Dettle said.
City leaders have been working with the Army Corps of Engineers for 15 years to redesign that area of the river levee and so less sediment collects. More work needs to be done before the levee is certified by the corps’ safety program, Dettle said.

Because the Highway 1 bridge has a center support and most other bridges over it do not, big logs and other debris also tend to collect when the river is flowing during storms. Logs aren’t as big of a problem because they can be plucked out relatively easily, Dettle said.

Dettle said it wouldn’t hurt for residents in low areas near Arana Gulch and Branciforte, Carbonera and Moore creeks to prepare for potential floods this winter by gathering sandbags.

There is also potential for other streets in the city to flood if storm drains become clogged with leaves or other debris.

“There is localized flooding when we get intense storms because the street becomes the (water) storage until the system catches up,” said Dettle.

“One thing people can do to help us: If they have a catch basin in front of their house, keep that clean.”
This month, Public Works spokeswoman Janice Bisgaard published several web pages and downloadable brochures about how residents can prepare for big storms, power outages and floods. It includes information from what to put in an emergency kit to preparing a communication plan with family and friends.
City leaders also plan to have an emergency preparedness fair for residents on Nov. 21 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. It will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration and information from the American Red Cross.

For more detailed flood maps, visit https://msc.fema.gov/portal/ and www.r9map.org/Docs/Santa-Cruz_Risk-MAP-Newsletter_Data-Acquisition_FINAL.pdf

What: City leaders will lead an emergency preparedness fair to help residents get ready for severe winter storms predicted with El Nino. The event will include explanations of flood maps, a sandbag demonstration, information from the American Red Cross and information about how to prepare homes for rain and potential flooding.
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Nov. 21.
Where: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St.
Cost: Free.
Source: City of Santa Cruz


Will El Niño ‘solve’ drought? Not if the rain falls in Southern California

October 4, 2015

Conditions have gelled for a strong El Niño, but it matters where the storms hit

Most of the state’s reservoir capacity is in Northern California

Southern California isn’t set up to capture and store huge amounts of rainfall

By Ryan Sabalow


In recent weeks, conditions have gelled for what forecasters say could be one of the strongest El Niño weather patterns in recorded history. Will it substantially ease California’s historic drought? If the storms center on Southern California, the answer is probably not.

Experts stress that El Niño is notoriously unpredictable, and when its storms do hit the state, they’re prone to soaking the southern third of California. While more than 75 percent of the demand for irrigation and drinking water is in the south state, the backbone of California’s water supply and delivery system – and most of its reservoir capacity – is in the north.

“We’re much better off if it rains in the north than in the south,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, an environmental policy group based in Oakland.

In a typical year, about 75 percent of the state’s annual precipitation falls north of Sacramento, in the form of rain and mountain snow.

Four years into the drought, conditions have been far from typical. On April 1, when California snowpack generally has reached its greatest depths, the Sierra snowpack was at just 5 percent of normal. Researchers said it was the lowest it had been in more than 500 years. State officials say the 2015 “water year” that ended Sept. 30 recorded the warmest high-elevation temperatures in the 120 years people have been keeping track.

Those conditions have strained California’s massive water-delivery system, a series of reservoirs and canals operated by the state and federal governments. The infrastructure was built to take advantage of historic weather patterns, with a focus on regulating flows to prevent downstream flooding in heavy storms and capturing snowmelt to buoy the state through summer and fall.

“If you only get a series of early spring and early summer rainstorms, we’re not really designed to capture that runoff,” said Noah Garrison, a water-law expert and geologist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

The state has approximately 1,500 reservoirs, which portion out water over the year to meet demand for farm and landscape irrigation, drinking water, and fish and wildlife habitat. The vast man-made conveyance network is capable of funneling Mount Shasta snowmelt 700 miles south to San Diego.

The trick is storing the right amounts at the right times to ensure there is adequate water to meet yearlong demand in a state with enormous regions of developed land that get minimal precipitation or have just one wet season a year.

We’re much better off if it rains in the north than in the south.

Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute

In all, California has 43 million acre-feet of reservoir storage space, almost three-quarters of it north of Fresno. The largest of these reservoirs, Shasta, Oroville and Trinity in far Northern California, account for almost a quarter of the state’s surface water supplies.

Jay Lund is a civil and environmental engineering professor at UC Davis and heads the university’s Center for Watershed Sciences. During a recent interview, Lund held up a chart that showed a seemingly random scattering of points on a graph. The dots represented Sacramento River runoff during El Niño years, he said, underscoring the uncertainty of whether this year’s El Niño will substantially raise water levels in the northern reservoirs.

“It looks like a shotgun blast,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to bet on this. Maybe we will get a lot of water. Maybe we won’t.”

El Niño conditions occur when ocean temperatures warm along a stretch of the equatorial Pacific roughly twice the size of the United States. The warming leads to a shift in weather patterns that typically cause West Coast storm systems to move south.

During weak or moderate El Niño events, in which Pacific water temperatures rise by a modest amount, it’s hard to find a consistent rain pattern in Sacramento, according to a Sacramento Bee review of data back to 1950. The average precipitation in those years was 18 inches – about normal for the city. Stronger El Niño years – when ocean temperatures rise by a significant amount as they have this year – are more encouraging. During those years, rainfall in Sacramento averaged 24 inches, roughly 130 percent of normal.

If that happens, and El Niño douses central California as far north as Sacramento, it would substantially ease the burden on the state’s water supply – even if the storms don’t dump deep snow in the northern mountains, said Maury Roos, an hydrologist with the state Department of Water Resources.

Roos said there are a number of smaller reservoirs south of Sacramento that help supply the state’s Central Valley farm belt. Crop irrigation, most of it in the Valley, accounts for about 80 percent of the “developed” water in California, meaning water that people put to use.

Map of precipitation forecast and reservoir levels 

“If it gets as far north as where we are, then it will help a lot more,” said Roos from his office in Sacramento. “Then you can help to refill some of the major reservoirs around the rim of the Valley.”

If the bulk of the heaviest rains stay further south, a wetter Southern California will help, but not nearly as much.

“We’re just not set up to handle the capacity, the total volume of water that we’re really dealing with,” said Garrison, the UCLA geologist. “A 1-inch rainstorm in L.A. can produce 10 billion gallons of runoff ... most of which ultimately will end up flowing down the L.A. River and out to the ocean. We don’t have capacity to capture large events like that and really put them to use yet.”

Still, the situation has improved since the state’s last deep drought in the early 1990s. Several major Southern California cities and irrigation districts have made strides in recent years to capture more stormwater, reduce local use and make imported reserves last longer.

Rich Atwater, executive director of the Southern California Water Committee, said the region, on average, now gets about 12 percent of its water supply from locally captured stormwater. Southern California is investing in infrastructure improvements that should increase this capacity 5 percent, he said.

The region also gets about 10 percent of its water from recycled sewage, he said. He expects that figure to double in the next 25 years. That’s based, in part, on an ambitious plan for what would easily be the largest wastewater recycling effort in the state. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is discussing a project that would produce 168,000 acre-feet of potable water using treated sewage to replenish groundwater supplies.

The water district, which serves 19 million customers, recently spent close to $3 billion on a reservoir and tunnel project at Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet in Riverside County. The reservoir can capture 800,000 acre-feet – or about 260 billion gallons – of water. But for now, there’s no ready infrastructure for funneling in storm runoff from around the region. The reservoir will capture rain that falls directly in its walls, but it is only plumbed to receive water piped from Northern California.

A 1-inch rainstorm in L.A. can produce 10 billion gallons of runoff ... most of which ultimately will end up flowing down the L.A. River and out to the ocean. We don’t have capacity to capture large events like that and really put them to use yet.

Noah Garrison, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

The biggest benefit to Southern California from El Niño storms could be replenishment of groundwater supplies. In the drought, government surface deliveries have been slashed to a fraction of what they have been in average rainfall years. Central and Southern California cities and farms have been furiously pumping groundwater to make up for the loss.

Over the decades, several Southern California water districts have invested in groundwater banks and groundwater recharging projects to offset the unreliability of imports from the north and the Colorado River. These projects make use of imported water or natural flows that are channeled into swampy or porous areas where the water can seep into the ground for later pumping.

Kern County has created the state’s largest water bank, primarily to help irrigate its $7.5 billion agricultural industry. The storage network, spread across numerous irrigation districts, can hold 5.7 million acre-feet of water.

In the drought, even this massive system has been depleted. Jon Parker, general manager of the Kern Water Bank Authority, said his district alone can store up to 1.5 million acre-feet. In the drought, pumping has lowered that level to 500,000 acre-feet.

Robb Whitaker, general manager of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, said drought-related pumping has similarly drained the groundwater stored under his district, which supplies about 40 percent of the water for 4 million people in southern Los Angeles County. He said a single wet El Niño year could put more than 150,000 acre-feet of water back into the ground.

“The basins are very, very dry. ... They’re ready to capture water,” Whitaker said. “It’s like a dry sponge, and we’re hopeful we’d be able to get about twice the normal capture, if not more. In that case, we could be caught up in two or three wet seasons.”

The challenge with water banks and groundwater recharging is that too much rain too fast can overwhelm the system. Unlike a traditional reservoir, the basins that capture groundwater need time for that water to seep in.

“If the engineers and the water managers could control all the knobs like the great and powerful wizard of Oz, they would like it to come down at a moderate pace for a long time, so the system could sort of absorb it as it happens,” said Kelly Redmond, deputy director and regional climatologist for the federal government’s Western Regional Climate Center in Reno.

“If you overwhelm the system, some of it will go into groundwater recharge, but a lot of it will just go out to the ocean, and I guess your perspective on whether that’s wasted water or not might depend on if you’re a water manager or a fish.”

At the most basic level, a prolonged soaking would keep Southern California residential landscapes green longer without sprinklers. Some residents are hoping to extend that run with rain barrels, which while not widespread, have gained some traction through rebate programs.

Geri Cicero, a retired administrative assistant from Costa Mesa, is ahead of the curve on that front. She said that even before the drought, she installed rain barrels and other water-catching devices around her property. She’s anxious for an El Niño to fill them up for later landscape use.

“If you walked around my house, you’d see bucket after bucket and barrel after barrel,” she said. “It’s almost like a game for me. I really enjoy it.”

Atwater, with the Southern California Water Committee, has rain barrels, too. While they’re helpful in getting people to think about how much water they use on their landscape, he said, they can only do so much in solving the state’s water storage needs. He said he uses larger rain barrels than most people, and they’re empty within a week or two after a storm.

“A 50-gallon rain barrel doesn’t go very far,” he said.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow

Water storage

Shasta Lake was 35 percent full on Saturday. That’s 58 percent of the amount of water it would normally have this time of year. How the state’s largest reservoirs compare:


Size (acre-feet)

Pct. full

Pct. of normal

Shasta Lake




Lake Oroville




Trinity Lake




New Melones Lake




San Luis Reservoir




Don Pedro Reservoir




Lake Berryessa




Lake Almanor




Lake McClure




Pine Flat




Folsom Lake




Source: California Department of Water Resources

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article37743690.html#storylink=cpy


California drought: El Niño keeps growing, new report shows


Waves overtopping the seawall and flooding Beach Drive during the 1983 El Nino winter.
By Paul Rogers, progers@mercurynews.com
Posted: 08/13/15, 4:20 PM PDT

With wildfires raging and three months to go before the start of the winter rainy season, drought-stricken California received some promising news Thursday morning: growing El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean are not dissipating and continue to gain momentum, increasing with every passing week the chances of desperately needed wet winter weather on the West Coast.

There is a 95 percent probability of El Niño — defined as warmer water at the equator and shifting winds that can bring major weather changes — being present through the end of 2015, and an 85 percent probability it will continue into 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Columbia University

“What’s new this month is that we are predicting this El Niño could be among the strongest El Niños in the historical record dating back to 1950,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
In fact, the system that is emerging is so potentially powerful that one NOAA research scientist, Emily Becker, last month nicknamed this year’s El Niño “Bruce Lee,” after the lightning-fisted Chinese martial arts star.

Why? The surface temperature of Pacific Ocean waters along the equator off Peru is now 3.42 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the historic average, the highest reading ever recorded in early August. And significant winds continue to blow from the west, pushing the warm water toward North and South America. Both are classic signals of a strong El Niño.

The last time there were similar conditions, in the winter of 1997-98, downpours filled California reservoirs, Bay Area cities received double their average rainfall, the Sierra was dumped with snow and rivers rushed to flood stages.

Already, weather patterns are changing this summer.
Both Los Angeles and San Diego set all-time rainfall records this year for the month of July, and flash floods washed away a bridge last month over Interstate 10 east of Palm Springs. Meanwhile, in Chile, six people have been killed in recent weeks during heavy downpours and mudslides, and 30 towns have been flooded around Buenos Aires.

Experts cautioned, however, that although California has been more likely to have wet winters in past history when strong El Niños are present, they are not guaranteed.
“The correlations between precipitation and El Niño are far from perfect,” said Kevin Werner, NOAA’s director of western region climate services. “There are examples from the recent past when El Niño events were drier than average.”

Since 1951, there have been five winters with strong El Niño conditions. In four of them, rainfall in the Bay Area and Los Angeles was at least 140 percent of the historic average, according to studies by Saratoga meteorologist Jan Null.

Soquel Creek district retains status quo water restrictions

By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 04/21/15

CAPITOLA >> The Soquel Creek Water District board voted to maintain a status-quo water emergency status at its meeting Tuesday, forgoing more severe cutback options.

The decision, approved in a 3-2 vote, aligned with results of a recent district phone survey of 300 customers, 90 percent of who said they were already doing everything they could to conserve water and who were less supportive of mandatory water rationing and penalties.

Board member Rick Meyer said he thought a Stage 4 Water Shortage Emergency, one level higher than the existing Stage 3, was premature.

“A Stage 4 is too much of a jump,” Meyer said. “Before we do 35 percent, we need to go from the current 20 to 25 percent.”

The Stage 3 emergency that was ultimately approved, calls for a 25 percent districtwide cutback compared to 2013, though it only reached about a 20 percent reduction in 2014.

Board member Carla Christensen urged her fellow board members to consider moving up to a Stage 4 water emergency. She said the board had a menu of possible water restrictions that it could put in place, but it did not have to use them all.

“The Stage 4 is just an observation of fact. You can’t vote it to be something it isn’t,” Christensen said, referring to conditions that are spelled out in the district’s Urban Water Management Plan for implementing the various water emergency levels.

The board decision came late in the meeting, after first hearing a summary of the survey’s results, financial forecasts likely to impact later water rate increases and potential water budget styles.

Consultant Paul Goodwin, whose firm conducted the customer phone survey, said many customers were well-informed about the severity of water shortages facing the area and had made personal strides to cut back on their water use. Most, however, looked to the district to find new alternative water supply options such as a desalination plant or recycling water, going beyond customer conservation, Goodwin said.

Though that fact represents a challenge for the district as it looks toward establishing the coming year’s water restrictions, Goodwin said there were other encouraging findings.

“It didn’t take much for people to do more,” Goodwin told district board. “Sixty-one percent said they could cut water use another 10 percent for 20 years. It does indicate you have room to move people.”

Goodwin stressed that communication will be key as the district continues exploring ways to deal with projected long-term water shortages due to saltwater intrusion into underground aquifers. He commended the district’s existing outreach, with 41 percent of those surveyed aware that the district faced water shortages separate from the ongoing statewide drought.

Only a handful of people turned out for the meeting, held at Capitola City Hall. The low involvement marked a reversal from similar meetings last year, which drew extensive public debate about proposed mandatory water rationing, penalties and a moratorium on new water connections.

District survey results showed that customers were more willing to support a voluntary daily water budget, above water budgets paired with a penalty. The district nearly met what will be a state-mandated water use reduction of 20 percent in 2015 last year.

Speaker Dave Smith urged the board to stick with the already in-place Stage 3 emergency.

“It’s not really perhaps as obvious that it could be brought up this time. It should be well-publicized,” Smith said of the potential moratorium on new water hookups considered in a Stage 4 emergency.

State drought emergency filters down to Soquel Creek Water District

By Jessica A. York, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 04/07/15, 9:15 PM PDT

On Tuesday night, the Soquel Creek Water District Board of Directors discussed incorporating state mandates into its urban water management plan. Notable changes to already-existing district efforts include limiting residential outdoor turf and ornamental landscaping irrigation to twice a week, and banning watering during or within 48 hours of measurable rainfall.

Brown’s order called for a cumulative 25 percent water usage reduction statewide, but mandates for individual water agencies will be more subtle. Sliding-scale water usage reduction goals, released by the state Tuesday evening, would require Soquel Creek Water District to maintain a 20 percent residential cutback, compared to its 2013 figures. That goal, said district General Manager Kim Adamson, is on par with water reductions made in 2014.

“We have been very close to meeting that — sometimes a little over, sometimes a little under,” Adamson said.

Separate from stage measure, the district board will consider moving from its existing Stage 3 Emergency Water Shortage, which calls for a 25 percent water use reduction, to Stage 4, calling for a 35 percent reduction, at its April 21 meeting.

Board member Bruce Jaffe said the district has an opportunity to capitalize on water issues receiving such heightened attention by increasing public outreach and education efforts. The Soquel Creek Water District faces somewhat unique water source issues, compared to its neighbors, in that it relies solely on a groundwater aquifer supply, rather than stream runoff. The ongoing statewide drought emergency, while assisting in the district’s effort to raise awareness, is less of an immediate concern than groundwater overdraft, officials have said.

“This is an opportunity for the district to have an impact on people who are listening, Jaffe said. “I do think it’s a teachable moment, and there’s lots to be taught. One of the things we have to keep driving home is our problems don’t get solved by rain. But people are listening now, I think.

District regulations already in effect, to remain:
• No excess watering that flows onto sidewalks, roads or neighboring properties.
• No hosing down sidewalks and driveways.
• Car washing only with a shut-off nozzle attached to a hose.
• Water served only on request in restaurants and bars.
• Hotels and motels must offer patrons ability to opt-out of daily towel and linen washing.

Later in the meeting, DeepWater Desal partners gave a presentation on their efforts to build a desalination plant and associated seawater-cooled data center in Moss Landing. The board also was scheduled to adjourn to a closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting to evaluate Adamson’s job performance. Last month, a closed session vote to terminate Adamson’s contract failed to gain needed board support.

Retrofitting pre-1979 homes can prevent much costlier quake damage

Napa quake
A house in Fillmore sits askew six months after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, having slid off its foundation. (Joe Pugliese / Los Angeles Times)

By Rong-Gong Lin II contact the reporter

Even single-family homes aren't always protected against earthquakes.Single-family homes with wooden frames and concrete foundations are vulnerable in quakes, but can be fortified.
Over the last few years, much of the focus on earthquake safety has been on concrete buildings and wooden apartments with weak first stories, which can collapse in a major earthquake. But single-family homes also pose risks. And there are steps homeowners can take to make their dwelling more structurally secure.

What's the most significant risk to single-family homes?
A big problem involves homes built before 1979 with a handful of steps above the ground, where in between the floor of the house and the concrete slab foundation is a crawl space a few feet tall.
The heavy house rests atop a flimsy wood-frame perimeter that is not bolted to the concrete foundation.
So when an earthquake hits and the concrete foundation moves, the wooden part of the house snaps off — possibly falling into the backyard or through the neighbor's fence.
"In an earthquake, what happens is that the house can either topple or slide off of the foundation," said Janiele Maffei, a structural engineer and executive director of the California Residential Mitigation Program. "Essentially, it's like you're trying to pull the rug out from underneath the house."

What can be done to make them more secure?
solution is generally simple: add metal rods to attach the wooden house to the concrete foundation, and plywood "to add stiffness and strength to keep the house on its foundation," she said.
These types of homes have been damaged in earthquakes as early as the 1906 San Francisco quake, as well as in the 1933 Long Beach, 1971 Sylmar, 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge quakes, and last year's Napa earthquake.
Essentially, it's like you're trying to pull the rug out from underneath the house. - Janiele Maffei, of the California Residential Mitigation Program
"It's so distressing to drive around Napa and see these beautiful older homes that have slid off their foundation, and repairs can be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands" of dollars, Maffei said. In the worst case, a house shoved off its foundation could also sever gas lines, fueling a fire.
To reattach an intact house to its foundation, an owner might have to pay to lift the entire structure several feet and pour a new concrete foundation, then lower the house down at a cost as high as $400,000.
By contrast, the cost of a preventive retrofit is usually between $2,000 and $10,000, with an average price tag of $5,000, Maffei said.

What does the law say?
City governments have not required homeowners to make seismic retrofits to single-family homes. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Los Angeles city building officials briefly considered requiring 50,000 single-family homes to be retrofitted, but the idea was rejected.
State legislation that would have required wood-frame homes to be bolted to their foundations at the time they were sold was never approved.
Damage suffered by single-family wooden homes during earthquakes hasn't typically killed people. But it's the economic cost that can prove devastating to families, Maffei said.
In the Napa quake, some had to withdraw from retirement savings to begin repairs to devastated homes. Others decided to sell.

Is your home earthquake-ready? How to prepare for the Big One
Is your home earthquake-ready? How to prepare for the Big One


Santa Cruz County offers property owners program to legalize unpermitted construction without penalty

By Samantha Clark, Santa Cruz Sentinel
FELTON >> When converting garages or adding rooms, most homeowners follow the rules. However, the problem of a high number of buildings without the proper permits exist in Santa Cruz County.

Those properties could have more difficulty selling, and insurance companies won’t cover damages. The owners could also face fines or be forced to tear down those structures.

The problem is rampant, said Vicki Wees, a longtime local Realtor, and one that often surfaces when it’s time to sell.

The arduous process of securing the necessary permits can seem like opening a can of worms. Inspectors visit numerous times during construction to make sure that each step is up to code, from the foundation to the roof. And the fee costs may be difficult to estimate and vary from urban to rural areas.

“People hear the horror stories over getting a bathroom, and they just say they will do it on their own,” Wees said.

For a long time, Santa Cruz County has had a reputation for being a difficult place to get a permit approved.
“Frankly, that’s why we think there’s a high degree of unpermitted construction,” said Kathy Previsich, county planning director.

To address the problem, a new program lays out the welcome mat for property owners in unincorporated areas who never secured the necessary permits, and ushers in a new change of attitude within the county.

The Legalization Assistance Permit Program reduces fees and waives penalties, which are double normal fees.

How it works is property owners submit an application, document the construction and pay $470 for a special inspection permit. A building inspector will review the improvements and outline the steps that need to be taken for the structure to meet code.

“It’s worth exploring,” said Brian Kane at a informational meeting for the program Thursday in Felton. Kane inherited an unpermitted driveway from the previous owner of his property.
One of the first people to take advantage of the new program, which began in October, was someone who illegally built an entire home decades ago but now wants to sell. More than a dozen have applied for the two-year program, so far.

“If you didn’t do it with permits, you’re not getting full value for your house. Your insurance company isn’t going to compensate you for unpermitted additions,” she said.

Safety ranks among the key concerns with illegal buildings, said Tony Falcone, county chief building official. Garage apartments often don’t have proper heating, for example, and plug-in heaters can easily cause fires. Given the forest and steep landscape in the county, fires may spread more rapidly. In addition, strict building regulations help withstand earthquakes.

However, for those who start the program and then decide not to participate, the county will return any information shared.

“If you walk away, then at least you know of dangers on your property so you can at least fix that,” Previsich said. “It is confidential and not going to trigger us to initiate code compliance.”

The housing crisis prompted the program in part. Given county’s the proximity to Silicon Valley, gorgeous landscapes and colleges, housing gets eaten up.

“Let’s try to help people legalize and make safe the existing housing stock,” Previsich said. “We have made a good number of changes to our permitting practices in the county and some of our development standards and our ordinances.

Soquel Creek district reports success treating chromium 6

Compound known to exist in four pumping wells

By J.M. Brown
SOQUEL >> While Soquel Creek Water District leaders weigh a mix of supplemental supply and conservation options to address the environmental and political implications of groundwater overdraft, the agency is reporting success in tackling another vexing problem: chromium 6.
The district recently received one of the first permits in the state to operate a full-scale pilot facility that treats hexavalent chromium in groundwater for direct redistribution into the drinking water supply.
In July, a new state regulation went into effect setting the acceptable level of the naturally occurring compound at 10 parts per billion. But the district has set a goal of eventually treating groundwater to the level of 2 parts per billion and has removed from production two pumping wells found to contain hexavalent chromium, which has been found to pose health risks.
"We're confident that the quality of water we're providing to our customers far exceeds even the new state standard," said Taj Dufour, chief engineer.
The district received a permit in late September from the state Water Resources Control Board's Division of Drinking Water to operate the facility on San Andreas Road. On Oct. 10, the district began delivering water to customers with reduced levels of hexavalent chromium.
The facility is treating a couple hundred gallons per minute, but by mid-November should be treating 1,000 gallons per minute. That is a substantial increase from the 15 gallons per minute treated during an initial project funded by a grant from the Water Research Foundation.
Chromium 6, which entered the public consciousness after the film "Erin Brockovich" detailed the legal fight to clean up contamination in the San Bernardino County community of Hinkley, organically exists in rocks and soils, Dufour said. It is prevalent in the Aromas Red Sands Aquifer that makes up the southern part of the district's service area.
Removing chromium 6 using ion-exchange resin technology, which employs beads that the compound adheres to when water is filtered, doesn't add to the overall supply of the district, Dufour said. Rather, it makes the current supply cleaner and safer.
"It doesn't alleviate our problem," Dufour said, regarding the agency's push to reduce groundwater pumping throughout the Soquel-Aptos basin to block seawater intrusion.
The success of the project is being watched carefully.
"It's very significant because they started early" complying with the state standard, said Jan Sweigert, district engineer with the Drinking Water Division in the water board's Monterey District office. "This is really a full-scale demonstration project."
The district pays $10,000 monthly to rent the facility, and hopes by October 2016 to be operating a permanent facility that is estimated to cost $7.4 million. The facility would treat three of four wells known to contain chromium 6, and the fourth would be kept idle except for emergency use.

Ground-breaking survey maps coastal saltwater intrusion

Study maps 25 miles of Monterey coastline

Posted: 10/23/14

By Nicholas Weiler
SANTA CRUZ >> A team of researchers from Stanford and the University of Calgary say a ground-breaking geophysical survey of saltwater intrusion into groundwater tables along 25 miles of Monterey Bay coastline shows the wells are running a deficit.
Santa Cruz and Monterey counties pump the majority of their fresh water from wells that tap into river-like groundwater aquifers. Normally, water from winter rains soaks into the ground then percolates toward the sea through the aquifers, and only a fraction is removed for domestic and agricultural use.
But as the drought continues, there has not been enough rain to replace the water being withdrawn from the ground.
Mary Bannister, general manager of the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, compared the aquifers to a bank account: If withdrawals are bigger than deposits, soon the account will be in the red. Right now, she said, "We're really overdrafting the bank."
A major problem water managers face is that aquifers are effectively invisible. No one knows exactly how far the ocean has penetrated until it contaminates another well. Water districts have monitoring wells in place up and down the coast to help them detect saltwater intrusion before it hits production wells, but they still can't see what's happening between the wells.
This is why Stanford geophysicist Rosemary Knight decided to create a continuous map of where ocean water is crossing into aquifers all along the coast by conducting a geophysical survey of unprecedented scale.
The Canadian-American survey team spent weeks inching up the beach from Fort Ord in Monterey County to Rio del Mar, laying down thousands of feet of cable and pounding 4-foot stainless steel electrodes into the sand every 75 feet. The researchers pumped tiny pulses of electrical current into the ground and measured how they spread through the earth along more than a mile of cable.
"Because we're laying out these cables along such a great distance, we can see to a great depth," said Knight.
The data the team has collected will reveal the boundary between saltwater and freshwater up to 1,000 feet below the ground, Knight said, which will give water managers a warning if the sea is intruding where it shouldn't. Knight estimated her team will have extracted preliminary results from the data as early as February.
Bannister estimated the region needs at least 15 inches of rain each winter to begin to restore groundwater.
"We haven't had that for going on three years now," she said.
Watsonville, near the center of the Pajaro basin, saw less than 10 inches of rain last year, only 40 percent of average, according to data from the National Weather Service.
A serious danger of continuing to pump the depleted aquifers, said Bannister, is that as groundwater levels drop below sea level, ocean water can be drawn into the aquifers, spoiling the water supply farmers and communities rely on. In some places along the coast, saltwater has contaminated wells miles inland, Bannister said.
Saltwater intrusion from overpumping is not a new problem, Bannister said. It has been documented along the Monterey coast since the 1930s. But the current drought has the potential to make it much worse.
"We're kind of in crisis mode," said Bannister.
John E. Eiskamp, former president of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau and a berry grower, called saltwater intrusion a basin-wide problem that the bureau is concerned about.
"Once a well is impacted, you're not going to change that," he said.
Meredith Goebel, a graduate student of Knight's who was part of the survey team, said, "I didn't want to write a thesis that would sit on a shelf. This seemed like something that would be helpful to a lot of people."
"It's a critical piece of information," said Taj Dufour, chief engineer at Soquel Creek Water District, where coastal monitoring wells have detected saltwater intrusion.
Dufour said he hopes water districts and scientists can continue to collaborate to create a more complete picture of the problem — for instance by tracking the saltwater boundary over time. Without more continuous data, he said, "we don't necessarily know if it is getting better or worse."


25 years after Loma Prieta: Bay Area infrastructure is safer, but we're still on shaky ground

By Lisa M. Krieger and Matthias Gafni
Staff writers Santa Cruz Sentinel

POSTED:   10/11/2014 04:00:00 PM

If the Loma Prieta earthquake happened today, Buck Helm might have survived his Nimitz Freeway commute to watch his two youngest children grow up. Donna Marsden could have finished fixing up her Victorian home. Delores Stewart could have cheered on her beloved Oakland A's.

Twenty-five years later, the freeways and bridges that collapsed have been rebuilt to stand up to a quake even more powerful than the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta.

More than $22 billion in infrastructure upgrades have built a metropolitan area that is far safer and far more resilient than before. It's a testament to the power of long-term planning, borne of the ashes of the tragedy -- 25 years ago Friday.

An extensive Bay Area News Group survey of our infrastructure offers much reassurance: Major water pipes are now designed to bend, not break. Bridges and overpasses can better support us. Gas and power lines are safer near fault lines. Hospitals are sturdier.

But our readiness to recover from the Big One gets far from a perfect score -- more like a C-plus, say experts who study quake preparation around the globe.

"A lot has been done," said Stanford civil engineer Anne Kiremidjian. "But to get a B, there's a lot more to be done.

"Our entire region is a very complicated system, and it all has to function together."

Decades of improvements buoy hope that while the Bay Area's $535 billion a year economic engine might sputter, it would eventually recover.

But the newspaper's analysis shows significant "lifelines" -- BART's tunnels under the bay and through the Berkeley hills, the Golden Gate Bridge, highways, local roads and utility distribution lines -- have yet to be upgraded. After a 7.0 or worse quake on the Hayward, San Andreas or Concord faults, it could take months, even years, for some systems to be fully restored, experts say.

And the status of private systems is unclear; telecom companies and refineries, for instance, insist on privacy that makes their preparations a mystery to Bay Area emergency planners.

Our population has surged from 6 million to 7.7 million. Our economy now holds one of the nation's highest concentrations of wealth and is a center of innovation. And the next earthquake to challenge our more complex and interdependent urban lives may not rupture in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains. It may be underneath our feet.

If the Big One ruptures we could face up to $200 billion in total residential and commercial property damage, according to Menlo Park's Risk Management Solutions, which assesses earthquake risk worldwide. By comparison, losses from Hurricane Katrina totaled $120 billion.

Nature would never swallow whole something so colossal, concrete and wildly ambitious as the modern San Francisco Bay Area, said Kiremidjian.

"I can't imagine it being left in shambles. I can see the Bay Area pulling itself together and rebuilding," she said. "But by losing some of our infrastructure, we can lose some of our economic base."

Loma Prieta killed 63 people, injured more than 3,700, destroyed 366 businesses and 11,000 homes and caused $6 billion in property damage. The collapse of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland was responsible for 42 of those deaths.

California quakes no longer tend to kill large numbers of people because new building codes are more rigorous. But catastrophic damage to utilities, hospitals and transit systems? That scares away people and businesses. Once they leave, they tend not to return.

Such post-quake economic casualties can be seen in other earthquake-devastated places.

The Japanese maritime center of Kobe was once one of the world's busiest ports. Since a 7.2 earthquake in 1995, it has been unable to regain its status.

How will the Bay Area cope after a similarly devastating quake?

"If we compare ourselves to other parts of the U.S., the San Francisco Bay Area and the organizations that manage the infrastructures that cross the fault have done quite a good job in trying to retrofit," said Patricia Grossi of Risk Management Solutions.

Five main priorities

There are five recovery priorities identified by experts: Power, water, communications, fuel and transportation.

  • Power network more durable. While the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion exposed the danger of PG&E's aging and degraded pipes, the utility says since Loma Prieta it has installed earthquake-resistant electrical equipment, springlike metal gas transmission lines and automatic shut-off gas valves in fault areas. Since San Bruno, the company has been upgrading pipelines throughout the region.

    However, thousands of miles of small gas distribution pipes are being replaced slowly. So broken gas lines may ignite fires as they did in Napa.

  • Water system upgrades almost complete. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, East Bay Municipal Utility District and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are strengthening major tunnels, improving pipeline joints and rebuilding dams. But thousands of miles of smaller distribution pipes still pose a challenge.
  • Questions remain about telecommunications. AT&T and Verizon, two of the Bay Area's largest cellphone providers, say their systems are seismically up to date but won't reveal how their cellphone systems could be affected in a worst-case quake scenario.

    Emergency mobile cell towers and operations centers can be trucked into a disaster zone. However, those services have rarely been tested in disasters affecting a wide geographic area.

    A collapsed wall from Napa's 6.0 earthquake in August cut power at AT&T's downtown building housing cell service and 911 dispatch. Its backup generator was not working and the entire operation ran on battery power until another generator was brought in.

  • Uncertainty over fuel. All East Bay refineries are at risk in a major Hayward Fault quake, especially pipelines that cross fault lines, according to a 2010 study. But the Bay Area's five refineries are private and tell the public little about planned or completed seismic work. The companies assert that their facilities, all within range of strong shaking on the Hayward and Concord faults, are up to date, but for competitive reasons they won't discuss specifics. All meet California requirements to prevent catastrophic releases, but the state does not require them to assess the risk of shutdowns that would limit fuel production, according to Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Director Randy Sawyer.
  • Big fixes to bridges and overpasses: The newly constructed Benicia-Martinez and Bay bridges are the region's most seismically safe, but questions surfaced about the Bay Bridge's structural integrity. All Bay Area highway overpasses have been retrofitted, and construction on 401 smaller street bridges is more than 80 percent complete.

    The newly opened fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel should be open for emergency vehicles within hours of a quake. The new Tom Lantos Tunnels at Devils Slide will withstand a major quake.

    Overall, water, electricity, gas, and telecom providers have set up some emergency mutual aid networks.

    Much work still to do

    But transportation still ranks high among the biggest projects left on the Bay Area's to-do list.

    BART's Berkeley hills tunnel is expected to collapse where it crosses the Hayward fault if a major quake strikes in that area. A 2002 study found a less than 5 percent probability of a quake occurring at the exact moment a commuter train was in that section.

    Last year, technical advances led BART to explore replacing the tunnel's rigid liner with a "slinky" version, said Tom Horton, project manager of BART's Earthquake Safety Program.

    "It's a very difficult, very slow retrofit to do the work around existing trains."

    Also still at risk is BART's 6-mile long Transbay Tube. The agency thought it was finished with retrofits of the tube connecting San Francisco to the East Bay. But the structure needs a thin steel liner to keep it from flooding. That's expected to be completed no earlier than 2022, Horton said.

    Among the Bay Area's many bridges, its most notable one -- the Golden Gate -- is also its most dangerous. A retrofit that began in 1997 might be finished in 2021.

    A worst-case quake would extensively damage the suspension bridge now, while the retrofitted ends would have only minor damage, according to a bridge district spokeswoman. The final span will be retrofitted to the strongest level.

    And 1,425 miles of highway and more than 2,000 smaller roads have not been retrofitted because they are not a significant threat to public safety -- but they could become impassable, experts say.

    Delta danger looms

    East of the Bay Area, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a critical concern.

    The area around Sherman Island, just north of Antioch, is a chokepoint for railroads, petroleum and power lines, and telecommunication cables to the Bay Area. Those critical infrastructure systems are protected by 1,100 miles of fragile earthen levees -- some more than 100 years old. A major earthquake could trigger many levee failures, allowing saltwater to infiltrate the state's drinking water.

    Finally, all these systems depend on each other. Telecommunication needs power. Power system repairs need fuel. Fuel deliveries need roads. If too many links break, the Bay Area's booming economy could falter.

    "The Bay Area has shown over the past 25 years a willingness to act to improve the reliability of our systems," said Ezra Rapport, director of the Association of Bay Area Governments. "When residents know about risks, they have acted."

    Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026.


    View U.S. Geological Survey animations of how 7.0 and larger Hayward Fault quakes would spread through the Bay Area at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/simulations/hayward/

    How to prepare for it

    The U.S. Geological Survey guide to preparing for quakes, "Protecting Your Family From Earthquakes" is available free online with condensed versions in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. Read or download them athttp://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/prepare/ 


    $21.6 billion to retrofit and upgrade Bay Area's infrastructure

    Pacific Gas and Electric: $2.5 billion from ratepayers
    Bay Area Rapid Transit: $1.3 billion from bond measures and taxpayers, $3 million from FEMA.
    East Bay Municipal Utilities District: $189 million from ratepayers
    California Department of Transportation: $13.08 billion from taxpayers
    San Francisco Public Utilities Commission: $4.6 billion bond measure
    Santa Clara Valley Water District: $700 million from ratepayers and bond measures
    Source: Association of Bay Area Governments

  • Soquel Creek water board delays rationing plan

    By J.M. Brown
    POSTED:   09/01/2014 11:00:00 PM PDT

    CAPITOLA >> Saying the public doesn't understand or support a proposed 20-year water rationing program, the Soquel Creek Water District board voted unanimously Tuesday to redo it and take greater community input.
    District staff had recommended setting a limit of 75 gallons per person per day for residential customers and require them to sign an affidavit stating the number of people per household if it is greater than one. Commercial customers would have been restricted from irrigating turf unless it serves a public function, such as sports fields.
    Absent a supplemental supply project generated by a recycled water or seawater desalination plant, the point of the program was to reduce overall groundwater pumping by 11 percent, or a third of what a worst-case estimate cites is needed to restore aquifers through 2035 and halt seawater intrusion.
    "I think it would be wise to go slowly on this," said board member Bruce Jaffe, who suggested the delay. "We don't have a program if our customers don't want it."
    The board will resume the discussion in October, including whether to move forward with a pilot program educating customers through an initial residential enrollment process and billing statements what fees they would incur based on their current consumption if the proposal passed. In October, the board plans to take a formal vote to call off a proposed fee structure expected to go into effect next year.
    "This is the best conversation we've had about this program since Day One," General Manager Kim Adamson said, acknowledging the proposal had moved too quickly.
    District staff said only about half of residential customers would exceed the proposed rationing in summer based on current use and 14 would be percent would go over in winter. But customers have been increasingly calling into question how the limits are set and how much the district should spend to enforce them.
    Jonathan Nelson, a Soquel Drive resident, said he believed the district should base the cuts on a percentage of the current use, not on an across-the-board limit.
    "I feel a way to get community support is to make everybody equal," he said.
    By October, the district also will have a better sense of how serious the overdraft is, which will determine how severe the rationing should be. On Sept. 16, the board will evaluate differing hydrology reports based on a number of factors, including whether to count septic recharge in restoring the basin. One report states the depth of accumulated overdraft is about twice as severe as a more recent study.
    Also Tuesday, the board approved providing service to a new school building for Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, which has met a requirement to offset nearly 500,000 gallons of water each year including a credit for removing 15,000 square feet of turf. The church received conditional approval in April amid a board debate about whether to approve new water service when mandated cuts were on the horizon.


    Rick Meyer: Acting now for a water emergency that awaits
    By Rick Meyer  in on the Soquel Creek Water District board of directors.

    Special to the Sentinel

    POSTED:   08/07/2014 03:26:33 PM PDT0 COMMENTS

    The Soquel Creek Water District board declared a groundwater emergency and a stage-three water shortage emergency at our June 3 meeting, attended by hundreds of concerned customers, after hours of public comment.

    The declarations enable the district to take action, in concert with other users of the same groundwater, to reduce usage, through programs such as the district's water-rationing program planned for early next year. The other board members and I acted because coastal wells will be permanently ruined by seawater pollution in a few years unless we are successful with deeper conservation and construction of a supplementary water supply.

    In one well, sea water is just 100 feet below the intake. During much of the year, the water level in the middle of the district is 16 feet or more below sea level, driving further seawater intrusion. In an expensive delaying tactic, we are abandoning some wells closest to shore and building new ones inland.

    How can there be an emergency when water still flows freely and inexpensively? This is not like a flood or fire. It is because urgent protective action is needed. If you are the engineer driving a freight train and spot a stalled school bus a mile ahead on the tracks, the emergency begins then, not when you hit the bus, since you must apply the emergency brake right away to avoid hitting the bus. The train takes a long time to stop.

    The water in our aquifers is being used faster than it is being replenished and it will take years to achieve balance. There can be no TV news videos showing seawater pollution since it is hidden underground, but we must still take urgent action now so water flows freely in the future. The exact number of years before wells might be ruined is uncertain and so is the number of years it will take to build a supplementary supply — but uncertainty cannot stop us. The situation is similar with global climate change, but that time scale is measured in decades, not years.

    The current drought has only a minor, delayed impact on water supply in the district. Only long-term rainfall averages affect our available groundwater. Yet our conscientious customers used 18 percent less water in May than in May of last year, already nearly achieving the 20 percent savings we asked for. This shows what our community can achieve when motivated.

    If we can keep up those savings indefinitely, past the current era of drought awareness, then we will be about half way to sustainability. We may gain extra needed years in which to plan and construct an additional water supply, an expensive project that may take eight to 12 years.

    Our work toward a supplementary supply was set back by several years when the city of Santa Cruz effectively withdrew from its partnership with us, worsening the emergency.

    Unfortunately, water savings do not translate into dollar savings for customers — most of our costs are fixed, so if we deliver less water, rates must go up just to provide the same level of services.

    In a 3-2 split vote, the board decided to redesign the water demand offset program. Previously customers applying for new water service paid for conservation somewhere in the district, primarily toilet replacements, to offset the impact of new water demand. In the revised program, developers will contribute to a fund, in proportion to the expected water use of their project, with funds used to implement a new range of permanent and verifiable offset measures.

    Be heard on the issues by attending our meetings. You can speak at any meeting, and the the board regularly receives a wide range of citizen and expert opinion. Videos of the June 3 and other important meetings are archived at vp.telvue.com/preview?id=T02695.

    I wrote this editorial to describe my own views, which may be different than those of other board members

    San Lorenzo Valley Water District approves Lompico merger

    Deal would strengthen community, board says
    By Kara Guzman
    POSTED:   05/22/2014 09:02:59 PM PD

    BEN LOMOND >> A merger between Lompico's and San Lorenzo Valley's water districts, in process for four years, passed a major hurdle Thursday.
    The San Lorenzo Valley Water District board unanimously approved the merger application, bringing the district one step closer to annexing Lompico in January 2015.
    Board member Larry Prather said the merger makes sense, since San Lorenzo Valley's district surrounds Lompico's.
    "It makes us stronger — not only as a community, but as a water district," Prather said. "We have 500 more ratepayers. It makes us more survivable in times of emergency."
    Assuming LAFCO, the boundary commission overseeing the process, approves the application following an August public hearing, the decision will be left to Lompico residents who will have the opportunity to protest in November. More than a 50 percent protest precludes the merger.
    A two-thirds vote by Lompico residents is also required to approve a $2.75 million bond to pay for capital improvement, a condition of the merger.
    Ben Lomond resident Nick Naccari, one of about 20 community members in attendance Thursday night, said he's concerned that the merger would distract San Lorenzo Valley staff from focusing on its own deferred maintenance, such as leaking redwood tanks.
    Board member Randall Brown echoed those concerns.
    "Maybe we won't be able to replace all six (Lompico) tanks before we replace some of ours," said Brown. "I hope we have that kind of flexibility."
    Felton resident Mark Messimer, said he's concerned about the unknown costs of annexing an aging system. The completion of the emergency pipeline buys time to make more detailed cost estimates, he said.
    "We don't have to be fear-based. We can be fact based," Messimer said.
    Lois Henry, president of Lompico water district's board, held her head in her hands at the announcement of the approval.
    "It's a step forward," Henry said. "I'm very excited."


    New Water Use Reduction Program Planned for Fall, 2014 for the Soquel Water District

    Posted Thu, 04/03/2014 - 3:46pm by LarryH

    On April 1, 2014, the Soquel Creek Water District’s Board of Directors approved a long-term, year-round Water Use Reduction Program that will take effect this Fall and remain in place even after the drought ends.
    Our community is facing a challenging water shortage that requires both immediate and long-term actions. Right now, the Soquel Creek Water District is asking customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%, consistent with what Governor Brown has asked Californians to do in the face of the current drought.
    The new Program will recognize that many of our customers are already conserving water and will focus on helping high users meet new water use goals. If conservation is a way of life for you, you likely already meet these goals and won’t be asked to reduce further.
    Our sole source of water is a groundwater basin that can no longer fully sustain us. We’re already seeing signs of seawater seeping into the depleted basin at the coastline. We can’t let seawater move further inland and contaminate our freshwater wells (or the privately owned wells that are also scattered throughout our area) because if that happens, it will make these drinking water wells unusable. We need to reduce our overall pumping substantially for at least 20 years to let the basin naturally replenish itself.  And we need to find an additional water supply.
    The Board has been holding discussions since January to develop the new program, with input from staff, technical experts and community members. The aim is to save enough water to slow down the seawater intrusion while we continue searching for additional water. We will continue to provide more information and direction as the program is fully developed.
    What Will the Water Reduction Program Look Like?
    Each residential District customer will be allocated a monthly water budget based on 75 gallons per person per day.
    Residential water budgets can be adjusted based on the number of people in a household. If you exceed your water budget, there will be financial penalties. Businesses, vacation rentals and other organizations will have their own guidelines based on best management practices for indoor and outdoor water efficiency and water-saving behaviors, with penalties for non-compliance.
    The District is committed to helping our customers meet these goals. We will offer substantial customer outreach and support including substantial rebate packages

    More information - Water Conservation Links

    Santa Cruz Water customers must use less indoors or cut irrigation

    Santa Cruz Sentinel
    SANTA CRUZ -- For many Santa Cruz water customers, who are among the lowest consumers in California, drought-driven rationing set to go into effect May 1 won't require drastically cutting indoor use as long as they're willing to forgo lawns and gardens.
    The Water Department asks customers to use no more than 60 gallons total per person per day, which is below the 58 gallons used indoors on average in Santa Cruz, according to city figures. But, on average, 25 percent of overall consumption in single-family homes happens outdoors.
    As the window for winter rain closes in coming weeks, that means the city's 92,000 customers face a stark choice: Sharply reduce irrigation or slash indoor use.
    Single-family customers will receive a daily allotment of 249 gallons per household for indoor and outdoor use, according to the city's rationing plan. Multi-family residential customers, such as those living in apartment complexes, will receive between 124 to 174 gallons per day depending on the size of the property.
    The city has based the allotments on the assumption there are four or fewer persons per single-family household and two to three people in each multi-family residential unit. Customers from both categories can apply for more water if their households are larger.
    Conservation manager Toby Goddard said the overall aim to cut system demand 25 percent doesn't mean customers who are already efficient users will be cut more deeply. Allotments are set across the board based on customer type.
    "This system doesn't punish those who have conserved," Goddard said.
    Scott Barnes, a nearly 30-year resident who rents a single-family home, said his average use is below the allotment. But, he still intends to help out but taking shorter showers, flushing the toilet less and buying more bottled water for him and his two cats.
    "Hopefully this will not last that long," he said.
    The philosophy behind the rationing amounts, Goddard said, is to protect health and safety first while also balancing the need to support jobs and the economy.
    Large landscape users will be hit the hardest, receiving two-thirds less water during the emergency declared by the City Council on Feb. 25. The city's two golf courses will receive about half their usual allotment.
    Businesses will not be rationed unless conditions worsen, but the 200 largest commercial users, those who consume more than 1 million gallons annually, will undergo audits and be asked to draft a conservation plan.
    UC Santa Cruz, the city's single largest customer, has agreed to cut its use 25 percent. Spokesman Jim Burns said a university working group is examining how different sectors, from housing to dining and recreation, can cut use and how to report consumption levels regularly to different divisions.
    "We recognize we have to do our part," he said.
    However, it is single-family residential customers who comprise the city's largest overall use at about 60 percent.
    Toilets make up about a quarter of consumption in the home, while clothes washers account for 22 percent and showers represent 17 percent, according to city figures. Leaks make up about as much as faucets, at 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
    Therefore, fixing leaks and installing high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers are the biggest steps customers can take to reduce use, as well as getting shower heads that use 2 gallons per minute or less. Customers also may install "laundry-to-landscaping" gray water systems that use discarded laundry water for outdoor use or rip out lawns in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping or turf.
    Meanwhile, Goddard encouraged customers to closely watch their water bills, which will be sent monthly, as opposed to every other month, to help customers better track their average use. Other than reading their meters, water bills will be the first notification customers get when they have exceeded their allotment.
    The first 10 percent of use over the rationed amount will cost $25 per unit, which is equal to 748 gallons. Each unit more than 10 percent of the allotment will cost customers $50.
    Customers can apply for exceptions and appeal fines, and the city also is designing a class, similar to traffic school, in which customers can have penalties repealed through education.
    As of Monday, water supply conditions continue to be critical with no rain forecast this week.
    The San Lorenzo River, the city's primary source, is flowing at 14 percent of its long-term average. Seasonal rainfall, while far better after February storms, is still only at 40 percent. Loch Lomond Reservoir, which the city relies on heavily in summer, is about two-thirds full.
    TOILETS: High-efficiency toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush. Older models use up to 5 gallons.
    LAUNDRY: High-efficiency clothes washers use 15 gallons per load.
    SHOWERS: Shower heads with high-efficiency fixtures use 2 gallons per minute.
    DISHWASHERS: One cycle can use 6-10 gallons.
    BATHROOM SINK: Sinks with high-efficiency fixtures use 1.5 gallons per minute.
    DETAILS: For information about the rationing program, visit www.cityofsantacruz.com/drought.

    SOURCE: Santa Cruz Water Department