City chips away at Leucadia flooding problem

Encinitas officials plan to tackle chronic flooding problems in Leucadia in the coming year with a series of projects aimed at better controlling stormwater runoff following rainstorms.

The flooding issue, which came up most recently during a public hearing on a proposed residential project at the corner of Hymettus Avenue and Fulvia Street, has plagued residents of various parts of Leucadia for years.

City officials, including members of the City Council and the director of Public Works, say there is a commitment to addressing the problem.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said she and her colleagues are “well aware” of the flooding issues in Leucadia. “This is something I have pushed for,” Gaspar said. “I think we’re finally at the council all on the same page and committed to making progress in the Leucadia area.”

“My bottom line is we need to ask what can we do and we need to devote some resources to it,” said City Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear.

For residents such as Cash Manning, who has lived for 20 years in a 1920s-era home at the corner of Hymettus and Fulvia, the action can’t come soon enough. Several times a year, he said, throughout the time he has lived at the property, the street adjacent to his house has flooded, causing stormwater to pool more than a foot deep on his property. The constant flooding, he said, has damaged his home’s heating system and foundation.

Manning contends that a contributing factor to the flooding problem, along with a lack of storm drains, is new development, such as the nine-home project diagonally across from his property that the council approved last month on a 4-1 vote over the objections of neighbors.

“I’m not against development,” he said, but, “You’ve got to have the infrastructure (in order) to build.”

Manning and his neighbors argued last month that the new project would exacerbate the flooding, because the building of homes, patios and driveways would cause the land to absorb less water, sending more onto the flooded street.

But the developer and hydrology experts, as well as city planning officials, contend that new stormwater management measures, such as retention basins and permeable paving materials, will actually prevent runoff from leaving the property, thus improving the flooding situation.

Leucadia’s flooding woes can be traced to a perfect storm of factors, such as lack of an adequate storm drain system and “funky topography” whose undulations create low-lying, flood-prone areas, said Encinitas Public Works Director Glenn Pruim.

For a number of years, the city’s long-range capital improvement budget included a proposed $90 million comprehensive project to upgrade Leucadia’s drainage system, said Gaspard. The price tag, almost as much as the city’s annual operating budget, was overwhelming, and the proposal never moved forward. Last year, the council instead decided to focus on smaller, incremental projects designed to improve Leucadia’s flooding situation, Gaspard said.

Blakespear agreed. “We need to look at what we can do, rather than have an attitude of we can’t do anything.”

To that end, the proposed city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes a number of projects to address flooding and drainage issues in Leucadia, said Pruim.

They include $350,000 for a study of drainage improvements along Vulcan Avenue in South Leucadia; a long-term plan for streetscape improvements along the Coast Highway corridor that will capture stormwater and let it percolate into the ground; and $100,000 for a separate study of stormwater management at Leucadia Roadside Park, which could include capture of stormwater for use in landscape irrigation.

In addition, said Pruim, a $275,000 line item would cover the construction of dry wells at a number of flooding “hot spots” around Leucadia, a list that includes the flood-prone intersection of Hymettus and Fulvia. The dry wells are holes drilled into the ground and filled with rocks, which fill with stormwater, which then leaches into the ground. Although a dry well currently exists at Hymettus and Fulvia, silt carried by stormwater has clogged the spaces between the rocks, reducing its effectiveness in capturing runoff.

The $275,000 would also cover installation of a drainpipe under the railroad tracks north of Leucadia Boulevard, alleviating flooding on the east side of the tracks that spills over onto Vulcan Avenue.

In the meantime, the city takes such measures as sending out pumper trucks after rainstorms to remove stormwater from flooded streets and intersections.

During upcoming budget deliberations, the council will consider the Leucadia flood control projects, including any adjustments to the proposals.

Manning blames a combination of development and lack of infrastructure for much of the flooding problem, in particular a state law — called density bonus — that allows developers to build more residential units than allowed under city zoning if at least one unit is set aside for low-income occupants.

“You see stuff they’re building and you say, what are they thinking, where’s the water going to go?” he said.

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