San Jose's flood warning failure

Why didn't the City of San Jose act? That’s the question Santa Clara Valley water officials are raising in a new letter to the mayor claiming city leaders had ample warning to evacuate residents hours, if not days, ahead of last month's devastating flood.

Zoo Keeper Valerie Riegel said four feet of water flooded part of Happy Hollow Zoo & Park during the February 21 flooding in San Jose. The zoo in no time evacuated its meerkats and ring-tailed lemurs after closely monitoring weather web sites and watching the rising Coyote Creek outside its door.

“For a lot of the animals we moved them as a precautionary [measure] because we didn't want to have to wait until we had to move them,” said Riegel.

In a letter to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, the Santa Clara Valley Water District said the zoo acted accordingly and questions why the City of San Jose didn't do the same for its residents.

The water district claims it began notifying the City of San Jose through several emails and phone calls five days before the storm of potential flooding in low-lying neighborhoods. The Anderson Dam spillway, activated for the first time in years, was a big indicator.

“There were a few hours to know that the 6-7,000 cubic feet per second that was flowing over the spillway going to be making its way downtown,” said Marty Grimes of the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The water district said besides its warnings, it points to additional warnings from the National Weather Service flooding was imminent the day before.

“A question back to the city is what is your trigger? What are you waiting to see before you decided to evacuate?” said Grimes.

“The action for the city is 40 miles of creek. Where on that creek is there going to be flooding? We thought based on the district's information that flooding was possible later than it happened in locations we didn't know when it would happen,” said Vossbrink.

City of San Jose Spokesman David Vossbrink said the city admits it should have done a better job of notifying residents sooner. The City of San Jose contends the district gave them insufficient data that didn't reflect the magnitude of the flooding.

“If we made decisions based on bad information, bad on us,” said Vossbrink. “We together are moving forward and we need to have better information,” said Vossbrink.

On Wednesday, there will be a special water district board meeting with the City of San Jose to address flood concerns. The City of San Jose is now working on fixing its warning systems and evacuation protocols.