Seeking relief from one of the city’s worst natural disasters, San Jose leaders quietly approved a $ 750,000 settlement for a group of approximately 240 tenants and property owners whose homes suffered significant damage from the devastating 2017 Coyote Creek flood.
The settlement came almost four years after residents sued the city, the Santa Clara Valley water area and Santa Clara County, claiming the organizations failed to properly warn them of impending flooding, were aware of obstacles such as debris and deposits that have blocked the flow of water. water through the stream channel and did little to prevent or mitigate its damage.
When Coyote Creek flooded in February 2017 following severe atmospheric river storms, it was the worst flooding San Jose has seen since 1997, forcing 14,000 people to evacuate and causing approximately $ 100 million in damage.
Later, Santa Clara County was excluded from the residents’ claim. Meanwhile, the case against the Santa Clara Valley Aquatic District is still active, with a trial date set for May 2, 2022, and residents involved in the case are expecting much higher payouts than what was mediated by the city.
“After nearly four years of litigation, we are satisfied that the San Jose case is resolved,” said Ann Kepner, lead attorney representing tenants and homeowners. “And now we are preparing our case for the water court.”
The $ 750,000 settlement, unanimously approved by the City Council on Tuesday night without any discussion, will be split among five groups of plaintiffs, represented by different lawyers, based on their pro rata share of the total. However, the residents involved say that all this can go to the involvement of expert witnesses in their case against the water area.
Sandra Mall, a resident of the Nagli Park neighborhood in San Jose, was driven from her home for three weeks and suffered “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in damage after 6 feet of water flooded her home on the day of the flood.
When asked about settling in the city, Moll replied that she was “glad to move forward and come to some conclusion from all this.”
“I hope that due to the conditions of this settlement, it will also stimulate the settlement of the water district,” she said. “But I doubt they’ll do it.”
Attempts to reach a joint settlement with the water area of the Santa Clara Valley, also known as the Valley of Water, and residents have been unsuccessful. As a result, San Jose decided to move forward with its own agreement, although the city has denied all allegations of negligence and misconduct, according to San Jose City Attorney Nora Freemann.
During the 2017 winter rains, Anderson Reservoir – the largest reservoir in Santa Clara County – overflowed, and water rose over the shores of Coyote Creek. As water poured into the downtown areas surrounding the stream, including Rock Springs, Nagli Park and South Bay Mobile Homes, some people had to be rescued from their homes by boat.
San Jose officials, who faced harsh criticism for not evacuating residents earlier, admitted they did not do enough to properly notify residents who were potentially affected on the day of the flood that hit Tuesday after a long weekend of dedicated President’s Day.
In a memo to the city council this week, Freemann said the city risks being liable for a much higher dollar amount if it doesn’t settle the case before trial.
“The $ 750,000 settlement is reasonable given the cost and risks of further litigation,” Freemann wrote in a memo. “Claimant damage to economic property is approximately $ 12.6 million based on written disclosure responses. … Even if the city is found guilty in a lawsuit, such a verdict could mean that the city is responsible for paying the entire amount of the claimed economic damage. “
Despite objections from Valley Water, which argued that the urban settlement was in bad faith and overstated the responsibility of the water district, Santa Clara County Chief Justice Sunil R. Kulkarni upheld the deal and essentially stated that if any liability was found , the water area will bear the brunt of this.
Kulkarni concluded that the main argument on behalf of the residents – the careless management of the Anderson Dam – was directed solely towards the water area. He also found that “it will be extremely difficult for the plaintiffs to establish accountability to the city” in the remaining two claims by residents who allege that the city’s storm sewer system is malfunctioning and that the city has failed to clear the stream of vegetation and debris that the city has only partial control.
Valley Water is seeking a court decision on the case without trial. This request will be reviewed on January 10, 2022.
Matt Keller, a Valley Water spokesman, said in a statement that it was “very unfortunate that some had to deal with flooding and a lengthy lawsuit,” and that the company wants to end the lawsuit “as quickly and fairly as possible.” “
Although the water district has yet to negotiate with the 240 homeowners and tenants involved in the case, in June 2019, the agency agreed to pay the claims of approximately 200 other families and individuals who suffered losses of $ 5,000 or less and were not represented by attorneys. Most of these claims were filed by low-income residents, many of whom were Vietnamese-American immigrants without insurance.
After the 2017 floods, the city and water area took a number of steps to prevent another disaster.
The Waters Area in December 2017 installed a temporary containment wall and embankment along Coyote Creek in the Rock Springs area. Most recently, the county held public meetings about its Coyote Creek flood protection project, which outlines a plan to improve construction such as berms and permanent defensive walls along approximately nine miles of Coyote Creek, between the Montague Expressway and Tully Road. …
For its part, the city hired a new emergency director, purchased mobile speakers and spent $ 46 million to conserve 937 acres in the Coyote Valley as an open space for flood protection.
“The settlement doesn’t just complete this question for the city or the many residents affected in 2017,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. “We still have a lot of work to do to make our community more resilient to natural disasters. But the good news is that this tragedy really pushed us to strengthen our capacity to respond to emergencies and encouraged us to think differently about how to better protect our community. ”