Association's Goal Association's Boundaries Home Page Association's Accomplishments Contact the Association
In-Depth Background
of the Flood Zone Situation
by Ed Rast
January 2003

The North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association is discussing the federal flood zone that extends through Willow Glen, and working to get the flood zone designation updated and possibly removed. The current flood zone designation certainly predates significant changes to the area's hydrology (such as Guadalupe flood channel work and the construction of Highway 87) and probably could be favorably changed by altering an embankment no longer used by the railroad. The matter is of huge concern to NWGNA residents in the flood zone, as they pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in flood insurance, and face significant hurdles to renovating their homes.

UPDATE: We thank the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA) Board for their support. The Board resolved to support a resurvey of the federal flood zone in Willow Glen by writing a letter of support to our local and federal public representatives.

Brief History:
The FEMA federal 1% flood zone that extends from Ross Creek north through Willow Glen along the Guadalupe River to Interstate 280 was established in 1982 based upon surveys conducted in the late 1970's and prior to the construction of Highway 87 / Guadalupe Expressway. The section of Highway 87 near Interstate 280 seems to have been constructed below the grade of the surrounding area effectively acting as a flood diversion channel away from the area east of Bird Avenue and north of Willow Street to Interstate 280 and possibly some of the area between Alma / Minnesota and Willow Street. The 1995/1998 floods demonstrated that the expressway since it was constructed below the grade of the surrounding area effectively acts as a flood diversion channel away from our neighborhood.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District's Upper Guadalupe River flood control project is currently scheduled to start in June 2003 for the section of the river that flows through Willow Glen. We have recently confirmed that the section of Ross Creek that creates the Willow Glen flooding will be included in the flood control project. The project construction is scheduled to completed in March 2010. The SCVWD normally does not do flood zone resurveys until after the construction project is completed and therefore it is estimated it would probably be 2011-12 at the earliest and possibly 2015 before a resurvey if the project is delayed due to legal challenges or funding delays. The downtown San Jose section of the river project was delayed for almost 4 years.

Many current residents in the flood zone purchased their homes prior to 1982 and those that purchased after 1982 but before the strict California residential property sale disclosures rules were put into effect were aware they were in a flood zone but were told that their property had never flooded before and that the federal flood insurance required by the mortgage holders and to protect the property owner's investment in the home structure was inexpensive. Unfortunately the costs for many has now increased to $1000-1800 per year for a limited structure only insurance policy. Waiting for 10 or 12 years of yearly increasing higher insurance costs could easily pay for a private or public agency resurvey for those homes that we question are actually in a flood zone.

Flood Zone Designation: Costs and Restrictions
We will additionally discuss what you can do now and sometimes at no cost to possibly reduce current flood zone insurance costs. Many home owner's insurance policies exclude or place limits on losses to the home's contents if the home is in a federal flood zone unless the home owner purchases an additional expensive insurance policy for the contents. High insurance costs are only part of the issue since any home owner who wants to renovate or add on to their current home has building restrictions not required in a non 1% flood zone area. If the project is over 50% of the structure costs ( usually $50-80,000)not the home's value, they will be required to fill in their basement or make construction changes to their foundation reducing the historical nature of the home and reducing storage or usable space. This adds additional costs making a normally possible small reasonable project (adding a master bedroom, or family room or modifying a home for a elderly parent) a very expensive construction project. The costs for a small project with these restrictions makes many home owners either abandon the project for a growing family or elderly family member, consider moving, or doing a major project or complete knock down and new building to justify the investment.

Many of us were attracted to the area due to the older small homes in the area and these building restrictions encourage a type of monster home construction out of proportion to existing homes or the many small historical homes in the area. We are trying to avoid the monster home problems that many neighbors in others areas of San Jose or Willow Glen find objectionable especially if the area has been misclassified or has changed since originally classified due to Highway 87 construction.

Waiting for the water district resurvey might be a valid argument if all the homes were truly in a flood zone, or if the resurvey would occur reasonably soon or if there were not substantial building permit restrictions.

Getting Relief
We will be discussing what options are available that NWGNA or groups of individual neighbors have in a flood zone, and the possibility of having a resurvey completed prior to The Santa Clara Valley Water District resurvey that would be done after the completion of the Guadalupe River flood control project. Hopefully this explanation clears up thee reasons for our desire for a resurvey of the questionable areas of the flood zone area and corrects some of the misconceptions about the issues. If you have additional information or comments we welcome you to discuss them with other neighbors at the next NWGNA meeting.


Copyright 2003