Project traffic on the minds of neighbors

More Avenue in Los Gatos is normally a quiet residential street, even with a large water treatment plant at the crest of its hill. Some neighbors, however, have concerns that upcoming construction work by the water district to modernize the plant and a separate project by nearby cities on Quito Road will lead to increased traffic, noise and safety risks.

It turned out to be a major concern voiced by residents attending a Nov. 13 meeting at the plant with the district team overseeing the effort to overhaul the treatment processes at the nearly 50-year-old plant and to make it more reliable. 

Quito Road project may overlap with Rinconada work

Questions on traffic sparked the most interest because the water district will utilize More Avenue to get trucks in and out of the staging area located at the lower gate entrance.

“I think you’re embarking on a project that needs to be done and the district has done a really great job in communicating that,” said one resident. “But I have this terrible nagging feeling that you’re going to be into this project at the same time they’re doing the Quito Road Project and More Avenue is going to be a nightmare.”

The $5 million project at Quito Road, targeted to begin in 2016, seeks to replace two 100-year-old and unsafe bridges near the intersection of Old Adobe Road that cross the town of Los Gatos and city of Saratoga boundaries and San Tomas Aquino Creek. The water district is funding 20 percent of the work, with the remaining 80 percent coming from the California Transportation Commission. During construction, Quito Road would be closed and traffic would be rerouted primarily to Fruitvale Avenue for six to 12 months, according to the city of Saratoga’s web site.

Rinconada’s major overhaul work would begin in 2015. Immediately after the meeting, the project team performed additional research and verified the Quito Bridge construction would occur during the plant project. The team then contacted the city of Saratoga’s Public Works Department and will meet with them to better understand potential impacts and ways to alleviate them.

“It’s important that we plan and execute a traffic safety plan that works,” water district Project Manager Mike Munson said. 

The importance of CEQA

One of the project constraints is that Rinconada must keep running while the construction goes on. Munson contrasted it to having a contractor replacing a kitchen in the home, where ideally residents can move out while the work is taking place and then return upon completion.

“We don’t have that luxury,” he said. “We have to keep cooking.”

The project will remain in design phase through the end of 2014, with plans to hold another neighborhood meeting over the next four months to update the design plans already presented to the community. At the end of design, the project team will pre-qualify contractors with an expectation to award the construction contract in 2015.

A big part of the process is completing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documentation, complying with a statute that requires public and private entities to identify and solve significant environmental impacts of any construction. The treatment plant, which sits on 40-acres, is home to different types of wildlife, including wood rats and birds, with an occasional sighting of deer and mountain lion. The report, said Munson, gives the project team the opportunity to “make sure we’re not impacting habitat in ways we don’t want to.”

Because the project will be significant in the extent and length of construction, the CEQA document will be a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The project team will notify the public at least 10 days in advance of the “environmental scoping” and “Notice of Preparation” of the EIR and will hold a public meeting in January to inform interested residents about the CEQA process. The Notice of Preparation will be available for public review for at least 30 days. 

The staging area as it currently appears.
The staging area as it currently appears.

Looks are everything 

Just as important to neighbors is the appearance of the new facilities in relation to the neighborhood and the preservation of the Santa Clara Valley views from the plant’s vicinity.

The district prepared computer-generated, three-dimensional post-construction images of a landscaped lower More Avenue entrance, the vacant staging area on More Avenue, the corner at Capistrano Place and Granada Way and a view from a Los Patios residence.

Each image showed how planned landscaping would enhance the sites to blend in with the appearance of the neighborhood and keep the top views of trees and the valley. A similar effort some months ago saw the project team take photos from the yards of those living next to the treatment plant to give them a glimpse of their views following construction.

Staging area after landscaping and construction.
Staging area after landscaping and construction.

The landscaping plan calls for plantings to take place before the actual construction begins to give the plants time to fully grow in conjunction with the plant’s completion. The team is currently selecting the types of trees and is considering density and height. Neighbors with any additional suggestions for trees and brush can contact the project team through this blog.

Side projects will also improve the plant

November kicked off what’s called the Treated Water Valves Upgrade/Residuals Management Project to improve the way the plant handles the sludge produced during the treatment process. Construction will run through 2015. Currently in the design phase is the Operations Building Seismic Retrofit Project that will begin work in 2015 to bring the plant’s operational building up to code for life safety.

Asked whether the overhaul would include security improvements to prevent terrorist attacks, Deputy Operating Officer Katherine Oven said there is a current effort to improve security at all the water district’s key sites throughout the valley.

“(Rinconada) will be more secure within a few months when we complete that work,” she said. “We paid attention and learned from other agencies in the area about what steps they’ve taken to fortify their security and we are keeping up with them in that regard.”

Other issues addressed by the project team included:

  • Project funding. The money is generated from water rates and it’s anticipated the district’s wholesale rates will increase about 9 percent each year over the next few years. This project cost comprises about 20 percent of the district’s 10-year capital improvement program costs.
  • Potential ozone leaks. Munson called the risk minimal. The ozone will be generated onsite and limited to what can be put right into the water. About 99 percent of it dissolves in the water and anything that remains goes through a unit that will destruct it.
  • Clean streets. To help keep More Avenue clear of debris from trucks exiting the plant, the water district will investigate hiring a street cleaner to ensure the road is swept daily.
  • Storage reservoirs. There will be no impacts to the three storage reservoirs – two owned by the San Jose Water Company and one by the water district – located on the south side of the plant. These reservoirs store water for release into the distribution systems. The water company has been replacing the roofs on their two reservoirs and this work is outside the scope of the district’s project. An access road located near the reservoirs will not be used by the district during construction as it belongs to the water company.
  • Walking trail. A path along Smith Creek behind the plant near Granada often used by cyclists, runners and walkers will also see no impact as it does not enter the Rinconada site. A small barbed wire fence on that trail that is falling apart may be replaced with a new black chain link fence, but no decision has been made on that.

Plant Supervisor Steve Twitchell reiterated the necessity of the work, citing Rinconada’s status as the water district’s oldest plant and with 24-hour operation every day of the year.

“She’s tough. But it’s time for some rehab.”

 

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