More About The La Bonita Storm Drain System

Chestnut Ranch has made three articles regarding the La Bonita Storm Drain System available for you to read to inform you in the best possible way from all points of view.


Article Taken From: Contra Costa Times
Date: Sunday, June 16, 1996
Page: 3


By Larry Spears, Staff Writer

CONCORD - Phyllis Collins remembers when she and her husband first saw the small channel winding through their newly purchased 3-acre parcel near Farm Bureau Road.

"We thought it was a picturesque creek," Collins says. "We thought we might put a bridge over it."

A year later, the Collinses want the city to seal the channel in a concrete pipe and bury it.

"It's a storm sewer," Collins says. With their miniranch and weathered red barn, the Collinses bought an open, unlined stretch of storm water channel that turns into a small lake during winter rains.

Receding water leaves a residue of paint cans, rotten fruit, fast-food wrappers, automobile filters, small dead animals, and plastic cups.

The dirt ditch dries to smelly mud as weather warms. Oil sometimes slicks to the surface where trapped water forms small ponds.

Phyllis and James Collins suspect the ditch is toxic. Three of their pets - a dog and two cats - died in the past year, they say.

A 72-inch pipe that carries storm water underneath surrounding neighborhoods opens to the Collinses' ditch on Chestnut Court.

The ditch bends north through another parcel owned by Anthony and Cathy Anton and then dissapears north into another underground pipe at Walnut Place.

The Antons have three children 4 and younger. "We have to keep the children by the house," Anthony Anton says. "It makes the land unusable."

Their unwanted waterway, the two couples have learned, lies in a legal and bureaucratic no-man's land.

* In 1979, the city agreed to pipe the channel for residents who lived next to the land now owned by the Antons and Collinses. Residents had sued, charging that open storm ditches littered their property with mud and garbage, created a health hazzard and threatened to drown animals and children.

A couple who owned the Antons' lot at the time were part of the suit but seperated and dropped out, so the land wasn't part of the settlement. "After they dropped out, the city built the pipe right up to their place and stopped," remembers Bill Nelson, a neighbor. The Collinses plot wasn't covered either.

The successful lawsuit argued that the city and county had allowed newly developed subdivisions to collect and channel storm water toward the open ditch.

"Seasonal water ran through the creek there about a month a year," recalls Nelson, a Walnut Place resident for 21 years. "With each subdivision, the water increased. Now it holds water most of the time."

* In 1978, a consultant told the city not to lay storm pipes across the Antons-Collins plots until it could find a developer who would pay the cost as part of a housing project.

Alex Pascual, current acting city engineer, says handing the project to a developer would save money for taxpayers.

The spacious lots could be developed, but builders don't appear to want the land, although it lies in the midst of a heavily settled area.

Lafayette developer Phil Solla rejected the property last year. Solla says the storm ditch wasn't the problem but that the low-lying area requires expensive drainage work and expanded water mains for fire hydrants.

Whatever the reason, the Collinses say, the city is no closer to having a developer to pipe the storm ditch.

The ditch appeared to be an accepted fact of life in the neighborhood until the Collinses moved in last year.

They bought the land from someone James Collins knew. "She said she never went back there," says Phyllis Collins.

Last winter's rains flooded the land to within feet of the barn. James Collins cleaned out the channel with a backhoe. A friend who helped him developed hepatitis, Collins says, although he has no proof the ditch caused it.

Collins, joined by the Antons, started writing letters to the city last January.

They pointed out that the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District considers the ditch a public nusiance and potential health risk.

They said the storm pipe created a dangerous 6-foot hole by Chestnut Court where it abruptly opens onto the ditch.

City Manager Edward James promised the city would consider the $90,000. project next year.

On Tuesday, Anton argued the couples' case at a City Council Meeting. He said the ditch deserved attention more than the city needs another street sweeper that is on its budget.

With the council's backing, Mayor Lou Rosas told the staff to seek a long-term fix for the ditch before next winter.


Article Taken From: Concord Transcript
Date: Thursday, March 12, 1998
Page: Front Page


By Andrew Gordon, Staff Writer

A new generation is fighting an old battle. JC Collins, Casey Dockham and Cameron Shopher, all students in El Dorado Middle School's Law Works program, are trying to get Concord to close an opening along the La Bonita storm drain.

The Law Works class enables students to tackle legal and civic issues affecting them, from dress codes to skateboarding ordinances.

The property owners and the city have been pointing fingers at one another for years, each asserting that the other party is responsible for closing the open drain. So now the battle rages on - the participants are just getting younger.

At the heart of the matter is a small, natural channel winding through two private properties, owned by the Collins and the Anton families. Each family has a home on their property.

The La Bonita Storm Drain is a series of pipes that carries storm water under surrounding neighborhoods. But at Chestnut Court, the pipe opens, letting the water flow freely through the open channel across the properties until it hits Walnut Place, where the water enters another pipe.

The issue isn't whether it needs to be piped- it's who should pay for it.

"The open water goes by my house," said Cameron, 12. "There are dead ducks and rats in there. I've seen trash and fast-food wrappers. It's completely open, so kids are sometimes playing there."

The three students argue, in a letter, that they "have been writing to the city of Concord about the storm drain system, but it seems that they just don't care about it, and they aren't making any real efforts to help us resolve the situation."

"We've responded to every letter they sent us," said City Manager Ed James. "They just didn't like the answer."

The answer, said Alex Pascual, interim director of engineering and transportation, is that the city will pay for the piping of the open waterway.

But if either private property is ever subdivided, developed or sold, that property owner must reimburse the city for its share of the cost, which is $36,420 each, although the property owners have the option of having the buyer pay the cost. JC's parents own one of the properties that's involved.

The owners balked at this last proposal when it was made last year, said Vice Mayor Mike Pastrick.

So the issue that still remains is who should pay for it. The property owners, and these students, assert that the city should pay, since it's Concord's storm drain.

Concord, on the other hand, contends it's private property, and such modifications aren't made until there is development.

Pascual said, therefore, that the city would foot the bill now until there is development, during which time the current, or future, property owners would reimburse the city.

In 1979, Concord agreed to pipe the channel for residents who lived next to the land now owned by the Collinses and Antons after those residents filed a lawsuit against the city. The residents asserted that the open waterway left a muddy mess of garbage, and posed health risks.

JC said the water flowing between the two openings still poses health risks, as it often looks polluted and toxic. He said that he's concerned that neighborhood kids and pets could easily fall in.

Casey added that in the winter, the channel overflows, spreading debris and trash everywhere. In the summer, it's a dirty, dried-up mess.

A couple who then owned the Anton property dropped out of the lawsuit, so their property was not included , and the Collins property was not covered in the suit.

But now the property owners want the city to finish what they started.

The students have a binder that's bursting with correspondence from the city and the affected property owners from the past couple of years. Despite several hundred pages, it's the same old story.

And these students are receiving a bureaucratic lesson they soon won't forget.


Article Taken From: Contra Costa Times
Date: Sunday, March 22, 1998
Page: A23


By Abby Collins-Sears, Staff Writer

CONCORD -- While most boys would rather play sports or video games in their free time, five El Dorado Middle School students have decided it's more fulfilling to battle City Hall.

They're angry that Concord hasn't maintained a neighborhood storm drain that they say is a hazard to both wildlife and the community.

Every winter, the La Bonita storm drain, which runs from Chestnut Court to Walnut Place, overflows onto the street and into the back yard of JC Collins, one of the boys leading a campaign to resolve the problem.

They want the city to maintain the storm drain by keeping it clean and clear of murky, foul-smelling water that attracts rats and carries trash, dead animals, oil and toxic substances, they said.

Rushing water in the storm ditch along the road often rises to 12 feet, endangering passers-by. In the summer, the dirty water is a breeding area for mosquitoes.

"It's gross, toxic, polluted and runs right through my back yard," said JC, 13. "It would benefit the whole community to clean it up because we're afraid someone may walk by, fall in and get trapped."

Cameron Shopher, who lives across the street from the storm drain, remembers the mallard duck that succumbed to the powerful suction of the 7-foot-diameter pipe.

"He just disappeared, gone, bye-bye, dead," said the 12-year-old. "It was painful, sad and disgusting."

"A kid could easily drown," JC said, adding he hopes that's not what it takes to get the city's attention.

The boys have been prodding city officials to maintain the drain system since the start of the school year with help from their teacher, Nancy Thornton.

They have written letters and speeches for city officials, taken photos and video footage, created visual aids and posters and even sought legal advice from an attorney who volunteers at their school.

"I think (city officials) think we're just kids and don't take us seriously," said Daniel May, 13. "They think we're immature and that we're just playing around just because we're young."

The boys also offered to organize a cleanup of the drainage channel involving classmates at El Dorado, but property owners declined for fear of health and safety problems.

For years, residents have asked the city to fix the problem. In 1978, a group of neighbors won a lawsuit requiring the city to complete the storm drain by adding underground piping to an unfinished portion of the drainage system. The city complied by upgrading the part of the system directly affecting those neighbors. But it ended the construction at the property line of the neighbors now being affected. About $200,000 and more than 500 feet of piping -- nearly the length of two football fields -- is needed to complete the task.

In a letter to the boys, Concord City Manager Edward James said the city has offered to install more underground piping, but would seek reimbursement from property owners when they sell or develop their properties.

"We believe it's a pretty generous offer," James said. "We're not legally required to do anything because the creeks go onto private property. We're trying to work with these folks to find a happy medium without placing a financial burden on them."

The property owners say they fear their property values have declined and cannot afford an estimated $36,500, the minimum cost for each of them. There is an ongoing dispute as to who is legally responsible for the waterway.

"We've learned you don't always get the response you expect from the city," Cameron said. "But we're not discouraged. We're hoping the city manager will eventually see our point of view."

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