Gilroy – City crews fanned out throughout the city Friday battling the beginnings of a weekend storm that, by afternoon, had torn down entire trees, forced the closing of Christmas Hill Park, and caused a mudslide along a highway overpass.
City workers Manny Reyes and Sean Merrimen made the rounds Friday to ensure streets remained clear.
Reyes, who started his shift at 7:30am, described the day as “not too bad so far.”
“It’s just that a lot of leaves and debris from the trees are falling,” he said.
The team had checked Third Street at the intersections with Hanna and Rosanna streets – near City Hall and the Gilroy library – as well as the intersection of First and Church streets.
“They all seemed fine so far,” Reyes said as he snaked a high pressure, three-inch diameter orange hose from a city truck into a drainage pipe at Gilroy golf course. The culverts at the entranceway on the north side of Hecker Pass were clogged up with leaves, he explained, preventing water from passing under the road into a culvert that leads to Uvas Creek.
And when water gets blocked one way, Reyes said, it will find another – over the highway.
Local officials have spent months preparing for weekends like this, when storm gales whip through the city tearing down trees and rains threaten flooding.
Their work involves cleaning storm drains and gutters, making sure roots don’t burst through pipes, and repairing collapsed drainage portals, according to Todd Barreras, operations services supervisor.
When the storm finally arrives, Barreras spends a good portion of the day coordinating the city’s emergency response with a walkie-talkie and computer at the community services department off Old Gilroy Road. He sat at his computer inspecting potential trouble spots on satellite photos of the city using Geographic Information System, or GIS, software.
A few mouse clicks lit up the computerized map with a dark blue streak that snaked eastward through the city and eventually spread into a thin sea of blue dots just past U.S. 101. The map depicts how “groundwater runs down from the hills in the west through Uvas Creek and spreads out into the farmland,” Barreras explained.
Across the room hangs another storm-fighting tool – a poster-sized check list of trouble spots around the city. A quick glance reminded Barrera that he had dispatched workers to “sandbag” portable stop signs that had blown away along Monterey Street, cordon off an area where a power line came down, and close down playing fields beginning to flood at Christmas Hill Park. He expected that, by the end of the day, rains would force the closing of Silva’s Crossing at the entranceway to the park.
The entire state of California is pretty much under the gun for the next three or four days, said Duane Dykema, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey.
“People are definitely going to have to be wary if they have travel plans, especially if they plan to go to the mountains,” he said.
The first storm, which originated in the eastern Pacific Ocean, began to reach the San Francisco Bay area late Thursday night. The NWS issued a high wind watch for the region between San Francisco and Monterey.
By Monday, the Bay Area is expected to see between 1 and 3 inches of rain at low elevations, and 2 to 5 inches in the coastal mountains. Southern California is expected to receive between 4 and 8 inches of rain in coastal and valley regions and up to 20 inches in the mountains. Between 3 and 5 feet of snow is expected in the Sierras, where a winter storm warning has been issued from 4am Friday to 4pm Sunday.
In Gilroy, city workers were not the only ones responding to the first problems caused by the incoming storm system. CalTrans workers Friday responded to mudslides on both sides of highway interchanges at the U.S. 101/Monterey Street overpass.
Two CalTrans workers laid plastic tarp down the naked hillside strip, about 15 feet wide and 50 feet long. The mud had collected in a sloppy pile at the bottom of the hill.
A large crack could be seen along the top of the hillside leading up to the freeway.
The supervisor did not appear worried that the mud would slide far enough to reach the highway exit or entrance ramps.
“This week we’ll fix it,” he said, “when the weather allows.”