Why does it flood in Seal Beach?

Flood waters almost touched the doors of cars parked on First Street. Photo by Robert Goldberg

In Seal Beach, when it rains, it sometimes floods. Last Thursday, Jan. 12, it did both.

This week the City Council held a special meeting midday Tuesday to declare an emergency proclamation for the West End Pump Station to release money for emergency repairs.

What happened last week  fell short of a “Perfect Storm,” but left residents on the west side of town wondering how their streets were flooded, why they weren’t notified of the potential flooding , and how it happened that there was no police presence, or  traffic control.

Jim Basham, the city’s Community Development Director and Interim Public Works Director (for two years) told the council his staff was notified prior to the Jan. 9 City Council meeting that both large pumps had failed at the West End Pumping Station. Basham told the council this week that he didn’t sound the alarm because he felt the pumps could be repaired or augmented with portable pumps if necessary.

Acting Police Chief Joe Miller told the council that “we were not given any information” as the reason there were no signs, cones and public safety employees near First Street and Marina Drive, where much of the flooding occurred.

Even First District Councilwomen Ellery Deaton said, “I would have liked to have been told of an issue. Please keep me informed when we have issues.”

At about 5:15 p.m., Tuesday, the city issued a press release announcing that Steve Myrter had been hired to be the new Seal Beach Public Works Director.  For the last six years, Myrter has been the Public Works Director/City Engineer for the City of Signal Hill.

A handful of residents—most residents living in the west part of town—spoke to the council prior to the Tuesday meeting. All were critical of the city’s handling of the recent flooding. One resident, Greg Howland, lives in the Shores on Welcome Lane, and said his house flooded during Thursday’s rain storm.

Former Mayor Paul Yost said residents have been notified when there was flooding in the past. “We used to have notification. Where is it? There is nothing that you do that is more important than public safety – and you failed.”

Deaton pointed out that while Old Town has two pump stations (the other is at Seal Beach Boulevard and Electric) only one is maintained by the city.  The one on Seal Beach Boulevard is operated by the County of Orange. Her query, “Why does the county only protect half our town?” went unanswered.

In the short term, the city is going to send the two large broken pumps out for repairs and possibly analysis. Staff estimated that the pumps were used less than 25 hours in the past 10 years, making their duplicate failure more curious. Deaton said they may have failed from lack of use, but Basham said they were both tested last July and worked perfectly. The West End Pump Station will have three smaller, temporary pumps in place for now.

The city is also increasing its sandbag program, and will have sandbags available at one of the beach lots, Liberty Gate of the Weapons Station, Eighth Street near the Fire Station, and somewhere close to Bridgeport. Rain is forecast for today (Thursday, Jan. 19). The National Weather Service has issued a Beach Hazard Statement for Friday, Jan. 20, through and Monday, Jan. 23.

Why does it flood in Seal Beach?