San Jose fire station at risk of erosion from Coyote Creek
Fire Station 8, located next to Coyote Creek on 17th and E. Santa Clara Streets in downtown San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    While the risk of Coyote Creek flooding is always present for San Joseans living near the creek, a more insidious threat is creeping steadily to undermine the stability of homes and properties in the area: The gradual erosion of soil along the river.

    Now, the city of San Jose is relocating Fire Station No. 8 from 17th and E. Santa Clara streets a few blocks west to 13th street for this reason.

    “The long-term structural integrity (of the station), being right next to a creek, is something we’re worried about,” said Matt Cano, director of the city’s public works department. The structure has sat next to Coyote Creek since 1946.

    While erosion may not pose an immediate threat to the fire station or other properties near Coyote Creek, Cano noted that “common-sense engineering” says it’s not an ideal location for an emergency response fire station.

    The San Jose City Council approved the purchase of land a few blocks away, on 13th and E. Santa Streets, to build a new fire station during its Wednesday night meeting last week. The purchase, funded by proceeds from the Measure T bond measure passed in 2018, will cost $2.3 million.

    Cano said the city identified the need to relocate Fire Station 8 decades ago, but didn’t have enough money to move it until after Measure T was passed. Measure O, another tax passed in 2002, funded improvements to facilities and the relocation of several fire stations, Cano said. But Station 8 was left behind when funding ran out.

    Cano said the station’s current footprint is “undersized” and more space is needed to build a fire department under modern standards.

    The location of the station so close to the river also presents environmental challenges, Cano said, partially because of rules that weren’t in place when the structure was built.

    “There’s a 100-foot riparian (river) setback required whenever you build near a creek,” Cano said, meaning that developers cannot build within 100 feet of the river or stream.

    Today, developers are also required to conduct a geological survey of the soil prior to building near a creek, according to Damaris Villalobos-Galindo, associate civil engineer with the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Villalobos-Galindo has not studied the effects of erosion along Coyote Creek, but said that older structures built near a river are generally at greater risk of faltering from erosion.

    “The problem begins when there are residential, commercial, industrial buildings being built within the path of creeks,” Villalobos-Galindo said. “As you obstruct the flow within the creek, the creek wants to adjust itself.”

    Christina Ramos, chief of staff for District 3 Councilmember Raul Peralez, said their office was aware of the erosion issue, but couldn’t say how erosion would impact residents or property owners along the creek.

    Villalobos-Galindo said if properties near a river are inspected regularly and have strong foundations, they’re not in as great of danger from erosion.

    “(Erosion) is a natural process,” she said. “It’s very dynamic, changing all the time.”

    It is unclear when the new fire station on 13th street will be built, nor when Fire Station 8 will be relocated, according to Erica Ray, spokeswoman for the San Jose Fire Department.

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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