San Jose flood victims close to settlement, sources say
Submerged cars near William Street Park in San Jose after the February 2017 flood. File photo.

    After four years of litigation, victims of a devastating San Jose flood may be on the verge of compensation for their suffering.

    Sources told San José Spotlight a consolidated lawsuit against Valley Water brought by more than 200 residents affected by a 2017 flood is on the verge of settling. According to the sources—who have knowledge of the suit and requested anonymity—Valley Water approached plaintiff attorneys with a settlement offer earlier this week.

    If a settlement is finalized, it would mark the end of a years-long struggle by hundreds of residents for restitution following a major flood that damaged many homes in South San Jose.

    No plaintiff attorneys or Valley Water officials would disclose details about a settlement, including the amount on the table or a timeline for when the case will be resolved.

    “The ink hasn’t hit the paper, we’re still working on it,” plaintiff attorney John Crowley told San José Spotlight.

    Valley Water spokesperson Matt Keller told San José Spotlight the parties are in settlement discussions and making progress toward a resolution. Plaintiff counsel Anne Kepner echoed a similar statement.

    “There is nothing more to discuss at this time,” she told San José Spotlight.

    The lawsuit stems from a flood that occurred on Feb. 18, 2017, after heavy rainfall caused the Anderson Dam in South San Jose to overflow. The resulting 20-year-flood displaced 14,000 residents in neighborhoods around Coyote Creek, including Naglee Park, Rock Springs and the South Bay Mobile Home Park. Some people who were forced to flee rising water said they never received warnings from the city or other government agencies.

    The flooding caused approximately $100 million in damages. Valley Water later offered flood victims a $5,000 non-negotiable payout that would have required residents to forfeit their ability to sue for damages.

    In the months after the flood, scores of residents sued Valley Water, which is in charge of the watershed around Coyote Creek, for failing to take adequate flood control measures. Barring a settlement, the case is scheduled to go to trial as soon as May.

    Residents also sued San Jose. Last November, the City Council approved a $750,000 settlement to residents who claimed the city failed to give them warning about flood dangers.

    As is common in settlement agreements, the city denied all allegations.

    Valley Water refused to settle and tried to dismiss the case on a motion for summary judgment. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Sunil Kulkarni struck down that motion on Jan. 27, saying the agency failed to provide evidence of how the Anderson Dam operated as a flood control project before the 2017 storm, and how the agency’s operational plan was not faulty.

    According to Valley Water’s financial report for 2021, the agency has received 423 flood claims. It settled 162 claims in September 2019 for roughly $700,000. It’s unclear how much money the water district has spent fighting litigation over the flood.

    Valley Water Director Richard Santos told San José Spotlight he believes the case is close to settling, but couldn’t confirm further details.

    “I hope we settle this thing real quick,” Santos said. “I believe in trying to help out the best you can to get people’s lives back to order.”

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

    Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender is on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.

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