Plan Adopted to Bar Traffic When Basin Is Flooded


City officials have agreed to a plan that would quickly and efficiently close the Sepulveda Basin to auto traffic to prevent duplication of bureaucratic foul-ups that contributed to the stranding of dozens of motorists when the basin was flooded in last week's storm.

In the flood's aftermath, questions arose about why the basin was not closed to traffic sooner and who was responsible for lowering the long metal gates across Woodley Avenue and Burbank Boulevard to block access to the area.

The new plan clearly establishes a protocol for the future should the basin flood again. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will contact the Los Angeles Police Department's Van Nuys Division watch commander when the Sepulveda Basin begins to fill up with floodwaters, said Anton Calleia, a top aide to Mayor Tom Bradley.

The watch commander will then dispatch teams of LAPD and Fire Department observers to the basin to observe the situation and make decisions about whether the flood control area needs to be closed to traffic, Calleia added.

Calleia chaired a meeting of city and corps officials Wednesday that settled on the new plan.

Whenever the flow of water into the basin exceeds the amount of water the corps can safely release into the Los Angeles River, the corps will warn city officials, Calleia said. "This will keep us on the safe side," he said.

The city is also seeking to obtain immediate access to an electronic monitoring system that tells the corps what the water levels in the basin are, Calleia said.

The corps, which requested Wednesday's meeting with the city, owns and operates the Sepulveda flood control basin and dam. Waters from throughout the north and west San Fernando Valley flow into the basin from an extensive network of flood channels.

Last week, 48 motorists were trapped in the basin when it rapidly began to fill with storm-driven floodwaters. Although no motorists suffered serious injury, some had to be plucked from the roofs of their cars by helicopters. Later, Los Angeles Fire Department officials, who led the rescue effort, said tragedies were only narrowly averted.

Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a motion by Councilwoman Joy Picus creating a task force to recommend a plan for monitoring the basin and closing it to traffic during high waters.

The corps has said that it did not immediately appreciate the severity of the storms, which caused more than 400 acres of the basin to be flooded. Its staff was inexperienced, its rain gauges were not monitored carefully enough and it got some faulty weather forecasts, the corps has said.

Its dam-keeper first called the Los Angeles Police Department about the flooding threat at 12:30 p.m. last Tuesday, the corps said. By that time, frightened motorists were already seeking refuge on top of their cars as they were inundated by the floodwaters.

But the corps also urged the city to clarify whom it should notify in the city bureaucracy about flooding in the basin.

City officials in four different departments each identified one of the other agencies as having the responsibility for closing the gates that keep motorists from entering the basin.

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