By Kiet Do

SAN JOSE (KPIX) — The San Jose city council unanimously approved a $750,000 settlement for more than 250 victims of the Coyote Creek flooding of 2017, one of the city’s worst disasters on record.

The approval showed up on the council consent calendar on the afternoon session Nov. 16, where routine matters of business are typically handled.

In the accompanying memo, Nora Frimann wrote:

The settlement of $750,000 is reasonable given the cost and risks of further litigation. Plaintiff’s claimed economic (property) damages total approximately $12.6 million based on written discovery responses. Additionally, plaintiffs claim to have sustained noneconomic or “pain and suffering” damages in an amount that would be determined at trial. Even if the City was found nominally liable at trial, such a verdict could mean that the City was responsible for payment of the entire amount of the claimed economic damages.

The settlement comes after victims sued the city, county and Santa Clara Valley Water District in 2018 for failing to warn them and for not doing more to prevent the disaster from occurring.

The city denied the allegations.

“We were relieved that the city had finally approved the settlement. We’ve been through the court process and we’re satisfied at this point after four years of litigation that that portion of the case has concluded,” said Anne Kepner, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

In Feb. 2017, a series of winter storms caused Anderson Reservoir, Santa Clara County’s largest, to reach full capacity and send water down its spillway into Coyote Creek. The heavy flow inundated three neighborhoods: Rock Springs, Naglee Park and the South Bay Mobile Home Park.

About 14,000 people were forced to evacuate, with damage estimated at about $100 million. Images of victims being rescued and brought to safety by boat made national headlines.

Santa Clara County has since been dismissed from the lawsuit.

“Initial efforts to put together a joint settlement with the SCVWD and the plaintiffs were unsuccessful,” wrote Frimann. The suit against the water district moves forward with a trial scheduled to begin May 2, 2022.

Sandra Moll suffered some of the worst damage at her Naglee Park home, when her backyard was submerged under six feet of water. The toxic stew overtopped sandbags and damaged the home’s lower level. Moll said the water district bears the brunt of the responsibility.

“It’s never been about the money and it’s not that we didn’t lose a lot of money. It’s always been about holding the public officials and organizations accountable and forcing change that may not have happened if we had not filed a lawsuit,” Moll said.

Matt Keller, the district’s media and public relations supervisor, pointed to several actions taken since the flooding, including a temporary flood wall at the point where the waters spilled over the embankment at Rock Springs Park. The district has also held several community meetings for the Coyote Creek Flood Protection Project to beef up and protect several miles of Coyote Creek embankments from Tully Road north to Montague Expressway.

“It’s unfortunate that some have had to deal with the flooding and a long legal process. Valley Water would like this process to end as quickly and fairly as possible,” Keller said in an e-mail.

“I don’t think they’re happy about how much negative publicity they have received as a result of this lawsuit and that was part of my intent in filing,” Moll said.

The district has filed a motion for a summary judgment on Jan. 10, 2022. The judge has also ordered several settlement conferences in January and March, if needed, according to Keller.