Sam Picazo showing the floodlines.
Samuel Picazo showing the flood line. A small blue pump is working below. Photo by Lydia Chávez

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The water in the garage at Samuel Picazo’s apartment, at the corner of Folsom and 17th streets, rose so high early this morning that not even crotch-high waders could save him from getting wet. 

“It was here, and then dropped, and then rose again,” he said this evening, as he pointed to what appeared to be about a three-foot water line. He noted the small blue water pump working below to spew water from his garage out to the street. It has helped him through his 35th flood in 50 years. 

“He does nothing,” Picazo said of the building’s owner. “He’ll be here tomorrow to pick up the rent check.”

Picazo lives on a corner long known for flooding. It sits below sea level, and was slated for $200 million worth of work that appears not to have happened. In recent years, however, the city has started putting up storm barriers in advance of atmospheric river conditions. 

That did not happen on Friday. 

Around the corner on Folsom Street, at The Stable Cafe, Minah Matuszewski, a former Stable employee who bought the cafe during the pandemic, wondered why.

“Why weren’t there flood barriers up?” she asked. With the city’s barriers and her own, she said, The Stable has managed for several years to avoid the catastrophes that in 2014 forced The Stable to shut for months to replace all of the flooring.  

But this year, for reasons that are unclear, the city failed to show up.  

The city generally does pay extra attention to the blocks from 14th to 18th Streets between Folsom and Harrison, because they have long been a problem of the city’s own making.  

The city filled the area, which was once marshland, between 1860 and 1870. Since then, it has settled, Greg Braswell, sewer information system manager for the Department of Public Works, told Mission Local earlier. “If you’re standing in the outdoor patio in the back [of Stable Café in 1870-80, you would have been 24 inches taller.” 

That means there will be flooding in heavy rains. 

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Matuszewski was still waiting for the city to arrive. 

Nearby, Juan Gallardo, the owner of Gallardo’s restaurant at 18th and Shotwell streets, closed his restaurant early on Saturday to clean up. Although Jan. 1 is generally a good day for business, he will remain closed. “Every year we receive a notification from the city,” when it is going to be a heavy storm. This year, they did not. “Water was coming in everywhere,” he said. 

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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  1. I’m at my office at 17th and Folsom and it’s crickets around here. Usually after a flood event the City and contractors are out in force drying things out and cleaning up. There’s no one here and it was the worst flood in over two decades – up to 3 feet and over the sandbags. Where were the flood barriers? And more water on the way and they still haven’t set up the barriers.

    I guess the City had a change in policy and instead of proactively dealing with this, they’ll just settle in court. 17th and Folsom has been abandoned.

  2. Do we know how any of the local businesses there are doing? Rite Spot? Stable Cafe? Did the water make it to Gus’s or up toward Mission?

  3. The weather forecasts kept saying this was going to be a Level 2 storm. I don’t believe the city knew we’d be receiving the second-highest rainfall amount ever recorded in SF. But city officials should have prepared for the worst nonetheless.

  4. The area between Folsom and Harrison along 14th Street along Mission Creek flooded severely. Rainbow Grocery was closed for flooding. I’d like to have seen the north side of the lower basement of the Armory where Mission Creek still flows.

    I wonder what the culprit was, DPW failing to maintain stormwater drainage or Caltrans failing to properly maintain drainage on the elevated structure of the central freeway?

  5. Thank you for keeping locals informed.
    The city is so Very disorganized that really I get the idea all they do what absolutely necessary is how to keep their paychecks ( esp mayor ) without much organization or results. There is no help for tax payers of the city.

  6. Would you follow up, please, on the City’s announcement, made five years ago, that the City would buy homes that are in this flood zone?

  7. More mismanagement in the city. Unfortunately most of the drains in that area clog quickly from all the encampment trash. Don’t believe it? I recommend everyone goes and sees the havoc all that broken furniture and trash has on our sewer drainage. Tents they’re handing out to those druggies look nice and water resistant…

    Curry for MVP