WALNUT CREEK -- Marc Malott and Ken Coleman may be some of the few people in California thankful for a dry winter.
For the first time in years, their Homestead Avenue yards and homes have not flooded -- no need for pumps or barriers to keep the water from engulfing their properties.
But they keep their eyes on the sky, according to their attorney, Robert Gray. "If a big rain comes, they are going to immediately start doing the damming because it just saturates their property," he said.
Malott and Coleman sued Walnut Creek in 2003, insisting the city upgrade the storm drains to handle the excess water. They argue the city approved nearby development, causing diversion of ground water into their yards. In 2006, the City Council agreed to a settlement, extended in 2010 to give the city more time.
But eight years later, the upgrade work hasn't been done, leading Coleman and Malott to refile their lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court. The suit claims both have had personal property ruined by the water, with each of their homes suffering $1 million in damage. A mediation hearing on the suit is scheduled for Feb. 25.
The estimated cost to fix the drains and build a system capable of handling the water was estimated at $6 million in 2006.
Tired of mildew in their garages and pools filled with mud and debris, they have installed sump pumps to drain water during heavy storms. They have had to replace garage doors and Sheetrock and deal with dry rot and mold.
"It's damaged their property values rather dramatically; (the homes) are not really salable anymore," Gray said.
After paying attorney's fees for both sides -- $25,000 each to Malott and Coleman for damages and the cost of hydrologists -- the city's expenditures in this case are at nearly $160,000.
While Assistant City Attorney Brian Hickey would not comment on why the city had not fixed the problem, he pointed out that neither the Colemans nor the Malotts have asked for reimbursement for damages sustained between 2006 and 2012 -- which the settlement agreement allowed them to do.
"Although the plaintiffs have refiled their lawsuit, as permitted by the original settlement agreement, the city remains hopeful that it can find a mutually agreeable solution to this matter," Hickey said.
In a 2007 story in this newspaper, then-Public Services Director Dan Richardson said that while the city was not admitting liability, part of the drainage system in the Homestead and Walker Avenues area is not up to city standards for 10-year floods. The reason: A mathematical error made by a city staff member, now no longer employed at City Hall, when the system was designed, Richardson said at the time.
The lawsuit was one reason that, in 2007, then-Councilman Gary Skrel voted against the new $40 million library project, saying he couldn't support it when there wasn't money to pay for storm drain repairs.
The plan was for the city to install larger pipes along Walker Avenue, Sierra Drive and Sharene Lane, northeast of Broadway Plaza. The project was on the capital investment list for years but fell off and is not on the current project list adopted in 2013.
Gray said city officials told him they simply don't have the money to fund the settlement, but he called that a weak excuse.
"The long and short of it is the City Council finds money to do things they want to do," he said. "The star example of that is that library."
The suit also alleges that the city does not maintain its storm drains. Hickey refuted that, saying city crews routinely inspect and clean storm drain facilities, and pay attention to areas prone to flooding, including the Walker and Homestead Avenues area.
In the long run, it will cost Walnut Creek a lot more to fight the suit than to fix the problem, especially with other homeowners in the area experiencing flooding, Gray said.
"There are many other potential claimants, and that could give raise to substantial damages," he said. "It could be rather nasty."
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.