The Martinez City Council decided late Wednesday to let a beaver family and its dam remain in place until a council subcommittee can look at options to manage flood risk.
The decision followed a raucous 31/2-hour public meeting in which the majority of speakers urged the council to keep the beavers despite concerns from downtown property owners that their properties could be flooded.
The city, however, reserved the option to quickly yank out the dam in the event that flooding becomes imminent on Alhambra Creek.
"We still have all our options open," Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder said after Wednesday's decision.
A council subcommittee of Mark Ross and Lara DeLaney will meet with hydrologists, environmentalists, property owners, wildlife experts and others to look at options for managing flood risks on the creek.
"I'm all in favor of keeping the beavers," DeLaney said to the delight of most of those who stuck it out to the long meeting's conclusion.
The council set no timetable for the subcommittee to report back with a permanent solution.
The latest developments come a day after Martinez officials backed off a proposal to kill a beaver family living in a flood-prone downtown creek.
A raucous crowd of more than 150 people packed into the performing arts center at Alhambra High School, where Wednesday night's meeting was moved to accommodate the expected overflow audience. At least six police officers were stationed around the meeting hall.
Speakers in the strongly pro-beaver audience -- many wearing commemorative T-shirts -- bent council members' ears late into the evening, urging the council to reject the state's offer to permit relocation of the animals in favor of leaving them in place and bypassing their dam.
Supporters enthusiastically cheered those who spoke against relocation, and occasionally whistled and jeered at those who called for tearing out the dam.
"This (the beavers) is a fantastic tourist attraction," said David Frey, a Pleasant Hill maritime consultant who said he thinks the city should keep the dam in place and build a bypass around it so the creek would not flood. "The beavers will pay for themselves."
He said the beavers will attract people to the downtown from other areas. "Who else is going to come down here? What else have you got?"
A representative of the Humane Society of the United States said the city can find ways to keep the beavers in place by installing a device to regulate water levels in the creek.
"This is not a perfect solution, but neither is relocation or trapping," said Curt Ransom, who is West Coast regional program manager for the Humane Society.
He said several areas in Virginia have used the water-flow devices to prevent flooding in creeks where beavers are present. Ransom also suggested that his agency could assist the city with birth control for the beavers to prevent them from multiplying and building other dams on the creek.
The family of two adult beavers and three offspring has been the talk of the town since Friday, when Martinez administrators ignited a firestorm of criticism by recommending euthanasia for the family that built a dam in Alhambra Creek. At the time, they said the state would not approve relocation.
Unlike most wild beavers that live in relatively remote areas and are rarely seen by people, these animals and their dam were spotted by many children and adults who regularly checked the creek for signs of the animals.
But the dam the beavers built on flood-prone Alhambra Creek alarmed city flood-control managers.
Nearly $10 million has been spent to reduce flood risks on the creek in the past decade after city residents had debated for years what to do about downtown flooding.
During a moderate rainstorm Oct. 12, Alhambra Creek rose to within two feet of flood stage.
Some Martinez residents said Wednesday that the dam and the beavers need to go.
Charlene West, a Martinez flower shop owner, said she fears the dam will lead to flooding in downtown.
"We will be in big trouble if we allow the beavers to multiply," she said.
City officials said they are convinced leaving the dam in place would worsen flooding risks.
Tim Tucker, the Martinez city engineer, said the current dam doubles the risk of Alhambra Creek flooding. Allowing the beavers to raise the dam by two feet, as is expected, will increase the flood risk by five times, Tucker said.
Councilman Mark Ross said the city must come up with a plan if other beavers try to build dams on Alhambra Creek. Placing protective screens or paint on tree trunks along the creek may discourage other beavers from colonizing Alhambra Creek, he suggested.
The state Department of Fish and Game announced Tuesday that it is willing to allow the beavers to be trapped and then quarantined at Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek before release in an area to be approved by the state.
Reach Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.