Stormy Weather: Keeping Filoli resilient and available for generations to come

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Have you found yourself wondering “what is going on at Filoli?!” when the weather gets wild? Read on to learn about what happens when Filoli closes to the public. Our operations may change, but it’s no less work for our Facilities and Horticulture team– aka Filoli’s rainy day heroes! 

This month, record-breaking storms have hit the Bay Area causing flooding, downed trees, and power outages— and Filoli is not immune to Mother Nature! Filoli’s Chief Operating Officer Alex Fernandez, Director of Facilities Bryan Garza, and Director of Horticulture Jim Salyards are the leaders of onsite emergency response. During weather events like these, they are the team keeping Filoli’s historic infrastructure safe.

When Filoli closes to the public due to power outages or unsafe conditions, staff scan the entire property to assess road, tree, and fence conditions. When power outages occur after-hours, they inspect the condition of the power lines in search of the root cause. With 13 electrical meters at different locations on the 654-acre property, identifying issues sometimes takes a keen eye. Many times, the issue originates from a fallen tree on Filoli’s property; other times, it may be an issue affecting the larger Woodside community. In the case of our last power outage, most of the issues arose from trees falling on power lines due to overly saturated soil. 

Most of the fallen trees are oaks, and there are various reasons they fail..  Sudden oak disease  has devastated oak woodlands in Filoli and the greater Bay Area and has been a source of major canopy loss.  Droughts cause oakroot systems to weaken.  Additionally, in 2022, our live oaks produced a huge acorn crop (called a mast year), which added weight to tree canopies.  “We annually survey all trees in and around the garden for structural and any other issues,” says Jim.  “However, the significant rain event –our second biggest accumulation in 24 hours ever recorded in the past 40 years– was the biggest cause of the failures during this series of storms.”  

Flooding on Filoli’s service roads
Flooding in Filoli’s pool
Large fallen oak tree in the visitor parking lot.

Bryan noted that storms like these offer moments for us to reflect on Filoli’s past. “I always wonder how historic crews triaged moments of extreme water intrusion, fallen trees, overwhelmed culverts, and loss of power,” says Bryan. “It makes us feel so lucky to have modern technology, as well as access to local contractors!”

During the large storm on the weekend of New Year’s Eve, the Facilities team safely removed portions of a large fallen oak blocking visitor and service roads, cleared culverts and drains, checked service panel fuses, tended to roof concerns, and kept the property safe and ready to open as quickly as possible. You might not notice anything out of the ordinary on your next visit, and that is thanks to the hard work of these crews who keep Filoli looking spick and span! 

Upon heading back to his home on the Filoli property that Saturday, Bryan noted that three of the four potential routes were blocked with fallen oak trees. He was able to safely traverse flooded roads.

On Sunday morning, the rain had stopped and flooding was mostly drained. But the power was still out, and with better weather, Bryan and Jim were resolved to find solutions and tend to the potential damages around the property. “These are the times where the relationships we have forged with neighbors, outside contractors, and local PG&E lineman are crucial,” Bryan notes. “There is a lot of coordination involved to restore power, especially in inclement weather.” In the final stretch, Bryan troubleshooted power with PG&E, inspected the condition of remote power lines, confirmed proper voltage in key areas served by Filoli’s multiple meters, and finally zoomed around to flip various mains back on across the property.

Bryan confirms electricity was back on for Filoli’s well pumps on New Year’s Day. 
Filoli’s Pool Pavilion during the storm

By 4pm on Sunday evening, after countless hours of hard work, Bryan confirmed Filoli’s power was properly restored across the property. Bryan, Jim, and their teams continued to tend to the House, Garden, and behind the scenes areas to make sure they were safe and ready to welcome our guests.

The Horticulture and Facilities teams at Filoli successfully kept the property safe, and we are so grateful for their dedication and hard work. Thanks to many years of land management practices, the site is resilient and available for generations to come. 

We will be open for the rainy season ahead. Put on your most stylish rain boots, grab your best umbrella, and take a rainy day romp! Brick, foliage, and pops of color from winter blooms are even more vibrant in the cool, wet weather. Take in the peaceful sounds of raindrops falling and walk among frogs singing happily. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Thank you Filoli Horticulture and Facilities teams!