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Officials ponder new flood-taxing district

Original post made on Nov 16, 2012

With the cost of federally required flood insurance expected to rise, local officials may seek taxing authority from residents in flood-prone neighborhoods to build their own protections -- and eventually escape the federal mandate.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 16, 2012, 9:52 AM

Comments (15)

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:59 am

This is an interesting proposal, but there are some obvious issues that need to be addressed. For starters, 5000 homes paying $1,000 per home would only generate $5M a year. With numbers running upwards of $130M (presumably for construction), it would take a long time to pay for the construction. Assuming that the construction costs were bonded out--then the payback time would be increased accordingly. Certainly other money could help to pay down the construction/maintenance costs--but that other money would have to come from somewhere.

Additionally, with Federal Flood Insurance, the Federal Government (FEMA) is the agency that is responsible for paying damages. Flood Insurance premiums are not spent building any kind of "protections". So, if the Flood Insurance District were to use premiums to build levees, and a flood were to occur--unless the home owner were to have supplemental flood insurance--he/she could find themselves knee-deep in water, and no insurance check to help rebuild.

Will be interesting to see what they come up with.

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm

A friend's mother's house flooded due to the broken pipeline in PA last week. Don't think she had flood insurance, but the city refuses to pay for the extensive damage because they say the rupture was caused by the cold temperatures. The coldest it got that day was 35 degrees at 2 am. That is not below freezing, and would not penetrate to the pipeline three feet below the surface.

The point is, water causes so much extensive damage, during and after the flood, that no one wants to touch a flood situation with a ten-foot pole, notnthe insurance companies, not the responsible parties, no one.

What is a victim to do? Seems it is all rigged against you.

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Posted by tax'n'spend
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Are they just going to tax all houses within the zone? How are they going to tax apartments?
There are several other issues with this:
- houses that don't need insurance because they are above the required height but still within the zone
- houses that don't have mortgages

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Posted by Former flood zoner
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm

We were in the flood zone for 15 years until Santa Clara Valley Water District upgraded the creeks nearby.

We continue to pay our flood insurance to be covered for any water damage as our home policy doesn't cover that. Our premiums did drop once we were out of the flood zone.

I wonder how many Palo Altans have flood insurance that isn't required by their mortgage companies?

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Posted by SP
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

There are two flood issues in East Palo Alto. One is water coming over or through levees from the bay. The other is related to the capacity of the pump that pumps the storm drain water over the levee and back out to the bay. This pump is located just off the bay trail next to the wood bridge that goes over the creek between the golf course and the airport.

The last few floods in EPA were caused both by water overflowing SF creek, and also backing up because the pump could not keep up. The 50 and 100 year flood models do not take into account the lack of pump capacity. Just improving the levees will not protected EPA.

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I do not have flood insurance, because we are not in a flood zone. However, I remember in 1998 people down the street from us, whose elevation was lower for drainage reasons, not having flood insurance for the same reason we did not. Their basement was flooded and it took seemingly endless weeks to pump all the water out.

How many people think they are not in a flood zone, but are NOW, according to ABAG?
Their mortgage company may not even know it, and then what happens in another really torrential El Nino year?

It is important that everyone check the maps provided by ABAG and the SC County Water District to find out if they are in a flood zone, even a 100-year flood zone. In shopping for a new home, we have consulted the maps, and there are far more flood zones in this county than I ever thought--partly because of all the underground aquifers, as well as proximity to creeks and dams.

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Posted by Nick
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Where exactly ARE the zones, dude? Doncha think that would be a big help for readers to know?

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm

What does ABAG have to do with this? Someone please explain. Looks like this is a shell game to extract more $$$ out of the residents.

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Posted by what a racket
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Have a raised house on supposed flood zone border (maps keep getting redrawn) in Duveneck/St. Francis that has not flooded, yet we are required to pay FEMA flood insurance and it is costly and I believe, unnecessary. I strongly disbelieve this house could flood, but our mortgage requires us to pay FEMA. We will NEVER see that money. I oppose extorting any more money out of us, regardless of the taxing authority.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 17, 2012 at 10:10 am

> but our mortgage requires us to pay FEMA. We
> will NEVER see that money

Several years ago I looked into the FEMA Flood Insurance program. At the time, on the FEMA web-site, there was extensive information about this program--including the yearly revenue, and payouts. As I remember, based on "weather" for a given year, the Flood Insurance fund was either heavily in the "black", or heavily in the "red". Like most insurance pools, the ability to pay people when they suffer injury requires enrolling more people paying in, than those receiving funds.

There has been fairly extensive abuse in this program--with people making claims that turned out to be fraudulent, who were not subject to criminal proceedings. And, many of the same communities have been subject to flooding, because they are built too close to rivers, in low-lying coastal areas on the East/Gulf Coast.

FEMA/Congress are contemplating some changes:

Web Link

The fact that the US is effectively bankrupt, thanks to the thousands of "give-away" programs enacted by Congress over the years, is no doubt one of the drivers of a re-thinking of Federal responsibility for Floodplain Insurance, as well as the responsibility of the US Corps of Engineers to manage so many flood-related projects.

Criticisms of the Federal program are highlighted in the link above, and include:
Since its adoption in 1968, the NFIP has faced ongoing significant criticism. Some have argued that the NFIP does not do enough to require property owners facing potential flood hazards to purchase flood insurance. Others have criticized the Program for encouraging development within floodplains by offering flood insurance at significantly subsidized rates that insulate property owners/tenants from the “true” costs and risks of developing within the floodplain. Others have criticized the floodplain maps generated as part of the Program, both as over inclusive and under inclusive. Recently environmental groups have initiated lawsuits around the country challenging the NFIP on the grounds that FEMA has failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the impact of the NFIP on Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) listed species in floodplains and surrounding areas. These criticisms (and others) are driving FEMA’s current reform efforts.

If any significant changes to the FEMA program were to be enacted by Congress/FEMA, it's understandable that local officials would have to start proposing plans to deal with local floodplain problems.

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Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Ducatigirl is a registered user.

You can google "flood zones, Palo Alto" to find maps of flood zones. Duveneck/St Francis is in a flood zone, I believe. Parts of it were under water in 1998. My son delivered sandbags to people there. He was allowed into the flooded areas of town to deliver sandbags because he had a four-wheel-drive vehicle. He worked doing this every night for a week in Feb 1998, quitting at midnight only because he had to go to school the next day. He also sandbagged homes for many people who were unable to do so on their own. I think he remembers better than most of us how awful the floods were, how long it took for the water to recede, all the damage to homes and property. And afterward, all the rot and mold and mildew and horrible odors.

A lot of people had no flood insurance because, supposedly, they were not in an official flood zone. The flood maps have changed since then. It is best to check.

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Posted by Us Too?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

The Corps of Engineers spends billions on Mississippi levy installation and maintenance to essentially protect farmland.

Compared to other states, the Corps spends next to nothing to defend the Bayshore communities.

As a reference point....the Corp spent north of $14B to defend New Orleans...the proposal on the table is $120M which we would need to spend out of our own pockets. I would like to see some of our US tax $$$ brought back home to the Bay Area!

Are you listening Anna Eshoo - Nancy Pelosi - Diane Feinstein & Barbara Boxer ???????

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Posted by flooded in 1998
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

We live near Heather and Channing. During the 1998 flood, the storm sewers backed up, because of old, narrow pipes, bad junctions, and the high tide that evening. Our lot was flooded to a depth of 4-5" of clear runoff water, because of those conditions. Subsequently, the City has eliminated backups at junctions, and increased the flow diameter of storm sewer pipes. I do not know if the conditions at the outlet have changed, to be able to accommodate more runoff at high tide.

The backup in San Francisquito Creek contributed an additional 10-11" of depth of water in our backyard. Eventually, it resulted in a 3' deep channel dug under our back fence, as water from Walter Hays sought to find its way to the Bay. We also had a 2.5' deep river of whitewater at curb-level in front of our house. The creek water was muddy, and (as we discovered later) had poison oak and other irritants in it. The City and Counties have since improved the Creek, but a rain like we had in 1998 could still jump the banks without additional mitigations.

Our mortgage required us to have flood insurance. So, while our house was not severely impacted -- only the bottom 1/4" of the floor joists touched water (unlike hard-hit neighbors in Eichlers, our home is not built on a slab) -- we received several thousand dollars to remedy several things which occurred. Our insurance did not, however, cover the garage, and most of our possessions to a depth of 2' in the garage were ruined.

Still, we were paying $1000/yr even in 1998, and watched uncomfortably as the premiums rose and rose. We discovered, however, that the answers on the insurance form, regarding the nature of our crawlspace, were critically to the determination of our rates. We changed the answers (truthful changes), and the rates dropped to the present $200-300/yr. The questions have to do with the area of the openings into the crawlspace, and whether the 'floor' (dirt) of the crawlspace is above or below grade at the upstream-side of the crawlspace. If the questions come out 'wrong', then you have a basement, not a crawlspace, and your rates jump by roughly $1000/yr. The questions are intended to determine whether water will flow through the under-house areas during a flood, or be trapped, or create pressure which could break a foundation.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Map of US. Click on an area and magnify to see details:
Web Link

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

This is what happens when the government takes over insurance. Everything is a shell game for finding revenue.

That being said, why not have some personal responsibility for living in a flood zone? If you don't have insurance, that's your fault. Why should the government be involved one way or the other? How can you be a victim when you choose to live where you are?

That's the problem we have today - expecting someone or something to tell you what to do. That's why we have people living in areas of high wildfire danger, hurricane zones and flood plains. Why are expecting insurance companies and government agencies to bail people out of places they probably shouldn't be?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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