Property Owners Dispute FEMA Maps

Local governments take up the fight for some property owners

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 2:58 PM PDT
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Stars Ring in the New Year

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LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, CA - OCTOBER 8: Residents fill sand bags to prepare in advance of the first rain storm since before the massive Station fire began for the possible major mudslides below the rugged San Gabriel Mountains, scorched and denuded by the 250-square-mile blaze, on October 9, 2009 in La Canada Flintridge, California. This week, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a much-anticipated report that estimates the likelihood of debris flows in 678 drainage basins in the area burned by the wildfire and includes maps of potential paths of destruction. The report concludes that there is an 80% likelihood of flows with very little rain because of the lack of vegetation to hold the hills in place. 12 hours of gentle sustained rain could cause mud and debris flows containing up to 100,000 cubic yards of debris, enough to cover a football field under about 60 feet of mud, and dangerous debris flows could reach miles into the cities. Ironically, California is in disparate need of rain because of prolonged drought conditions that have led to mandatory water rationing in cities, fallowed waterless farms and skyrocketing unemployment among farm workers. The arson-sparked Station fire began on August 26 and firefighters, unable contain more than 98 percent of it because of remote terrain, expect parts of it to burn until cooled by winter rain or snow. It is the largest in Los Angeles County history and the tenth largest ever fought in California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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Some Southern California property owners were surprised to learn they need flood insurance.

The property owners claim they are being forced to buy flood insurance because the new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps say they are in a high-risk flood area. Some owners have formed groups to challenge the maps, which were redrawn by FEMA to identify areas that might flood in a so-called 100-year storm.

In some cases, local  governments have taken up the property owners'  fight. The municipalities are paying for studies to challenge FEMA's maps, and in a few  cases, the agency has backed down, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The federal government has informed property owners in more than 150  cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and  San Bernardino counties about the new requirement. Most of the properties are near rivers, creeks, dams or low-lying areas.

Premiums range from $500 to more than $1,700 a year. Insurance is  mandatory for anyone with a federally backed mortgage, and lenders will  typically buy policies, sometimes at a higher cost, for property owners who  fail to do so on their own, according to The Times.

Property owners in some areas, including parts of South Los Angeles, have already started paying higher premiums, The Times reported. Homeowners  elsewhere in the region expect the new mandate to take effect early this year. 

FEMA officials call the process a collaborative one. A FEMA spokesman told the Times that local entities are allowed to point out errors, and cities and counties can provide avenues for property owners to address issues.
 

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