Flood mitigation and the wild west


Flooding in Malibu is not just Malibu’s problem, but also that of L.A. County, State Parks and neighboring communities.

With all those entities involved, the solution, it is not always simple.

A Zuma Canyon rancher, attending the recent flood mitigation public meeting on Thursday, told a story about his own unique flooding problem. He explained that the local creek overflowed onto his land and he got into the creek and tried to divert it so it wouldn’t keep flooding. Fish and Game came, saw what he was doing and pulled out their guns to stop him. Apparently, the government doesn’t allow residents to divert creeks that have overflown, even in an emergency.

“Putting dirt in the creek is just a Band-Aid,” he said, “But the neighbors to the north, the park people, don’t do anything.”

“Run-off from one district to another can be addressed,” said Gregor Blackburn, Natural Hazards Program Specialist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), region 9.

“Adjacent communities should be informed when a flooding problem occurs which affects areas below them,” said Blackburn.

“It will take a bit of coordination and effort to do that,” he added.

Historically, the City of Malibu is one of the highest-ranked cities in the state in claims for damaged properties. As a result, the federal government, along with the state, put together a federal flood mitigation program.

The FEMA program includes six categories: Prevention, property protection, natural resource protection, emergency service, structural projects and public information.

Among the suggestions were a zoning ordinance modification so that additions and new homes would include a building pad of one-foot above the ground in a V-Zone. A V-Zone (velocity zone) is a designation by FEMA.

The V-Zoning affects all the properties along the ocean or next to creeks that may overflow during a storm.

“It’s the zone you pay most for [in] your insurance,” said Ed Lipnick, Flood Mitigation Committee member.

“People will not be required to make any changes, but some may be suggested,” said Lipnick. “It may be possible for a community to get additional money to implement changes.”

“Addressing percolation, the ability of the soil to absorb water, in unstable areas is an important factor of the plan,” said Bergson.

“Percolation can cause major landslide problems,” said Lipnick.

Suggested preventive activities include enforcement of floodplain regulations and zoning ordinances for new structures, new developments, or substantial improvements to existing conditions. The establishment of a fee, based on additional run-off generated from a site, may also be implemented.

One structural project activity recommended that all roof drainage systems be designed to drain toward the ocean side for coastal properties.

The mitigation activities also include protection of natural resources and the consideration of acquiring properties that have more than five claims.

“The community that follows this type of plan can apply to ISO, the Insurance Service Organization, for insurance and premium reduction,” said Blackburn.

This plan acts as a business plan for the future of the community.

“We in the disaster business always have a grim view of future,” he said. “We know that there will be another flood and if there is a presidential declaration many things get mobilized.”

When such a declaration is made, “The community that has a plan ready to go, can step up to the plate sooner.

“This is FEMA’s goal in granting the planning grant to the community,” said Blackburn.

“The plan will serve as an initial document presented to the state should there be a disaster,” said Ken Bryant, Disaster Assistance Program specialist with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Service. Other considerations include wave up-rushes and tsunamis, and sewage problems that become a health hazard.

“This may become too large and beyond the scope of what we are trying to do here,” Bryant said. “But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be addressed.”

Environmentally sensitive areas can be very restrictive since preservation is also an issue. To have a better chance of funding this type of project, it helps to ask for the money during the disaster times, said Blackburn.

“Did I just hear you say that we need a big disaster before we can solve the problems?” asked John Wall, Flood Mitigation Committee member.

Blackwood agreed that this is kind of awkward, but true.