Residents Rally to Fight FEMA Mapping Errors, Potentially Save Homes

Federal Emergency Management Agency

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known by its acronym, FEMA, is just about ready to give its formal reply to complaints lodged by the City of Malibu, after flood maps presented by the agency reportedly missed the mark.

The maps, which will be used for insurance, ordinance and development purposes, are a way for the agency to help guide homeowners and insurance companies as the sea level continues to rise. However, the methodology used by FEMA—which, according to local experts, was murky at best—has resulted in some glaring errors the city hopes to have fixed. That is, if FEMA agrees.

“We did get a preliminary answer back from FEMA on our appeal of the flood maps. It’s not their formal response; it’s just a preliminary response. They agree with some of the things that were appealed and disagree with some things,” City Manager Reva Feldman announced at last Monday’s city council meeting on June 11. “Hopefully we’ll be getting their formal response soon so we can prepare our response back and fight the issues that are raised.”

Feldman was not in the office this week, but Assistant City Manager Lisa Soghor said Tuesday that, as of June 19, FEMA had yet to formalize a response.

“Public Works staff had not received anything in detail yet,” Soghor explained during a brief phone interview with The Malibu Times Tuesday.

But that has not slowed down residents’ fury.

This week, a group of concerned coastal residents began rallying together, in the words of attorney Barry Haldeman, “so that citizens can have current knowledge of the progress of negotiations and can give civilian input to the city during the negotiation process.” Haldeman wrote to city council and Feldman this week to ask for a citizen task force to be formed, among other suggestions.

During next Monday’s city council meeting, there is an item proposing a $20,000 contract with coastal engineering firm Moffat & Nichol “to perform a detailed review of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Preliminary Coastal Flood Map.” This review will serve to help bolster Malibu’s case, should FEMA disagree with the city’s argument.

Moffat & Nichol has been in the employ of the city since September of last year, when concerns were raised over the inaccuracy of flood maps for the area.

The June 25 meeting will also feature the voices of concerned citizens.

“For many citizens, our house is the biggest asset we own,” organizer Lloyd Ahern wrote in a letter to the editor of this newspaper. “If FEMA does this wrong, it is only a matter of time when the whole city will be impacted by these incorrect maps. The city is doing their share, now we must support them.”

When asked how much good a task force may be able to do in this situation, Soghor suggested that was a question better asked of the Public Works Department. Assistant Public Works Director Rob Duboux was not immediately available to comment Tuesday.