FEMA proposes flood mitigation study

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According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Malibu is second only to Sonoma County when it comes to repetitive flood losses in California. But, according to some of the proponents of the development of the Malibu Civic Center, the proposed FEMA study is nothing more then a political ploy, by some, to engineer a stoppage of any development in the Civic Center without having to pay for the land.

A repetitive loss is one that occurs twice within a 10-year period. These areas are a big drain on the flood insurance funds, said FEMA representative Gregory Blackburn.

Chuck Bergson, Public Works director for Malibu, said that FEMA suggested a flood mitigation study because Malibu has had the second largest number of claims in California in the past 10 years.

“I was told that there was a grant available and they gave me a form,” said Bergson, “so I applied for it.”

“They want to do things to reduce that impact,” he said, concluding that it’s very high for a small town like Malibu.

According to the city, there are 21 major canyon watercourses that cross the Pacific Coast Highway within the city’s boundary.

The project will help identify areas of historic flooding and problem areas, determine existing hydrologic conditions in the watersheds and develop goals and objectives for the flood mitigation plan.

One of the claims has been that the Civic Center is a flood plain and thus, susceptible to flooding. A recent article in the Westside Weekly section of the Los Angeles Times suggested that the land in the Civic Center area, which is owned by the Malibu Bay Company (MBC), and targeted for development, is prone to flooding. MBC responded that these statements in the article are incorrect.

According to MBC, the Chili Cook-off site has never flooded and a claim has never been made to FEMA on this property. The MBC states that only a very small portion of the land they own is prone to seasonal flooding and this land will be dedicated as permanent open space under the development agreement.

They say that they are doing everything they can to determine how constructed wetlands might contribute to flood control improvements generally in the Civic Center area.

The FEMA study will also help consider possible solutions to the areas that do have potential flooding problems through evaluation and prioritization of the potential solutions and identification of potential funding sources.

To delineate the mitigation process, the City Council will be appointing a Flood Mitigation Planning Committee that will be composed of three staff members and three members of the public.

At the meeting, the committee solicited names for a third public member and sign up sheets where made available to the public, but only one person signed up so the city extended the application period for an additional two weeks after the meeting.

Blackburn, a Natural Hazards Program specialist from the San Francisco FEMA office said, “Once the information is gathered, a review of the existing conditions will be done and reports of various flooding concerns will be given to the city.”

“I also want to reassure you that the federal government is here with a grant to help cover the costs, provide solutions and build public consensus,” said Blackburn.

This mitigation process is expected to be finalized by April 2001, and FEMA is providing Malibu with a $150,000 grant to help pay for this process.

“We’re not coming here as big brother to grab land,” said the FEMA representative, adding that the organization is known to come into town on the heels of a disaster.

“We are here to focus on the problem first, so that we can come up with solutions,” said Blackburn. “Another advantage to having a plan is knowing where to develop and it helps have a leg up when disaster does hit.”

With that goal in mind, FEMA came to solicit input from the public. Bergson said that the plan addresses all the areas in town, as none are specified individually.

Blackburn said that having learned from prior disasters, FEMA is getting involved with the management of disaster prone areas to help prevent possible problems before they happen.

“Our role was to create money available to pay claims and to draw maps of flooding prone areas,” said Blackburn.

Maps have been created to help identify problem areas. The maps are available from title companies and real estate agents; the FEMA Web Site can also be a source to obtain these maps.