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Environment

KCET scoop: FEMA shakes down South Central for "flood insurance" ten miles from ocean

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Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 1:36 PM

KCET is about to unleash, tonight, a stunning expose of FEMA and Los Angeles City Hall that involves an unintentional but outrageous shakedown of South Central Los Angeles residents for "flood" insurance costing an eye-popping $900 to $1,700 a year.

Mostly black and Latino homeowners in virtually no risk of being flooded are getting the squeeze thanks to FEMA's dubious new "flood zones" for L.A. 

Reported by the award-winning broadcaster Judy Muller, the report, "Hung Out to Dry?", which airs at 8 p.m. tonight and 8:30 p.m. on Friday, shows longtime resident Isaac Robinson standing on a South Central street that's not in the silly new flood zone. Yet, as Robinson notes to Muller, KCET's cameraman standing a few feet away "is in the flood zone."

The story unearthed by KCET is so maddening -- Muller notes in her opening lines that South Central is "10 miles from the Pacific Ocean and seven miles from the nearest river"-- that it's hard to decide whether to blame the perpetual screwups at FEMA, or the perpetual screwups at City Hall.

The new Special Flood Hazard Areas in South Central Los Angeles reflect absurd

mapping errors FEMA made. On camera, a clearly uncomfortable FEMA guy keeps saying ridiculous lines like "there are going to be discrepancies." Then we learn that the city's Board of Public Works -- appointed by Antonio Villaraigosa -- insisted City Hall could not "afford" to help FEMA when the feds asked them to apply their local knowledge to the feds' proposed new flood maps. Apparently, a city review of the maps would have taken time and money.

Well, can L.A afford federal errors that place South Central straight in the path of a massive, imagined flood that turns corners at sharp right angles, runs uphill, and otherwise defies logic?

Here's what's even more incredible:  

These aren't just understandable mistakes. FEMA spent $1 billion on a national, digital mapping program to identify Special Flood Hazard Areas in the wake of Katrina. In L.A., FEMA used as its basis the old L.A. flood zone maps from the 1970s -- the last time Los Angeles got updated.

Among other things, the old maps had wrongly labeled a raised railroad berm in South Central as a "levee."  Now that the ghost "levee" has been found not exist -- apparently as discovered during FEMA's diigital mapping -- to the federal pinheads, this must mean that the floodwaters can't be held back in South Central any longer.

Good God.

City Councilman Bernard Parks tells KCET that FEMA used the problematic 1970s maps without "notice to the city." It's true that the feds probably did not contact Bernard Parks, who represents much of the area now being screwed.

But the feds did contact the Villaraigosa Administration, whose 5,400-person Department of Public Works couldn't be bothered with something as costly as reviewing the federal maps. Now the people of South Central are paying.

Yet in tonight's report, the residents are so calm, methodically digging up their own data and reports, holding meetings to share info. One woman, Zee Taylor, had to give up her vacation to pay the $1,700 in surprise annual insurance -- required by the feds on top of her regular home insurance.

According to Muller, "hundreds, perhaps thousands of residents" have been forced this year to buy the flood insurance.

Resident Isaac Robinson, who has turned into a flood zone expert while confronting the debacle, says, "It's completely backwards from the way this country should be run."

Not to mention the city. Last year, the City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa

spent $1 million ordering up 27,978 hand-lettered calligraphy scrolls that they enjoy handing out to businesses, friends and civic groups they're "honoring." A cool $1 million for nothing. And as the Daily News has shown by fighting and winning the legal right  to publish a database of DWP salaries, L.A. residents pay Department of Water

and Power workers 25 percent to 40 percent more than people in those very same

jobs outside L.A. city government.

Black and Latino homeowners in South Central aren't being hit by the feds for $900 to $1,700 because Los Angeles is too broke to warn the feds off a bad plan. They're paying because FEMA, and Los Angeles, are broken.

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