Governor Signs Flood-Control Bills Imposing Restrictions

Mon October 29, 2007 - West Edition

SACRAMENTO (AP) Local governments seeking to build in floodplains face new standards that could restrict development in some of California’s most vulnerable areas under legislation signed Oct. 10 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The five bills impose restrictions on where cities and counties in the Central Valley can build while requiring them to improve flood protection for existing developments.

One of the bills also creates a nine-member Central Valley Flood Protection Board that will replace the state Board of Reclamation, which has been criticized for favoring the construction industry.

“For years, nothing got done because growth and safety concerns were always at odds,” Schwarzenegger said during a bill-signing ceremony along a levee in Natomas, a Sacramento neighborhood that has exploded with suburban growth in recent years despite being one of the most flood-prone pockets of the city.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina, Democratic lawmakers succeeded in crafting what they described as a comprehensive flood-control package that won the support last month of environmentalists, local governments and the building industry.

The laws will restrict building for the next eight years in areas that lack 100-year flood protection in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys. After 2014, development would be prohibited in areas without 200-year flood protection, meaning the chance of a catastrophic flood occurring in any given year is less than 1 percent.

For neighborhoods already built, communities would have until 2025 to strengthen surrounding levees to the 200-year flood-protection level.

“The Central Valley has known for decades the risk of flooding,” said Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “Hurricane Katrina put the issue on the national map, and we are fond of saying, ’We have been warned.’”

The state Department of Water Resources must develop maps that show communities the areas with the greatest flood risk. In turn, those cities and counties must incorporate flood protection into local zoning laws.

In addition, the state will notify property owners who live in danger areas.

In some cases, communities could continue building in floodplains if they demonstrate they are making reasonable year-to-year progress to strengthen levees. That progress would be monitored by the new flood board.

Cities and counties that do allow construction in those areas would share any liability with the state if the area floods.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, sought the provision after an appeals court four years ago found the state was liable for a levee that crumbled, inundating part of Yuba County in 1986. The state had to pay $500 million to flood victims, setting a precedent that lawmakers feared could cost the state billions of dollars in future cases.

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