(January 4, 2001) -- President-elect George W. Bush has announced he intends to nominate Joe Allbaugh, his presidential campaign manager and former gubernatorial chief of staff, to serve as his new FEMA Director, replacing Clinton administration FEMA chief James Lee Witt.
President-elect Bush described Mr. Allbaugh, 48, as "an individual with extraordinary management capabilities who can be counted on in times of need. I have the utmost confidence in his abilities..."
President Clinton appointed Mr. Witt to head FEMA after Witt held a disaster management post in Arknasas.
During Witt's tenture, FEMA declared large parts of ELB, NLB and surrounding southeast L.A. County communities as a "special hazard flood area." This bureaucratic action allowed FEMA to begin collecting mandatory annual flood insurance premiums from homeowners with federally-backed loans on their properties. FEMA justified its action by claiming a "100-year" flood risk existed from the L.A. river and Rio Hondo rivers.
Although FEMA's flood hazard decree occurred during the Clinton administration, the agency actually took administrative steps to impose the decree in 1992 during the (first) George Bush administration.
As news of FEMA's 1992 action spread, area homeowners and officials sought Congressional relief. In fall, 1992 Congress amended FEMA's nationwide authorizing statutes to mitigate the agency's Mississippi river style building restrictions and flood insurance premiums in areas where work was progressing on certain federally backed projects. That included the "LACDA" project, being done by the Corps of Engineers & L.A. County to increase the L.A. and Rio Hondo river channels' carrying capacity.
While FEMA developed rules to implement the Congressional amendment, it delayed imposition of its flood hazard decree locally. When the rules were finalized, FEMA imposed the decree in July, 1998.
Meanwhile, homeowner pressure, local official lobbying and strenuous advocacy by LB Congressman Steve Horn succeeded in obtaining maximum annual Congressional funding for LACDA (despite lower annual budget requests by the Clinton administration.)
Much of the LACDA project is now completed and some downriver areas (including parts of Wrigley and WLB) have already been removed from the "flood tax" area. Local officials and homeowners expect ELB and NLB areas classified by FEMA as a flood risk in 1998 to be removed and restored to minimal flood risk status after the LACDA project is completed, now scheduled for the end of 2001.
FEMA officials have indicated homeowners may be entitled to a refund of their final flood insurance premium, which for many impacted residents should come in May-June 2001.