News & Analysis
Cong. Horn Secures Final L.A. River Funding; Should End FEMA 1998 Flood Insurance Decree When Project Completed Approx. Dec. 2001; Refunds Possible for Final "Flood Tax" Premium
FEMA lifts "Flood Tax" in WLB and Wrigley, ELB and NLB expected next
Congressional multi-year marathon
(October 31, 2000) LB Congressman Stephen Horn has successfully steered legislation through Congress, signed into law by the President on October 27, which should end mandatory flood insurance ("the flood tax") in parts of LB by fully funding the final portion of the L.A. river (LACDA) project.
When the project is completed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can revise its flood risk maps and lift mandatory flood insurance in ELB and NLB areas that FEMA zoned "AR" in 1998. Earlier this year, FEMA removed parts of Wrigley and WLB from the "flood tax" area, reflecting previously completed river work. ELB and NLB expect to follow when the project is completed late next year.
A FEMA fact sheet indicates homeowners can request a refund of their final flood insurance premium paid for the policy year in which FEMA revises its maps. This means if the schedule holds, premium checks written in 2001 for the final year could be refunded.
(FEMA's fact sheet indicates that after FEMA revises its maps, homeowners must request refunds from their insurance agents. LBReport.com is interested in receiving e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Wrigley and WLB residents who've had experiences with this.)
If the present schedule holds, the L.A. river project will be completed several years ahead of its original schedule (freeing LB and L.A. County areas from the"flood tax" years earlier than first predicted.) This resulted because Congress approprated basically as much construction money as the Corps of Enginers and L.A. County could use each year.
Getting the House, Senate and President to sign off on this was an annual obstacle course and required some sophisticated advocacy. Although Horn regularly credits bipartisan support from other House members, local officials and neighborhood activists, it still fell to Horn (particularly as a member of the majority party) to convince House committee members, then the full House, to vote for basically the maximum amount of money that the river-levee builders could use.
These votes were not always easy in a tight-fisted budget balancing Congress. The LACDA funding level sought by Horn was greater than proposed in the White House budget. Other projects sought by other House members also fought for a limited amount of money.
Each year Horn persuaded the House of Representatives to go along with his LACDA funding requests. Obstacles arose when, for the past several years, the Senate voted a lower funding level than the House. This meant another high stakes effort to persuade a House-Snate conference commitee include the higher House-voted LACDA level in the final version of the bills passed by the House and Senate and sent to the President.
LB neighborhood groups and activists, including the Los Altos Neighorhood Association (LANAS) and Wrigley Association, held impressive overflow meetings that kept the issue in the spotlight. In recent years, neighborhood activists (including now LBReport.com publisher Bill Pearl) used the internet to communicate details about FEMA and LACDA when local media did not.
LB City Hall (both city staff and Councilmembers) also pursued a consistent lobbying effort on Capitol Hill and with FEMA. A similarly aggresive posture was taken by L.A. County (Supervisor Don Knabe's office and L.A. County Dept. of Public Works staff) and a group of area cities (particularly Lakewood) comprising the "LACDA Alliance" which pressed for full LACDA funding and closely watched FEMA's actions.
This year, Horn had to guide his legislation through around another problem when President Clinton vetoed the Energy & Water Development appropriations bill, a large bill that included the L.A. river money. The veto had nothing to do with LACDA; it resulted from a squabble over another issue involving Senators and House members from the Upper Missouri and lower Mississippi.
The House voted to override the veto on October 11th (315-98), but the Senate did not attempt an override, meaning the bill (and the L.A. river money) died. However, LACDA completion funding was revived when the portion of the bill that prompted the veto was removed and a fresh version of the Energy & Water bill was inserted in the conference (final version) of the VA-HUD appropriations bill. This passed the House on October 19 (386-24) and the Senate the same day (85-8).
On October 27, 2000 President Clinton signed the bill -- including Congressman Horn's L.A. river project completion money -- into law.
Recent FEMA actions
Fully funding the river project year after year allowed expedited construction work which has produced movement by FEMA. Based on materials submitted by the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works, on February 25, 2000 FEMA issued a "Letter of Map Revision" (LOMR), removing the "AR zone" (a mandatory flood insurance designation) imposed in 1998 from parts of Wrigley and WLB, essentially restoring the previous status quo. (This area is largely represented by Cong. Juanita Millender-McDonald.) We have posted this FEMA letter at FEMA WLB/Wrigley letter.
ELB and NLB areas zoned "AR" by FEMA in 1998 expect to be next when the L.A. river project is fully completed next year. In the interim, on September 1, 2000, FEMA has reclassified ELB and NLB "AR zone" areas to "A99", a beneficial bureaucratic change for homeowners. Although A99 continues to impose flood insurance, it lifts several flood zone restrictions and indicates the project is nearing completion. We have posted this FEMA letter at FEMA ELB/NLB letter.
(Note: FEMA's letters use bureaucratic flood insurance jargon; prepare to be annoyed.)
As previously reported on LBReport.com, Councilman Jerry Shultz (9th district) described at an August, 2000 Council meeting the final upriver work he was told is scheduled for completion by the end of 2001. (Full story at: Councilman Shultz explains FEMA/LACDA timeline.)
LBReport.com publisher Bill Pearl, who has closely followed FEMA's LB area proceedings since 1992, credited Congressman Horn with "exemplary legislative advocacy in working to lift FEMA's oppressive 1998 'flood tax' from LB and southeast L.A. County."
He also credited LB City Hall, including city staff and Councilmembers, for (after an initial slow start) "working with residents instead of against them" in a two track approach with Congress and with FEMA.
Pearl said the internet has proven to be extremely powerful in alerting affected homeowners and communicating with elected officials. He cautioned, "It's not over till it's over. We must be vigilant (and prepared to respond legislatively if necessary) to ensure ELB and NLB areas zoned "AR" in 1998 (now A99) are promptly restored to their pre-July 1998 status when the L.A. river project is completed."