Flood insurance policy captures Speier's attention

November 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A 7 On Your Side report about homeowners suddenly being forced to buy flood insurance has generated a lot of response, including the attention of a Bay Area congresswoman.

Representative Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is promising swift response to our report revealing mistakes in the new digital flood maps that are issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These errors wrongly placed many people in flood zones.

Jackie Speier told 7 On Your Side she wants quick reform to correct inequities in these new FEMA flood maps we first told you about last week.

Adeline McKinnon's home in Sunnyvale was placed in a special flood hazard area. Yet, FEMA says the house right next door is not in a flood zone.

"I thought it was crazy after living here for 51 years, all of a sudden she's in a flood zone," said Adeline's daughter Marsha Gresham.

Then there's Minh Tien of Milpitas. FEMA puts his house in a flood zone and again, his next door neighbor is not.

"They said we need to buy flood insurance because we're in a flood zone and I think the whole thing is kind of crazy," said Tien.

How can that be? Well, Minh's neighbor hired a land surveyor and proved his house sits above the flood plain.

Adeline's neighbor did the same thing. FEMA granted both homeowners "map amendments," pulling their houses out of the flood zone, but left the neighbors in.

"If you're on flat land and your neighbor is in the plain and you're not, based on a survey map, well then everyone should be amended out appropriately," said Speier. .

This isn't the first complaint heard by FEMA. The Santa Clara Valley Water District wrote the agency saying flood plain boundaries are misaligned. It wrongly placed many homes in the flood zone.

"Our FEMA maps use the best available information. Our maps are designed to show areas of high, low and moderate flood risk. We use the best available information," said Kathleen Schaefer from FEMA.

The new FEMA maps use digital technology that can pinpoint exactly who is in a flood zone and who is not.

If the map puts your home in a hazard area, and you have a federally insured mortgage, you must buy flood insurance. But if there are errors, it's up to the homeowner to prove the map is wrong.

Speier says she might go directly to FEMA and ask for a quicker change in regulations rather than wait for Congress to act.

"There is a fairness issue here that needs to be addressed, so I want to thank you for bringing it to my attention in a big way. And I intend to go back to Congress and particularly to FEMA and see what we can do about it," said Rep. Speier.

Speier hopes some kind of reform can get underway within a month, but wheels are slow to turn. We will be keeping you informed.


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