Avoiding Another Katrina: Package of Three California Flood Protection Bills Go to Governor Schwarzenegger While Two Others Await Final Passage5 min read

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The last of a trio of truly historic legislation, part of a comprehensive move to improve California flood protection and to require local governments to set standards for building in flood zones, passed the Senate today and was sent to the Governor.

The three bills are “triple joined,” meaning that Governor Schwarzenegger must sign all three of them for any of them to take effect. They are:

• SB 5, by Senator Michael Machado and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate on a 27 to 8 vote with 4 Republican Senators voting in favor. It mandates that cities and counties incorporate flood hazards into their general plans and establish minimum standards for flood protection for new developments.

• SB 17 (Florez), which received final approval from the Assembly yesterday, strengthens the State Reclamation Board and its ability to oversee the California’s flood protection efforts.

• AB 162 (Wolk), passed the Senate today on a 26 to 13 bipartisan vote and requires cities and counties to increase their attention to flood-related matters in the land use, conservation, safety, and housing elements of their general plans..

In addition, there are two other measures awaiting a Senate floor vote, SB 70 (Jones) and SB 156 (Laird). They are not dependent on any of the other bills being signed by the Governor. They will also need approval by the full Assembly on amendments made in the Senate committee process.

Senate President pro Tem Don Perata remarked on the flood package, saying “Overhauling the state’s outdated and inadequate approach to water planning and flood protection has been a top priority for Senate Democrats this year. These bills protect Californians from flood disasters with better planning, higher standards and clearly defined responsibilities for both state and local governments.”

Machado, the author of SB 5, said, “The immense flood damage created by Hurricane Katrina was a big wake up call for California and the Central Valley. Today, we’ve taken a giant step toward preventing a similar catastrophe in our state by requiring the state and local governments to recognize the danger and plan appropriately.”

Senator Florez, who carried SB 17, picked up on that theme, saying, “Through Katrina, Americans learned a tragic lesson about the importance of levee standards and flood control efforts. I don’t think there is anyone today who could honestly argue against having the most qualified experts in charge on this critical public safety issue.”

SB 5 (Machado and Wolk) – Establishes a comprehensive set of policies to move towards 21st Century flood protection, coordinating state and local efforts to connect land-use decisions and flood management planning.

• Requires the state to develop a plan for flood protection by 2012;
• Once the state plan takes effect, prohibits cities and counties in the Central Valley from entering into development agreements or approving permits, entitlements or subdivision maps in a flood zone unless there is an appropriate level of flood protection or the local flood management agency has determined that adequate progress towards that flood protection has been made;
• Once the plan takes effect, it requires 200-year flood protection for proposed projects in urban and urbanizing areas (10,000 residents or more);
• Authorizes cities and counties to develop and adopt local plans of flood protection that include a strategy to meet 200-year level of flood protection, an emergency response plan and a long-term funding strategy for improvement, maintenance and operation of flood protection facilities;
• Requires DWR to provide cities and counties within the Central Valley with preliminary flood plain maps by 2008.

SB 17 (Florez) – Renames the State Reclamation Board to the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and strengthens the board by revising its responsibilities and better enabling the board to provide independent governance and oversight over the state’s flood protection efforts.

• Establishes “expertise-based” qualifications for each board position (e.g. engineering, hydrogeology, flood management);
• Establishes staggered 4-year terms and Senate confirmation of appointees;
• Establishes “conflict of interest” requirements for board members;
• Requires Board to set standards for levee construction, operation and maintenance, to be updated at a minimum of every five years;
• Requires Board to review and comment on regional land-use plans and reclamation district plans to ensure compliance with flood protection and public safety standards.

AB 162 (Wolk) – Requires cities and counties to increase their attention to flood-related matters in the land use, conservation, safety, and housing elements of their general plans, and expands the general plan requirements for flood management. It requires the safety element to include 200-year floodplain maps

These safety elements must protect the community from unreasonable risks associated with the effects of seismically induced surface rupture, ground shaking, ground failure, tsunami, dam failure, slope instability leading to mudslides and landslides, subsidence, liquefaction and other seismic and geologic hazards, flooding, and wildland and urban fires.

SB 70 (Jones),awaiting passage, establishes that a city or county may be required to contribute its fair and reasonable share for the property damage caused by a flood, to the extent that the city or county increases the state’s exposure to liability for property damage by unreasonably approving new development in a previously undeveloped area that is protected by a state flood control project, and if it is determined that the city or county failed to comply with other applicable provisions of existing law.

SB 156 (Laird), also awaiting final passage, makes changes to flood protection and emergency flood response related to Central Valley flood protection and the management of the system by the Department of Water Resources, the Reclamation Board, and local agencies.

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