FEMA, meet Permit-gate

It was just two years ago when the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the results of its post-Hurricane Katrina assessment of our city’s levee system. The take-home message was shocking. The report stated: “Sacramento is considered the urban area most vulnerable to catastrophic flooding in the nation.”

But it seems we still don’t really get the point.

FEMA spoke to Sacramento again about two weeks ago—this time in a scolding response to a scandal that’s become known as “Permit-gate”—wherein the son of City Councilman Robbie Waters, acting as a customer-service supervisor for the city’s Community Development Department last fall, signed off on a request to build 35 homes in the flood zone that is North Natomas. Basically, Dan Waters played a trick with the computer so as to give K. Hovnanian Homes “overrides” on needed permits to proceed with construction despite a moratorium.

In its letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson, FEMA gave the city two options for responding to the scandal. Either demand the structures in question to be elevated to flood-plain level (that means building would have to be raised as much as 20 feet—a request so expensive as to be prohibitive) or stop work altogether and leave the structures unoccupied. The city has 60 days to respond.

The city should comply with the request, confirm that the permit scandal was an isolated incident, then get together what Rep. Doris Matsui calls a “robust remediation plan” for FEMA—and fast.

Otherwise, Permit-gate could result in a tragic crash and fail of the city’s longstanding efforts to reduce flood risk and lower flood-insurance rates for those who live in our area’s many flood zones.