Unlike nearly every other Laguna Beach neighborhood, 37 Canyon Acres residents were recently informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they needed to purchase floodplain insurance, which can cost up to $600 a year. City officials, though, say the federal agency is mistaken and no one will need to pay.
According to city officials, FEMA overlooked the Canyon Acres storm drain installed four years ago when it mapped out the floodplain for the flood-prone neighborhood.
Steve May, the city’s director of public works, said FEMA was notified of the plans for the new storm drain before it was connected but the requirement for flood insurance shows they didn’t act on the information. “I can’t say it was their fault,” he said, “but we sent them the plans for the new storm drain while they were doing their floodplain study. For some reason, somehow it did not get incorporated. Somehow it got lost.”
The city recently sent out 37 letters to property owners falling within FEMA’s floodplain, explaining the mistake and the actions being taking to correct the error.
Due to complaints from Canyon Acres residents, the City Council authorized spending $26,000 last March for an engineering study to revise maps for the floodplain that include the new storm drain. The area was remapped, May said, and new calculations made. “We effectively reduced floodplain elevation,” said May. “The result in doing that removed all of the homes from the floodplain.”
Last December, Laguna Canyon was flooded by a 100-year-level rainstorm that damaged more than 100 homes and caused $5 million in property losses, mostly in the northern end of the canyon between El Toro Road and Big Bend. The 91 residents in Canyon Acres, which is closer to town, didn’t get flooded, including 64 people living along Canyon Acres Road, which is the floodway, May said. “There was some debris deposited on the streets and water running down the street, but nobody’s home got flooded,” he said.
As far as a future flood of equivalent ferocity, there’s no real guarantee. “There could be a chance of flooding from the hillsides behind people,” said May, “but not from the creek itself and that’s what the FEMA study addresses.”
As far as hearing back from FEMA, May said, “I don’t expect anything in particular,” adding that recent history indicates that a response within a month seems reasonable. “As soon as FEMA approves our new map, we’ll submit that to the property owners,” he said,” and they’ll have that available to provide to their lenders.”