Flooding and flood insurance is the top of the news stories with the multiple hurricanes arriving on the Florida coastline. Here in California, we don’t think too much about hurricanes or flooding, but the latter may be more of a reality than we are aware of. We live in the Bay Area – aptly named as our cities surround approximately 1600 square miles of “bay” water – and while hurricanes don’t pose much of a flood threat here, rising bay levels do. One bayside community is currently at the middle of a battle to protect their city from flood hazards, as well as the costly insurance premiums that come along with them.
Foster City officials are currently mulling over their options for updating the levee running between their city and the bayfront. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had previously certified the levee as providing the city with sufficient protection from flood risk, but a new study found that due to rising water levels roughly 85% of the levee no longer meets FEMA standards. As a result, most of the city could be designated as a flood zone unless appropriate updates are made to the levee.
A flood zone designation would have an immediate impact on Foster City’s real estate market. Any property purchased with federally backed loans would require a flood insurance policy, which can cost thousands annually, depending on the property. Homeowners would also have to disclose the flood insurance requirement when selling, which could adversely affect property values. Fortunately for homeowners, the city is taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen.
We recently hosted Foster City Community Development Director, Curtis Banks, at one of RealSmart’s weekly networking meetings. He explained to us that FEMA granted Foster City a “seclusion mapping” designation in 2015, which has allowed them to temporarily avoid the flood zone designation so long as they show they are taking steps to improve the levee. Since then, he says Foster City has held 37 public, regulatory and general project meetings to decide how much to invest in raising the levee – the higher they raise it, the longer they will be protected from rising sea levels. It’s worth noting that in 2010, Redwood City spent about $2.7 million adding 1-2 feet to about 8 miles of levee in the Redwood Shores community. At the time, the city predicted sea level rise would mandate another round of improvements in 20 years.
Continual levee improvements/maintenance are a burden that fall on many Bayside peninsula communities, not just Foster City. Whether or not these communities do enough to maintain their levees could be the difference of thousands of dollars every year to homeowners. Something to keep in mind if you own a home, or are looking to buy a home in places like Redwood Shores or Foster City, where FEMA accredited levees are the only thing standing between you and a costly flood insurance policy…….or the bay.