I’ll add this without comment:
Developers of a tract in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta east of Mount Diablo don’t worry that the land is 6 feet below sea level and kept dry by a system of pumps and aging levees not considered adequate for urban growth.
They have begun building new, privately funded earthen levees within the existing dikes that would allow for as many as 5,200 new houses on the Hotchkiss Tract. And the booming Contra Costa city of Oakley is eager to annex the growth into its borders.
Driven by the demand for new housing from the Bay Area to Sacramento, tens of thousands of homes are planned on land that state and federal officials say is among the most threatened with catastrophic flooding in the nation. In Oakley and elsewhere, developers and city officials claim the new levees will protect people far better than existing levees, which California’s political leaders say are crumbling.
"It’s like comparing a brand new Mercedes with a horse cart,” said Rebecca Willis, Oakley’s director of community development. "Levees today are structurally sound. Levees built 100 years ago were not.”
But critics including state officials, environmentalists and academics say that urbanizing such floodplains is unwise, even madness, particularly after Hurricane Katrina broke through federally certified levees in New Orleans.
"I think it is just insane that we would be building houses below sea level,” said Mathias Kondolf, who is organizing a conference on delta development this spring at UC Berkeley, where he is an associate professor of environmental planning.
State elected officials and bureaucrats are worried about the potential economic and social effects of a levee failure next to new developments or existing urban areas in the delta and other parts of the state, particularly the Central Valley. They are considering selling bonds to fund levee improvements, better mapping of risk zones and requiring all homeowners behind levees to have flood insurance, among other measures.
Developers are unapologetically turning to flood-prone lands, particularly in the delta, as the Bay Area’s urban footprint expands eastward. Nearly 40,000 homes that could get flooded if a levee failed are planned in the cities of Lathrop (San Joaquin County), Oakley and Stockton alone.
"Many opportunities for development lie in areas protected by levees,” said Don Hofer, a vice president for Shea Homes of Northern California, which has started building the first of 1,330 homes approved on Hotchkiss Tract.
As with other development in flood areas, the project will feature artificial lakes to capture storm water. "Waterfront” homes will cost as much as $800,000.
Hofer and other building industry representatives say the flood threat to new development is being distorted and oversold. New development will improve flood protection on Hotchkiss Tract, he said, because local officials have required builders to construct interior levees that at least meet the federal "100-year flood” standard — the level thought to protect against a storm that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year.
The new levees there will be taller, wider and better engineered than the old ones, with dirt pounded down to create the strength to withstand earthquakes, Hofer said, although critics say the threat of quakes has not been given enough attention.
Hofer said just his company’s development alone will also provide $3.8 million over 30 years through assessments to help improve and maintain the old levees on the tract, though it is not expected that those levees will provide 100-year protection to the tract’s 544 existing residences. Many of those structures do not have ground-floor living areas and some are on stilts.
State officials, who have little authority over local land use, say the federal flood standa,12,176799.037,1,7288,220.127.116.11
176835,176799,176799,2006-01-30 09:00:16,RE: Welcome Back New Orleans!”