Insurance costs may flood county residents

If Julie Pollock had ever heard of a flood in Foster City, she would not be balking at the prospect of being required to buy flood insurance for her home.

But she hasn’t.

“I can’t understand how [federal officials] think Foster City could ever flood, and I don’t see why they expect people to pay $1,350 a year for something that’s never going to do us any good,” she said.

Pollock, who has lived in Foster City for more than a decade, counts among the tens of thousands of people who may be mandated to buy flood insurance by the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency last month issued a flood map indicating that Foster City, parts of eastern San Mateo and the Redwood Shores area in Redwood City may be at risk of flooding because of several weak spots in the levees, natural or artificial slopes or walls that hold back rising waters, that protect the cities from inundation by the Bay.

Many parts of San Mateo’s 3-mile levee system are not quite high enough, including a handful of problem areas that could put Foster City in danger.

If those levees aren’t fixed by FEMA’s spring 2010 deadline — at a cost of $2.6 million — 2,000 households in San Mateo and 11,600 households in Foster City could be designated within a “flood-hazard zone.” Those residents with federally insured mortgages will be required to buy flood insurance. San Mateo officials said that funding issues pose an obstacle in meeting the deadline.

Under the current rate structure, according to FEMA officials, homeowners who buy the maximum flood insurance coverage before the deadline would be charged $348 for the first year and $1,346 each following year. Those who miss the deadline could be charged $2,523 or more each year.

The rates seem exorbitant to Pollack.

“I’m just surprised that insurance would be as high as $1,350 a year in a place that has no history of flooding,” she said.

It’s unclear whether a flood-zone designation would impact property values, where the average home in Foster City last year sold for $1.1 million. Though FEMA engineer Kathleen Schaefer cited studies showing that home prices are not usually impacted, some appraisers and housing experts begged to differ.

Larry A. Rosenthal, of UC Berkeley, said it’s logical to assume that if it costs more to live in a house each year because of flood insurance, some buyers are likely to factor that into their decision on how much to bid for it.

But despite the area’s lack of flooding, Schaefer said that all homeowners should buy flood insurance.

It’s been proven that just because an area doesn’t have a history of flooding doesn’t guarantee that its waters won’t rise, she said.

“The people in Katrina said the same thing,” she said. “Levees can and do fail and the risk is real.”

kworth@examiner.com

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