After a deluge of costly settlements with the owners of properties damaged by flooding, San Francisco is employing new strategies to curb impacts of the heavy rains — among them, a proposed “buyer-beware” requirement for property buyers.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission earlier this month approved a resolution calling on the Board of Supervisors to require sellers and landlords of properties prone to flooding due to rainfall and related stormwater runoff to disclose the risks in writing to prospective buyers or renters.
The proposal is only for those 2,100 properties, or 1 percent of parcels citywide, located in the agency’s new 100-year storm flood risk map. About half are residential properties and the others commercial, industrial or public parcels.
A “100-year storm” is a term used to describe an intense storm that has a 1 percent chance of taking place in any year. “A 100-year storm event may have a lower statistical likelihood of happening than your average storm, but they can and do happen, sometimes within just a few years of each other,” according to the SFPUC.
And these parcels in the flood zones “are highly likely to experience ‘deep and contiguous’ flooding during a 100-year storm. ‘Deep and contiguous flooding’ means flooding that is at least six inches deep spanning an area at least the size of half an average city block.”
The City has settled a number of flooding lawsuit claims over the years totalling millions of dollars.
Just last month, the Board of Supervisors approved the most recent settlements arising from complaints against The City for property damage from flooding. The City approved a $245,000 settlement for one property owner and a $110,796 settlement for another property owner. Both were among a number of plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit filed against The City in August 2015 for flooding damage across multiple neighborhoods caused by storms in December 2014.
“On or about December 3, 2014, a modest rainstorm passed through San Francisco,” the lawsuit states. “… the City’s combined storm drainage and sewer system failed once again, backing up and overflowing during the storm, and causing torrents of water and untreated sewage to inundate Plaintiffs’ homes, properties and businesses.”
Ann Moller Caen, vice president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, asked if the recommended disclosure legislation would reduce these sort of flooding damage claims against The City.
The answer was no.
Francesca Gessner, the commission’s attorney with the City Attorney’s Office, said that the proposed ordinance is to “help people be better informed and also to take precautionary measures.”
Gessner said that “It doesn’t really have any direct role in the city’s own potential liability for flooding claims related to the city’s sewer system,” adding that state law determines the liability.
She noted that state law also requires flood risk disclosure but “the problem is PUC seems to glean that most sellers don’t disclose it and sellers claim ignorance and say I didn’t know that my property was subject to this type of flooding.”
With the rainy season beginning in San Francisco, SFPUC spokesperson Will Reisman identified several efforts in place to combat flooding. He said if forecasts show greater than one inch of rain will fall within 24 hours the agency “will deploy temporary flood barriers along the sidewalk” in the area of 17th and Folsom streets, one of the lowest lying neighborhood in the City.
“Year-round, our preventative operations and maintenance crews work hard to prepare for the rainy season by inspecting, cleaning, repairing, and replacing aging sewer infrastructure,” Reisman wrote in an email. “Crews have cleaned over 5,000 cleaned over the last year.”
The agency also continues to encourage residents to “Adopt a Drain,” and has identified about 2,000 storm drains, also known as catch basins, that are most clogged and identified them to prospective participants on an online interactive map. Those who adopt a drain pledge to clear the drain before it starts raining. There are 25,000 storm drains and 2,488 drains have been adopted.