San Mateo, CA – Levee Construction Success Story

The City of Santa Mateo, located along the San Francisco Bay, is at risk from tidal flooding. After a reassessment of flooding risks in 2008, FEMA included 8,000 new San Mateo properties in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). The new classification would have raised annual premiums from $1,000 to as high as $2,700 the following year. The residents of the area reacted by voting to build a levee themselves with fees of $76 annually to fund levee construction and floodwall improvements.

Project

The South Bayfront Levee and Flood Control Facilities Assessment District was formed in 2008 as a financing mechanism to spread the cost of certain improvements to all properties that receive direct and special benefit from such improvements. Property owners in the designated area have an opportunity to vote on the proposed assessment. Projects financed through the Assessment District include the San Mateo Creek Floodwall, Detroit Drive Floodway, Seal Slough, and East End Levee. Construction of all four components that made up the South Bayfront Levee Improvement Project were completed in late 2011. FEMA issued a “Letter of Final Determination” to officially initiate the map revision process on April 16, 2012, known as a Physical Map Revision (PMR).

The reduction in flood risk was only expected to be significant enough for FEMA to remove 6,000 properties from the high-risk flood zone. However, following FEMA’s 2012 certification that the levees met current standards to protect against the 100-year flood, all 8,000 properties were reclassified as “low risk” (now included in flood zones A and B). These property owners are now able to purchase flood insurance under the standard rate, with the highest premiums reaching $1,600. The added protection also led FEMA to lift restrictions on new construction projects and upgrades in the area.

Implementation & Funding

The project was funded solely by the city and through taxpayer dollars. Although officials estimated the project would cost $7.5 million when the property owners approved the fees, the actual costs are now estimated to be approximately $8.35 million. The fees are expected to raise only $6.9 million over 20 years, leaving a deficit for construction and maintenance. To make up for the funding shortfall, the city is pulling $1.4 million from a fund meant to pay for a new downtown parking garage and spending it on the levee project.

Economic Advantage

The property owners behind the levee system in San Mateo are now at a lower risk of flooding and FEMA declared them as “low risk properties.” As a result, these property owners are now able to purchase flood insurance at the standard rates, with a reduction of insurance premiums as much as $1,000 per year.