Monday, August 20, 2007

Insuring our future.

While most (individuals, businesses, corporations) are ignoring the potential impacts of global warming, there is one industry which is paying close attention and doing everything it can to minimize the risk to it's shareholders, investors. That is the insurance industry who have significant risk were the oceans to rise, or more to the point, if global warming changed precipitation patterns and increased flood risk.

Blogger R. S. Guskind delivers the message in a very personal way at the Gowanus Lounge, a politically aware slice of Brooklyn life. The insurance companies are taking any increased flood risk very seriously, canceling policies and refusing to write new one for a very large area of one major city. If you view the flood map that Guskind provides, you will also note that the area at risk includes JFK airport.

I call your attention to this because we are still awaiting the release of new FEMA flood maps for the San Joaquin Valley. In the run up to the election of 2006, Hank Shaw reported that these flood maps and the timing of their release became part of the story with two incumbent congressmen, Dennis Cardoza (D. CA 18) and Richard Pombo (R. CA 11) making the effort to block their release in the month just prior to the election. The reasons are clear. If these flood maps had been released, the insurance companies would have reacted exactly as they have done in Brooklyn.

As we moved into 2007, with the maps still not available, the Insurance Journal reported that the size of the San Joaquin River flood plain could triple. Much of the development in San Joaquin County is taking place in the Delta, right in the flood plain of the San Joaquin River. The levee system the protects the Delta is in much worse shape than the levees that protected the City of New Orleans. Dr. Jeffrey Mount, once a member of the State Reclamation Board, gave the NY Times a good summary of just what is at stake.

Q. Why is there so much development in risky places?

A. Because the new gold rush in California is real estate. Moreover, local governments are often reluctant to exert controls over developers because of the tax revolution.

Do you remember Proposition 13 in 1978, which limited increases in property taxes on existing homes? It decimated the ability of localities to fund services. So money for basic services that people expect is now raised through growth.

Many municipalities have become very aggressive about development. I heard a Northern California county supervisor say that his county needed development on its flood plain to fund flood control projects.

When Dr. Mount and the Reclamation Board tried to take some action on this issue (2005), Governor Schwarzenegger fired the entire board.

There are two issues here that should be high on Green Party action lists. One is the reform of Prop 13. The other is the fact that government must pay real attention to the needs of its citizens rather than to the needs of the developers who contribute so much to their campaigns. When I singled out Cardoza and Pombo for attention at the beginning of this post, it was precisely because Stockton developer Fritz Grupe held a joint fundraiser for his good friends without regard to party. Perhaps the only way to break connection between developers and local government is to get Prop. 13 replaced. That will take a lot of voter indignation and we ought to be creating it right now. It may be the most important thing we can do for the State of California.

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