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River Roulette: Just say no & those in floodplain will ultimately have to buy costly flood insurance
lathrop high levee
Crews in 2017 work on shoring up the levee along the San Joaquin River as it passes Lathrop High. The work done then re-enforced the levee against flooding rated on the 100-year level as opposed to the current effort to meet the more robust 200-year state mandated level of protection.

Want to play River Roulette?

It’s as easy as one, two, three.

First, you need to own property in the 200-year floodplain in Lathrop, west Manteca, or southwest Stockton.

Second, you need to either not return the flood assessment ballot you received in the mail or else send it back marked “no.”

Third, just sit back and wait.

Sooner or later you’re going to take the proverbial bullet.

That’s because without the $472.9 million San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency project designed to enhance 15 miles of levee there will be a flood.

This is not climate change scare tactics.

It is reality given we live on land of earthen material filling in what was once a vast inland sea where two major drainage basins meet to flow into the ocean.

Flooding has always occurred, and often on a scale much higher than experienced in the 20th century high water years of 1950-51 and 1997.

And to be clear, no one — except perhaps a handful of panicked dam operators — saw the January 1997 flood coming.

It was a warm, sunny January day.

There was only a small wannabe cloud here and there.

Then it started.

The first boil.

When all was said and done, there was $100 million in losses, more than 700 homes and structure damaged, and 2,000 people forced to flee.

It could have been worse.

The area west of Interstate 5 in Lathrop, where there was only a handful of rural houses all the way up to Weston Ranch with 7,000 residents, barely dodged a bullet.

There was a 24-hour period before river water pressure started subsiding thatstate experts feared the levee at the Mossdale bend would fail.

Likewise, a dry levee holding back some of the 70 square miles of floodwater that was within a half mile of Woodward Avenue, was in danger of being breached.

Had the situation occurred today and the dry levee breached, nearly 2,000 homes that are now in southwest Manteca could have anywhere from 1 foot to 2 feet of water damage.

There were only a handful of rural homes in the area back then.

And there would also have been water damage to homes along what was then a lightly populated corridor along the Airport Way corridor.

The flood agency control folks can’t tell you the cold hard truth when it comes to the clear and present danger to your pocketbook that is even more certain than the fact flood risk is escalating.

They can’t because the law says the can’t deal in “what ifs” when educating the public about what is tax measure.

They will say, which is 100 percent correct, that any home with a federal insurances mortgage — FHA, VA, etc. — will be required to buy expensive flood insurance when the Federal Emergency Management Agency updates flood maps.

It hasn’t happened yet as it is still being studied, but here’s the bottom line: The data supports expanding the maps and FEMA’s financial exposure does as well.

Well, you say, I own my home free and clear or my mortgage isn’t backed by the federal government. Therefore, I won’t be required to buy flood insurance that can tack $1,800 and up on to the annual cost of owning a home.

There is no law requiring those offering mortgages backed by the private sector to require buyers to obtain flood protection coverage that isn’t covered in standard homeowners policies.

Nor is there any legal precedent that gives private sector mortgage holders the ability to change the terms of existing loan documents that have been legally signed and executed.

But there is also no law prohibiting lenders from requiring flood insurance when a new mortgage is issued or in the case of homeowners that aren’t moving but want to refinance mortgages for various reasons.

If you think that isn’t going to happen, in what world do you think lenders won’t seize an opportunity to reduce their exposure to hefty losses?

Wildfires, earthquakes, and floods produce massive damages.

It can create situations where people — that have no other choice or at least see it that way — walk away from mortgage obligations.

Mandating flood insurance on a refi protects whoever is underwriting the mortgage.

And if you go to sell, lenders using funding backed by the private sector can require buyers to obtain flood insurance.

Given the cost to buy flood insurance for so-called McMansions, it could easily surpass $2,500 a year. The pool of potential buyers will shrink and the ultimate dollar amount you will get in a sale will be less.

Those scenarios can all be avoided with a “yes” vote.

It is ironic that spending $116 a year — the average amount a residential property owner will pay — for a parcel tax is considered by some to be outrageous.

That is less than a tenth of at least an annual $1,800 cost for flood insurance.

What is outrageously insane is thinking that spending $116 to avoid spending $1,800 plus a year is your idea of being unreasonable and unaffordable.

The dollar loss in playing River Roulette that means no enhanced levee protection skyrockets when a flood occurs.

That said, it isn’t much better if you have flood insurance without more effective levees.

Flood insurance currently will cover a maximum in $250,000 in building losses and $100,000 in content coverage for a family of one to four.

Given there isn’t a single home in southwest Manteca or the Mossdale area of Lathrop that doesn’t set you back $500,000 to buy,  total loss even with flood insurance is going to cost you a minimum of $250,000.

Then there is the question of deductibles.

If you go for the more expensive flood insurance, the first $1,000 loss is on you.

If you lower the annual premium pain as much as is allowed, the deductible soars to $10,000.

Balloting ends next Thursday.

If you haven’t voted, you have time to do so.

And if you have already voted and it was “no” you can still contact SJAFCA and get a replacement ballot.

If you do and you then vote “yes” it may be the most financially smart move you’ve ever made.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at