The problem started last year, when the city issued 35 home building permits in Natomas. That violated rules set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because of the area’s high flood risk.
This week, FEMA gave the city 60 days to correct the violations. And Wednesday, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and City Manager Ray Kerridge joined FEMA’s top regional official at City Hall to discuss the matter. Here’s the mayor:
Johnson: “We as a city need to look at all our options and then we’ll come right here before you again and tell you exactly what we’ve done. There’s no doubt in our mind we’re gonna address these issues in a way that’s acceptable for FEMA and certainly the public.”
Kerridge says the city has forced work stoppages at some of the homes still under construction. But others are already completed – and at least six have occupants. Neither Kerridge nor Johnson would speculate what the city might do to correct the violations. And FEMA’s Nancy Ward also declined to offer any suggestions. She did, however, praise the city’s track record both before and during the investigation.
Ward: “They have really been swift in letting us know what’s happened; they’ve been responsive in providing us whatever information that we have required; and it’s because of that commitment and the mayor’s leadership – along with the city manager – that we’re confident that within 60 days, we will have a corrective action plan that we can all move forward.”
And assuming that happens, Sacramento appears to have dodged any major punishment – like sky-high flood insurance rates for thousands of residents - or a $50 annual surcharge. It fell to Congresswoman Doris Matsui – who has lobbied FEMA for low insurance rates – to give City Hall a little tough love.
Matsui: “I think it should really make the city stand up and pay attention that this is a warning and that they can never, ever let this happen again. Because I want the city to make sure they get the act together. It’s on the city now, and they have to do it.”
For its part, the city already ordered a third party to investigate the building department. Among its findings: the department under-charged or under-collected $300,000 in permit fees on those 35 homes. City Manager Ray Kerridge was tight-lipped when asked about that.
Kerridge: “All I’m gonna say is, we’re moving forward. An investigation occurred and appropriate personnel actions have been taken.”
But the city council still wants to audit the department. It could hire an outside auditor sometime next month.