html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Sometimes your strawmen find you.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sometimes your strawmen find you.

Ed said...

"Currently, officials don't know which levees in the Valley even meet a minimal 100-year level of flood protection."

So, no one even knows if there is a problem, but they are willing to wreck the real estate and development market just in case.

8:33 PM

The alternative to levees not meeting 100 year flood protection standards is NOT that they are better than 100 year flood protection. We do not worry at night that when levees were constructed thirty and fifty and eighty years ago, they were somehow overdesigned and are now in better shape than we expect.

When we don't know whether levees will meet hundred year flood protection, the alternative is that they are not that good. All of the uncertainty is a matter of how much worse the levees are than the bare minimum (which is a one-in-a-hundred chance that you will lose your house every winter, which are pretty crappy odds, far as I'm concerned, but I guess some people have different willingnesses to risk, you know, everything they love and own.). If they aren't as good as 100-year flood protection, which is the likely bet, that is a huge problem, well worth disrupting the section of the housing market along rivers and in the Delta, especially since all those rivers are about to become substantially more variable.

And then, what kind of shortsighted analysis doesn’t balance the potential failures on either side of this law? If we are wrong to forbid real estate development behind levees that turn out to be safe after all, what are the consequences? Well, housing patterns may shift, if developers apply their trade elsewhere. Individual developers who own property behind levees may lose wealth. We aren’t talking about enough area to make much of an impression on the overall California housing market, so I am not worried about losing housing affordability. The current housing market is a glut, not scarcity, which gives us some time to assess levees and think about whether it is safe to put houses behind them.

What are the consequences if we allow building behind levees when they aren’t safe after all? Then you have what we have now, which is people living under risk they don’t appreciate and committed to their dangerous property. And that shit is irreversible. How would we get people out of their subdivisions in Natomas now, if we wanted to? Condemn their houses? Pay them to move somewhere else? Evict them with the National Guard? You can’t. You cannot make people leave their homes because of a risk. People just don’t work that way. In fact, if that risk came due, some of the survivors would probably move back afterwards. Shit, they do in Florida. I bet it would take two or three floods and no more assistance before the bulk of people would abandon the property they bought in a floodplain. Failure in this event means people drowning, losing their homes, being displaced and whatever costs of resettlement or reconstruction society opts to bear.

So weighing the costs of being wrong, potential loss of developer wealth vs irreversible increased flood hazard to people, I have no problem coming down on the side of caution. You know what? I believe that what they’re doing, these hypothetical developers who build behind levees we don’t know to be safe, is so incredibly venal and selfish that I don’t even see a need to compensate them if there is a regulatory taking. Those fuckers would sell people homes where their lives and families are at a genuine risk, and they would do that for money. Worse, should the flood come, the developers will not be there to fulfill the promise of what they sold the homebuyers – a place to live and an intact house. No, the developers will have taken their profits and left, and all of the rest of us will bear the cost for protecting that development indefinitely. We all will pay for upkeep on that levee, and flood fighting costs if they come, and post-flood costs when those come too. We are all poorer for having to protect people who live in floodplains. Far, far better to keep people out of those in the first place. Schwarzenegger’s bill is a start.

The L.A. Times bites my style.


Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

No question real estate developers will build anywhere for money. Remember Poltergeist?

I don't know that we have any floodplains around here, but we do have national battlefields, and developers are always trying to put subdivisions there.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

heh, I suppose that it would be a bad idea to use irony in situations like this, because I should know that some people won't get it, right? I know that people speak the cost-benefit of risk, but it amazes me how short a span they are willing to look at. Also amazing is how they will ignore subsequent risk, as if it isn't there... and thelonious_nick, there are always floodplains, it's just that sometimes flooding dosen't happen often enough to stay in the collective memory. I've sandbagged houses a mile away from the nearest river, when the people didn't realize that when you level out the land on both sides of a river and that river floods, the water can spread a very long way, even if it isn't very deep.

as an aside, find out if you are in a floodplane, and get insured, even against something like a sewer backup. You don't want to find out later just how fine a hair insurance companies are willing to split, AND get it ALL in writing. Y've been warned, ye scurvy sea dog... ;)

8:07 AM  
Blogger ScottM said...

I do love people who use the precautionary principle against taking wise precautions. It's amazing when people start arguing away safety factors as "overdesigned" or "too safe"...

4:02 PM  

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