More homes are added to the L.A. River flood risk zone, and that means new insurance bills for property owners

Federal officials have expanded their estimate of the number of homes and businesses along the Los Angeles River that could be inundated by a flood north of downtown.

More than 3,000 parcels near the L.A. River could be submerged by an average of 5 to 10 feet of water when a 100-year flood hits, according to a new study released Monday by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Residents of Atwater Village and Elysian Valley would be the most affected by such a flood, while parts of Griffith Park, Glendale and Burbank would also see flooding, the study says. The largest predicted flood depth would be 18 feet in Griffith Park.

Property owners with federally backed mortgages will be required to purchase flood insurance, said Army Corps spokesman Jay Field. 

Those owners can purchase insurance at a reduced rate until the Federal Emergency Management Agency makes the maps official in roughly two years, Field said.

City records show that discrepancies in the size of the flood plain were first identified in 2013 during work on the L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study, which was done in partnership with the city and Army Corps. In March 2015, the city engineer’s office asked the Army Corps to produce more refined flood plain maps.

The previous flood map estimated 870 city parcels were in the river’s flood plain. The new study shows there are 3,075 affected parcels in L.A. and 271 parcels in Glendale and Burbank.

Alfred Mata, deputy city engineer, said residents who live near Ballona Creek in South L.A. are also mandated to buy flood insurance.

“I can certainly sympathize — who wants to spend more money, especially those who have lived here a long time?” Mata said. “But in the long run it’s in everyone’s interest to have these programs to protect property owners and the community at large.”

Mata said that once the FEMA maps are in effect, developers may face new restrictions such as having to build the first floor at a higher elevation to account for the flood zone.

The Army Corps completed its analysis of the 13-mile stretch of the L.A. River in September. The new flood plain maps show that wide swaths of eastern Atwater Village and Elysian Valley would be covered by the 100-year flood plain zone.

FEMA’s flood insurance rate maps apply to land that has been determined to be subject to a 100-year flood, which means there is a 1% chance that a flood of its size will happen during any given year. 

During a public hearing Monday at Friendship Auditorium in Griffith Park, residents expressed frustration over having to purchase insurance when no one could remember a significant flood event, especially during the recent drought. 

The last major flood in the area was in 1938, they said. 

Ken Zavayna, a longtime resident of Atwater Village, lives a block and a half away from the “mighty L.A. River.”

“I don’t recall any over-flooding,” he said. “I’ve never seen the L.A. River get anywhere close to the top. It’s stupid.”

David Delatorre of Elysian Valley said he thinks there is a greater likelihood of an earthquake striking the area than a flood.

He said he doesn’t think the new flood zone change will slow down the red-hot growth in the area, where property values have jumped in the last three years.

“With the gentrification that is unfolding in the Elysian Valley right now, it’s such an attractive spot,” Delatorre said. “It is going to impact the middle- to low-income homeowners more.”

learn more

Chris AlexakisL.A. River, water