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Councilman Alvarez Urges San Diego To Declare State Of Emergency Ahead Of El Niño

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez (center) discusses the city's El Niño preparations at a committee meeting at City Hall, Oct. 7, 2015.
Susan Murphy
San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez (center) discusses the city's El Niño preparations at a committee meeting at City Hall, Oct. 7, 2015.

Councilman Alvarez Urges San Diego To Declare State Of Emergency Ahead Of El Niño
Report: The Economic Impact Of El Niño In San Diego GUESTS:Vince Vasquez, senior policy analyst, National University System Institute for Policy Research. Courtney Pendleton, communications director, American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties

Our top story on midday edition on this Thursday, October 8, the old adage, it never rains but it pours good literally come true for San Diego this winter. After four years of drought, forecasters say the El Niño warming in the Pacific will lightly bring us a wet winter. But how wet will it be? San Diego officials are trying to calculate what kinds of risks our region may face. If this El Niño brings the kinds of rain we has seen an record-breaking years before. Joining me is trained to be senior policy analyst with national University policy research, they have issued an analysis for El Niño's potential effects on the economy, Vince welcome to the program here also joining me is Courtney Pendleton communications director for American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Vince, questions did you want answered for this analysis. One issue per San Diego this year is El Niño. As we get closer to the winter months the question about whether a severe storm condition can have a negative or positive effect on the economy, if you look nationally it can be something different than locally. And what happened in the past. Are there specific industries and populations in the county that are more susceptible or vulnerable than the others X we went ahead -- others? We went ahead and got FEMA and census counts and we found that 55,000 people live in what are known as 100 year flood zones. In San Diego County. Yes. These are zones for insurance purposes FEMA says there is a 1% chance of flooding in any given year. These are the areas that we see with even a little bit of measurable rain have large puddles. They create problems and dramatic photos and video footage. We also want to look at businesses. There are about 5000 businesses located in these areas and about 22,000 housing units. I see from reading your analysis that you have sort of looked back to base your predictions on when we have had strong El Niño's in the past. Is that right? That is right. In 19 9798 statewide there was about $800 million in economic losses that is largely the repair and replacement of damaged and destroyed buildings, businesses, homes. If you go back to 1982 and 83, it was those are -- it was closer to $2 million. Those are significant losses. This is something that we wanted to share with people, it does that have to be an economically devastating winter storm for only those El Niño years. If you look in the last 40 years in California, we have many years that were not only years that were justice economically state devastating. What sectors -- What sectors would be hardest by strong El Niño? We found that agriculture and tourism are two particular places that will you could see potential economic losses. When it comes to tourism, you go back to 1997 and 1998 we found that both Disneyland and Sea world had reported a drop in visitor attendance about 7% to 8% and they directly blamed El Niño rain for keeping people away. As you know any time it rains here you have beach closures, foreclosures, camera closures. This could really be a detractor to our visitor market. Our visitor market is predominantly people in the dry market so it's greater Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas. It is people who maybe have the day off, but they have the options that they don't have to cancel the flight, they just will not drive that far to San Diego. That possibly present a problem with comes to agriculture, without an issue with potential pests and root rot. Depending on the water that we get, there might not be enough time for drying time. So the crops may actually rot and there might be crop damage. I remember the back to the strong El Niño we had last, the flower industry which is a major part of our agriculture industry here in San Diego, it really suffered their That is one of the things that we had done. We reached out to the director the county Farm Bureau and asked him, how do you feel about this? What are you worried about it? The farmers are worried about wind. They are worried if there are severe when friends that is the flattening of the crops that will be through peanuts of treat -- that will be fruit being knocked off trees, flowers, and greenhouses being damaged. We all know Mission Valley floods we get heavy rains. But you said 54,000 residents live in areas susceptible to flooding. What other areas of San Diego might we see flooding if we get this pretty good El Niño? There are quite a number of highly populated urban flood zones. With dominant places like Oceanside and Sam Marcos. We also found them in Logan Heights and Stockton. These are neighborhoods that you do not typically think of as being behind a river or being in a flood hazard or hazardous area because the images on television are Mission Beach. And also Mission Valley. But in fact, this problem is a countywide problem. We have created a map in our report. We wanted to really impress upon people that this is a countywide issue. The city of San Diego response to a lot of this. But I think every city sort of has to weigh in in terms of what is being done to prepare for El Niño and what the public should know I had time. Yesterday in a presentation about El Niño to the San Diego city Council environmental committee, script climate researcher Dan Ketan talk about the risks of coastal flooding. This year we are seeing sea levels recently of approximately a half a foot above tide prediction. Without storms. It is really the case that when the storm comes in that's when we really have to pay attention -- Attention. We also seeing what kind of El Niño call coastal best coastal flooding here. In 1998 we came across a coastal mission report where the best where they identified where few homes in Delmar were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished. And it was also rampant coastal see while in erosion. There was also the closure of the 101 in Cardiff and the Mission Beach Pacific Beach Boardwalk was closed and there was damage to a major peer and Oceanside. These are things that people are aware of and they are used to seeing them on the coast. They are very direct and severe impact from a possible El Niño. During the Council meeting, Councilman David Alles Reds -- Councilman David Alvarez urged the city to declare state of warning ahead of El Niño. What could declaring a state of emergency before any damage occurs due to lessen the impact economically of El Niño? One issue race before is a concept of business resiliency as a business owner you have redundancies in place. In the event of a natural disaster, you do not have to close your doors. You can continue to serve your customers. It will not hold the goods movement. The alternative is lost wages. The employees being told that they have to go home. It is was a sales tax revenue. With many mom and pop businesses, we have many small businesses in San Diego that do not have large profit margins. If you look disorder test if you look to see the sort of things that hurt their ability to stay open it is weather and taxes and fluctuations. Is there something that can be done ahead of time to bring broader awareness now, I certainly support that. Let me bring you into the conversation, Courtney. They included in the national University report a reminder that El Niño storms have caught up in the past. How is the Red Cross preparing to help if the storms get bad. Red Cross is about the people as a humanitarian organization. It is interesting on our side we were working with the same partners that Vince worked with. We work closely with County office of emergency services and also, this report from Vince is something that our disaster team and our volunteers and our staff are working through and mapping it against a lot of the data that we have already in our chapter osprey Jason center. Mass one have shelters and shelter agreements with people and entities throughout the county. We can see if we know that this particular shelter is in a floodplain, we most likely will not be able to open at shelter as a place for people to go and find our next alternative. The list goes on with that. We also have food partners and food vendors to help the people. And we see they are going to be affected. We certainly need to know that and have the next step and next layer of our plan in place in order to the people in an emergency. Also in the business resilience piece that Vince mentioned, we talk a lot about that on the Red Cross site as well. We has started doing a couple disaster preparedness academies that are geared toward small and medium-size businesses as well because we are really themed to that asked people at home are not prepared and they don't have a plan in place and they do not know where to go or how they're going to get together if mom and dad artwork or kids are at school should they not be able to get back together because of a flood for instance here with business resiliency, if they're not ready at home they will not be able to go to work family will come first they need to make sure the families are safe. How can individuals prepare for an El Niño event? First of all, it makes me wonder how can they find out if they are in a floodplain X -- Floodplain? The best source for that is the FEMA website. They have to flood map service. It is a page within the website where it is a search field you can type in any address or ZIP Code, you can pull a detailed maps and information that is provided to you about whether or not you live in a flood zone, what kind of flood zone you live in, that is important to know. There is actual subcategories that you could look at. That is important for insurance purposes as well. If you live in a flood zone, only some of them, you're required to get flood insurance if you buy a home. It was voluntary, and you did not know that, this is a good time to check to see if you're in a flood zone are not. And that is the FEMA website? Yes. So someone arms themselves with that information, whether they are at home or their area is prone to flooding, what else can people do, Courtney? The Red Cross boils it down to three simple steps. Get a kit. Have an emergency evacuation kit. Have a plan, a reconnection plan with your family. And be informed. Some of the things that we have talked about here, just knowing what your risks are, here in San Diego County we know what our risks are with earthquakes, floods, wildfires. The time now to prepare is a very important that. That is for any disaster. But especially if we're talking floods. You can go to prepare San, there are lists their, if you started building an emergency kit it tells you what you to put in their. It tells you how to customize it to match the needs of your family. Because in the Carolinas, we've seen people out of power. They had the terrible reign law that they had terrible rainfall and flooding, they had to take care of themselves. That is a going being. You need to be able to sustain yourself and your family for up to 72 hours hauling a major disaster. That could be how long it could take first responders are other folks to get to you. If you are stranded at your own home, for instance, and you cannot get out of there, be able to have a plan so you have enough to sustain yourself or them long. I want to thank you all. I'm sure I'll talk to you both again. I'm talking to Vince best as the senior policy analyst national University system Institute for policy research, Courtney Pendleton, communications Director American Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Thank you both very much. Thank you.

Councilman Alvarez Urges San Diego To Declare State Of Emergency Ahead Of El Niño
“The City must be prepared to protect residents and businesses that are at risk for extreme flooding,” Councilman David Alvarez said. “Acting now to perform channel maintenance in areas that typically flood is critical to ensuring the safety of our communities."

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez urged the city Wednesday to consider declaring a State of Emergency ahead of El Niño due to badly maintained water channels. Alvarez made the request following an Environment Committee meeting that was focused on the city's efforts to prepare for the predicted “strong” El Niño.

Climate researchers have warned for months the weather phenomenon could trigger floods, mudflows and coastal erosion across the region starting in November and continuing into spring.


“The city must be prepared to protect residents and businesses that are at risk for extreme flooding,” said Alvarez. “Acting now to perform channel maintenance in areas that typically flood is critical to ensuring the safety of our communities and avoiding the devastation we have seen in other areas of the country that have been hit hard by storms and flooding.”

The developing El Niño is on track to become one of the most powerful on record, with water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
The developing El Niño is on track to become one of the most powerful on record, with water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

Climate researcher Dan Cayan with Scripps Institution of Oceanography updated the committee with the latest forecast, comparing current conditions to previous strong El Niños.

“We have increased odds of wet winter and possible hazards, but there are no guarantees as far as making precise forecasts,” Cayan said.

Cayan said coastal erosion could be a concern as El Niño’s “large scale wind system” has already pushed sea levels up along the West Coast.

“This year we’re seeing sea levels, recently, of approximately a half-foot above tide prediction without storms, so it’s really the case that when a storm comes in — that’s when we really have to pay attention,” Cayan said.


A report released this week by the National University System Institute for Policy Research warned 5,000 businesses and 55,000 residents of San Diego County are living in “100-year flood” zones that are susceptible to flooding.

Kris McFadden, director of San Diego’s Transportation and Stormwater department, told the committee of his department’s efforts to clear channels and storm drains and to maintain pump stations.

“Twenty-eight thousand is a number — a big number. That’s the number of storm drain inlets the city has throughout this very large area,” McFadden said. “All of those have been inspected at least once and cleaned if necessary."

“While we put forth an unprecedented effort in order to manage flood risk, there’s no guarantee that we will not be flooding this year. I cannot emphasize that enough,” McFadden added.

San Diego’s incoming fire chief, Brian Fennessy, said his department is trained and ready to respond if the city is hit with a flood emergency.

“We have the ability on the fire side of the house to surge,” Fennessy said. “We’ve got 32 additional engines that we can staff at any one time so if we get into prolonged rain or storm conditions we have the ability to pull firefighters back and really provide that support to lifeguards.”

Fennessy said the Lifeguards' 19-member Swift Water Rescue team is the lead division within the fire department when it comes to water rescues.

“They also provide our firefighters every year with swift water rescue refresher training,” Fennessy said.

Alvarez requested that a hotline be made available at all hours during storms for the public to receive up-to-date information.

"I intend to work closely with city departments to ensure we are prepared and ready when the winter storms hit,” Alvarez said.

Councilman Alvarez Urges San Diego To Declare State Of Emergency Ahead Of El Niño

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