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Simi Complains to FEMA About Quake Repair Rules

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Frustrated Simi Valley officials have fired off an angry letter to top federal authorities, claiming that residents’ attempts to repair their quake-damaged homes in the Arroyo Simi flood plain have been bogged down by confusing regulations.

“This is our ‘We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore’ letter,” said Mayor Greg Stratton of this week’s letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The federal rules affect about 20 homeowners in the flood zone whose homes were damaged in last year’s Northridge earthquake.

Stratton said that confusion about federal guidelines led the city to erroneously issue building permits to three homeowners. The homeowners each spent more than $50,000 before suspending work because FEMA said the repairs violated its guidelines.

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Federal guidelines state that if damage to a house exceeds 50% of its value, the structure must be elevated when repaired. Until June, city workers included only structural repairs such as foundations, walls and fireplaces when assessing total cost.

Then FEMA said that all improvements--even drapes, carpeting, light fixtures and paint--must be included in the cost of repair.

For the three homeowners, the decision meant that they would have to start over, scrapping the work they had done and rebuilding the structures on raised earthen mounds or stilts.

“This has been an absolute nightmare for me,” said Louise Kisting, who was the first homeowner in the area to receive a permit and spent $90,000 before she had to stop last spring.

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Kisting reserved some of her criticism for city officials, who issued the building permits and have left her out of negotiations with FEMA. She wants the city to get waivers for all homeowners in her neighborhood, not just the three who did costly repairs.

“I am amazed that the city is trying to just help the three of us, when they have so many other homes in the area that are affected,” she said.

For several weeks, Simi Valley officials have tried to get a waiver for Kisting and two of her neighbors.

They have also tried and failed to get clearer federal instructions for repair of homes, Stratton said. “Their rule sounds simple, but what’s hard is the interpretation,” he said.

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Although 72 homeowners signed a petition asking for exemptions from the flood zone regulations, waivers for those homeowners are not possible, Stratton said.

“However much we’d like to, we can’t change that law,” he said.

The irony of the federal position, Stratton said, is that after flood-control improvements along Arroyo Simi are completed over the next two years, the area will be out of the flood zone. Federal officials dispute the point.

Regardless, Stratton said homeowner frustration with the federal rules might make some wait the two years. “I really worry about those that might decide that they just don’t want to live here after all of this,” he said.

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Busy with the floods and mudslides that have hit California this week, FEMA regional officials could not be reached Wednesday.


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