Thursday, October 25, 2007
The huge fires in southern California this week are likely to revive calls for a reassessment of land use laws and polices that allow, and sometimes even foster, development in disaster-prone areas. One thing that many of these areas have in common is that they are especially appealing to development.
Eighty-six years ago today, a hurricane hit Tampa Bay in Florida, where I live. If such a hurricane hit today, it would cause colossal damage, as such a hurricane would do almost anywhere along the coast of the Florida peninsula. Yet thousands of new residents move to Florida each month, attracted in large part by the water, which also poses to them a great threat. Much of the debate in Florida politics over the past few years has swirled around how and whether the state government should support insurance for homes in risky areas. Meanwhile, the federal government also props up flood insurance.
Across the continent in California, new residents are drawn to the beautiful desert hills; this attraction has become especially strong in recent years, as most of the lowland areas of coastal southern California have in effect been filled up. But these hills—steep, dry, and covered with oily bush—are some of the most dangerous places to live after a bone dry California summer. And the winter rains may bring mud slides.
Is it too late to call a “retreat,” or at least to call a halt to policies—guided by sympathy for landowners in such areas—that encourage such risky development?