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Second Appeal Summary
PA ID# 037-70000; City of Santa Monica
DSR ID# 06544 & 22096; Palisades Bluff Landslide
Citation: City of Santa Monica, P.A.I.D. #037-70000, FEMA-1203-DR-CA, Palisades Bluff Landslide, DSR #06544 & 22096.
Cross-reference: Subject: Landslide policy, Federal Highway Administration, Federal-Aid Road, "Facility" definition. FEMA Record: DSR #22544 & 22096.
Summary: The three successive landslides occurred on the Palisades Bluffs along the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. The City of Santa Monica is applying for reimbursement of the cost of emergency measures to stabilize and de-water the site, and to remove some of the fallen debris. FEMA had denied funding because (1) the Palisades Bluffs themselves do not meet the definition of a facility, regardless of the fact that they may be part of a public park; (2) there is clearly substantial evidence that, while the slide was precipitated by the storm, it is the result of an inherent weakness of the geological formation, and that the slide is a natural part of the process of erosion which is an on-going phenomenon over the entire length of the bluff; and (3) the emergency measures to protect against further slumps and slides, and debris removal at the base of the bluff are within the purview of the Federal Highway Administration because the Pacific Coast Highway is a Federal-aid road, and thus not eligible for FEMA reimbursement.
Issues: (1) Does the fact that the bluffs are part of a public park mean that they are eligible under 44 CFR 206.221(h), or that they are an "improved and maintained natural feature" as provided in 44 CFR 206.201(c)? (2) Are the accepted facts that continuous erosion is taking place at the site, and that a potential for landslides has been identified sufficient to find that the site meets FEMA's criteria as "unstable" prior to the declared disaster, or is an actual prior incidence of a landslide necessary to meet this criteria for ineligibility? (3) Does the responsibility for safety and debris removal from a Federal -aid road extend to include the bounding City-owned property threatening it?
Findings: (1) No. Eligibility must include conformance with the definition of a "facility" in 44 CFR 206.201(c), in addition to that of a "public facility" in 44 CFR 206.221(h). Grounds keeping, landscaping, park lighting and walkways steps, and minor retaining walls are "facilities" themselves but do not convey "facility" definition onto the underlying natural ground. (2) Yes. The geological structure, and the exposure of the site, together with the site history - even in the FEMA records from past disasters-provide substantial documentation of the site's prior instability and on-going natural erosion. (3) Yes. The Federal Highway Administration is the Agency with primary responsibility for emergency measures taken to remove debris and protect the road, even though the debris and risk are off of the right of way.
Rationale: Stafford Act 406(a)(1); 44 CFR 206.201(c); 44 CFR 206.221(h), FEMA Landslide Policy #4311.300A,EX (November 30, 1995).