Two months...Lopez blasts FEMA response


By Patsy Nicosia

There's a new sheriff in town and his name is...
Pete Lopez.
Angry over what he calls the "painfully slow process" of getting flooded-out families into FEMA trailers, Assemblyman Lopez is taking matters into his own hands.
"The one who holds the cards in this is FEMA," Assemblyman Lopez said Saturday, "and they're sitting on their assets. Winter is here and we're no closer to getting people into these trailers."
The biggest problem, he said, is the "endless loop" caused by FEMA's privacy protection; ask him how many families in his seven-county district are still homeless and he has no idea.
"It's maddening. "FEMA won't tell us. Give us a number and let us know where they are so we can work with them," he said.
"Otherwise, it defeats the whole purpose of having the state and the county assisting in this."
One path Assemblyman Lopez has found through the bureaucratic gridlock is getting flood survivors to fill out a FEMA form authorizing his office to discuss their application with FEMA representatives.
He'd like to see that effort expanding with agencies like the Department of Social Service, Mental Health, the Office for the Aging, and the Youth Bureau doing the same.
"It's kind of like the old westerns, where the sheriff shows up and pins a star to you," he said. "We need to start deputizing people so they can work FEMA over from the outside."
FEMA spokesman Peter Lembessis said survivors who still need a place to live shouldn't be shy about calling FEMA "four times, five times-I would. This is no time to be shy. If we're not getting where you should, keep calling."
FEMA continues to go through its list of registrations, looking for families the trailers-units-would work for, Mr. Lembessis said, and contacting those people.
But Assemblyman Lopez said he's heard some of those conversations and they don't go far enough.
"When they hear someone has a place to live, they don't ask the next question: For how much longer? And people are so traumatized by this, they don't know the next step. I'm working with one family; first they were approved. Then they weren't."
FEMA has said from the beginning that the trailers couldn't be placed in flood plains-which essentially rules out anyone who needs one.
Since that's the case, Assemblyman Lopez said, FEMA needs to either move the trailers into spots in existing trailer parks or run water and sewer to create a new park," both options FEMA has said are at the bottom of their list.
Alicia Terry, head of Planning for the county, said as of Friday, she knew of about 17 local families who'd been approved for FEMA trailers, though she knew of only a couple that had been placed.
Ms. Terry said because of FEMA's floodplain concerns, the agency has talked about the kind of park setting Assemblyman Lopez suggests, but again, because of privacy and other issues, "I don't have a lot of information. FEMA holds things very close to the vest."
The county has filed the required permit applications to open Summit Shock for those who need it, she said, but is still waiting to hear back from the state.