Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Talk about shake, rattle, and roll. I'd just plopped down into our ancient recliner, put my feet up, and flipped on Bones when my ceiling started to shake. Boom, boom, boom, boom! I thought some 400-lb dumbass had climbed up on the roof and was running around. But then my partner came into the room and said calmly, "Earthquake." She was standing, so she could feel that the waves were coming from beneath.

I stood up, but the rolling sensation had already stopped, and the quake was reduced to minor shaking. A few things on shelves rattled; I went over to a bookcase and grabbed a Hard Rock Cafe hurricane glass that was about to topple off. This shaking continued for about 15 seconds, and then it was all over.

The earthquake was on the Calaveras Fault and registered a 5.6. The last big quake in the Bay Area, the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, was a 6.9. Certainly it was the biggest one I've ever experienced since moving here in 1997 (the year I was away in Spokane, there were no quakes of any significant magnitude). Now, it could be that this quake released a lot of stress on the Calaveras Fault, which will prevent a larger quake on that fault for a time (or, alternately, it could be a precursor to a worse one). Everyone's biggest fear is that it will undoubtedly cause stress changes along the Hayward Fault, which is predicted to go at any time. And it's predicted to be a big one, possibly rivalling the 1906 earthquake. Clock's ticking ... a hundred years have passed ... we're definitely due.

But it certainly reminded us to update our earthquake kits (we gave some of our emergency stuff away when we moved out of the area), to bolt bookcases to the walls, and to get art putty under loose glasses or items that can topple and break. At least we have renter's insurance that includes earthquake coverage on our household items. But coverage is so expensive here for anyone who owns a house, a good many folks can't afford it. It's a sad fact that those who need it most have to pony up obscene amounts of money to get any coverage at all because the insurance companies don't want to offer reasonably priced insurance for a castrophe that WILL HAPPEN at some point. So the rates are insane; people can't buy coverage and live praying that the big disaster won't happen. If it does, who will help them? FEMA? Uhhhh ... yeah, right.


Spokane Al said...

Joyce, it just seems that if, as you say and I believe, a earthquake castrophe will happen, then that should affect the cost of the insurance. Insurance companies are profit making companies and if they don't charge enough to cover the losses, how will they survive? They attempt to spread out the risk and, having learned a hard lesson from FL hurricanes, limit the numbers they cover in specific risk areas, and price that coverage based on the potential for the risk as well.

When people live in a high risk area, then their insurance costs are affected by those high risks. Up here earth quakes and other natural disasters are less prevalent and as a result our insurance costs are less, as they should be.

And I certainly don't think that I, as a taxpayer, should be put on the hook for peoples choices in where they live.

Just my thoughts here. Glad to hear there was so little damage that you came through safe and sound.

Joyce said...

Of course you're always going to defend big business, and I'm going to defend the Little Guy. :-) I know full well that insurance companies exist for profit; and profits they do rake in. But wasn't there an earthquake-insurance scandal about a decade ago down in Los Angeles? The insurance companies refused to pay even legitimate claims and there was a commissioner they were bribing (basically) to back them up when the cases went to court.

But of course, I also think it's a bit glib to say "Sorry, you chose to live there. If disaster strikes, you eat it. It's your problem." Al, you're talking about many people who were born here, who aren't wealthy by any means, who work hard, who spend more than 75% of their income to own a home that's under 1000 sq feet. What would you have them do? Pull up roots and move to central Kansas? I'm sure you're not that cold-hearted.

Hey, look. I pay taxes, too, every year, to (for example) benefit the children of other people attending public school. They're not my kids. I'll never have kids. I don't benefit from paying out this tax money. But I don't begrudge shelling it out. But I do think organizations such as FEMA should be there for me if and when I ever need help, having been a tax-paying for over 20 years now.

I'm glad I'm safe, too. :-) So are my kitties. :-)

Joyce said...

Make that "having been a tax-paying citizen for over 20 years now."

Hey I hear it's been in the 50s and raining up there. It's been sunny and in the 70s here. Heh heh heh.

:::::ducking and running for cover:::::

Spokane Al said...


I wrote this well thought out response that rebutted each of your points with wit, wisdom and creativity – and it disappeared! Well it was true that I did write a response that disappeared.

I was not meaning to be glib. I do believe that we should be there when people need help during natural disasters and emergencies. That is what FEMA (when it works right) and the local responders are for. I think the recent SoCal fires are an excellent example where the local responders are the first to respond and the federal government backs them up. I believe that was one problem of Katrina – there was little or no first response by the local responders.

However, I also think that risk is an important concept and one that people must take some responsibility in handling. They do this with the decisions they make in where they live, and whether they choose to be self insured or hand off the risk to an insurance company.

I think it is unfortunate that people cannot afford insurance while living in a high risk area such as San Fran. However, I am not sure that in these cases I should, as either or both an insurance client and taxpayer, should be required to pick up the slack.

When people are not responsible for handling risk, the market gets distorted and it usually ends up costing everyone more in the long run. A great example of this was the savings and loans fiasco of a number of years ago. The government stepped in and made some guarantees for a number of insolvent S&Ls which allowed them to continue to make high risk loans. As a direct result the costs for us, the taxpayers, was substantially higher that it would have been if those S&Ls had been required to fold due to their insolvency.

I do feel bad for people who get priced out of markets. It happens in CA and even up here in Coeur d’Alene. In those cases I think local authorities must decide whether they can aid or not – not me as a taxpayer thousands of miles away. And many of us would like to live in nicer areas, own fancier cars and/or homes and are unable to due to a shortage of funds. So we compromise.

And I suspect there are many in Kansas who would be a bit troubled by your comment about that being a cold hearted choice.

Joyce, CA is magnificent and that magnificence has generated a bazillion people moving to your great state, and supply and demand generating huge jumps, infrastructure pushed to its limits, the state becoming a tax hell and in many cases quality of life declining. And while the weather cannot be beat, it is for each person to determine whether he/she and his/her family can afford the cost of living in such magnificence. I don’t think that I as an insurance policy owner and taxpayer should be asked to subsidize that choice.

Take care and thanks for the always interesting and thought provoking discussion.

Spokane Al said...

And of course I do not believe that neither FEMA nor me as a taxpayer is responsible for making everyone whole again in the case of a disaster. It and we should be there to provide help, lodging, food, low interest loans and counselling guidance, but not to cover all replacement costs. That is where insurance comes in.

Spokane Al said...

One last thought - my personal choice for nirvana is Santa Barbara, CA. However I am not ready to mortage my family's future and understand that it is beyond my means. I also do not believe that I should move there on the cheap and depend on others to pick up the slack for me.

So I stay in Spokane, and complain about the challenging winters and too short summers. On the upside, I am able to own a decent house, engage in a lifestyle that suits me and my family and retire at age 55 - something I could not do moving to Santa Barbara.

Life is all about choices - of course you know that - you and your partner have made a number of moves and I doubt if Spokane would have been on the top of your list.

We do what we must to keep our families together and maintain our self sufficiency and independence.

Joyce said...

Now, now: I picked Kansas because it's not a highly populated state and is probably the exact opposite of CA in every way, meaning you could certainly live there for fairly cheap. There was no slight to that state intended. But people don't move in droves there, either, largely because how many jobs are available there? That was one of my problems with Spokane, Al. Here I have two master's degrees, 14 years of teaching experience, 5 years of editing and marketing experience, and I couldn't find a job there. Actually, most people don't move to CA solely because of the great beauty & weather (although that's one of the draws)...most of the people I've met who moved here from another place did so for a job or to go to school (and then got a job and never left).

But my earlier example was of people born and raised here--and who still can't afford it here. Should they move away because they can't afford the earthquake insurance? No, they risk, as you would say, and hope they don't get nailed by the Next Big Earthquake.

I really don't have the answers. But I do know insurance is not even helping many that it should help (ie, those who do have policies). Of course local responders should be first on the scene of any disaster. Our public safety people here are, I would venture to guess, very well prepared.

And I wouldn't expect FEMA to totally bail anybody out, any more than I would expect welfare to be a continuous handout; there must be a limit to benefits: but I would hope FEMA, and the Red Cross and other agencies, would help those whose homes and belongings are all lost get back on their feet. Hey, that can mean giving us temporary jobs helping to clean up the mess and rebuild in exchange for funds given. But right now, I'm fearful FEMA is totally inept. C'mon: fake press conferences? Yikes.

You mention those "quality of life" issues about CA, and I agree with you. For me, that's the trade-off of living here. I have to pay more in taxes, I have to work more to make ends meet, I have to sit in godawful traffic to get anywhere, and our public transportation is pretty pathetic (something's wrong when it's not cheaper and it takes longer to get to where you're going as opposed to driving in your car) ... but, I can work here, I don't have to hide in a closet here, I don't have skinheads just over the border harassing people, and so on.

Again, I don't have the answers. But I don't trust FEMA to do much to help; when everybody's in a crisis situation (as was the case during Katrina), local responders can do only so much; and insurance companies aren't going to help much, either. Maybe Google should just open its coffers and give us all a handout. They can afford it. ;-)

Just kiddin'. It's a troubling issue, that's for sure.

ps--Santa Barbara? You just want to look at the blonde babes on the beach!