For some parts of the country, like southern California, El Niño could mean a lot of rain and potential flooding and mudslides. For some businesses, that means full schedules and a lot of money.
EJ Thacker, a consultant for Sinai Construction, marched around a home he was inspecting on a cul-de-sac near the bottom of a hill in Encino, a neighborhood about half an hour from downtown Los Angeles.
“You can see that we’re at the toe of a hill, so this street comes down and it would just end up at this property anyway," he explained. "You can see in the front of the driveways, there’s a lot of water collecting."
It’s going to take Thacker's crew a little more than an hour to make notes and drawings of the property.
At this particular property, a cliff behind the house needed a new retaining wall. Thacker said the current one isn’t up to code. Replacing it is going to be expensive.
“You’d be talking about approximately $10,000 just in engineering fees,” he said.
The homeowner pays that fee directly to an outside engineering firm. Then, they pay Sinai to build the wall. That is, if they can get an appointment.
"All the engineers are busy now especially because of El Niño," Thacker said. "And currently with the City of Los Angeles, they’ve got a one-month delay in plan check before anyone could actually even look at the plans.”
Thacker speculated it’d probably be four or five months until they could even break ground. But the heavy rains should be here by late January, which has San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer worried. This month he asked California Governor Jerry Brown to preemptively declare a state of emergency so his city can have money to clear storm drains.
“We’re having all of our city crews out there to the maximum and we’re going to be working with contractors, as well," he said. "We’ve seen what’s happened to a lot of the growth and foliage in a lot of these storm drain channels that need to be clear to convey that water.”
Selling politicians to preemptively prepare for a natural disaster isn’t easy. Most of their budgets are already stretched thin.
Correction: The original version of this article misstated the cost of inspections by Sinai Construction. Sinai provides inspections free of charge. The text has been corrected.