SF needs to speed up to climate change

SF needs to speed up to climate change

SF doesn’t know which neighborhoods will be worst hit after a given storm, but they do know sea levels are rising, and that with climate change, those hurricanes off Mexico’s Pacific Coast could come north some day. They don’t know when or how severe, but we could get a 25 foot storm surge at some point.

In San Francisco (SF), where the waterfront has been a political battleground for decades, sea-level rise is too easy to ignore. 

While SF is less vulnerable to rising sea levels than other parts of the Bay Area, portions of areas bordering the bay would be at risk.

The challenge is to accommodate the bay’s impending expansion as it rises because of our warming planet. And to accomplish that in a way that won’t put our human and environmental resources at risk. 

SF needs to speed up

  • If sea levels were to rise 36 inches, the midrange increase through 2100 projected in the most recent study by the National Research Council, water would wash into San Francisco’s Ferry Building twice daily at high tide.
  • With just 16 inches of sea-level rise, the tollbooths of the Bay Bridge could be flooded during storms.
  • $35 billion worth of public property in San Francisco is at risk if sea-level rise by 2100 reaches 66 inches, the upper level forecast by the National Research Council.
  • Already, lanes on the ramps connecting Highway 101 to the Shoreline Highway near Mill Valley are closed regularly — 30 times in 2015 — because of high tides, a small but vivid hint of how profoundly our region will be altered in coming decades unless the Bay Area starts making plans now.

Combine heavy rains with extreme high tides, water pushing in from the bay while water (and worse) tries to spill out from the city, and nearby residents could be in for a surprise as streets begin to flood.

SF regional plan

Preparing for sea-level rise should be at the center of planning efforts for the Port of San Francisco, which controls 7.5 miles of bay shoreline. The port’s efforts also should be integrated with those of other city agencies whose resources are imperiled by a volatile environmental future. That’s why the Bay Area needs to embrace a regional plan that:

  • spells out the long-term dangers of bay rise
  • ensures that shoreline projects aren’t ignoring the future
  • and shoreline protects preventing themselves in a way that might intensify problems elsewhere around the bay

“A big challenge is the regulatory atmosphere,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, who chairs the restoration authority. “Every agency’s role is valuable, but the time and money add up. One would hope there could be a more streamlined and coordinated process.”

Planners, architects and engineers

The City Planning Department is taking the lead on Bay Area Resilient by Design, envisioned as a competition where teams of architects and engineers collaborate on how the region can prepare for the future in imaginative, scientifically credible ways. The original goal was to kick off in October 2015. Now the target launch is this fall, assuming donors are found to provide the $6 million needed to run the competition.

As for the region, it’s time to reshape how regulatory decisions regarding the shoreline are made.


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