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Sea Level Rise: San Mateo County Coastside & Bayshore

By Samantha Weigel, Daily Journal

Projections that portions of San Mateo County could one day be submersed in three feet of water is prompting federal, state, and local policymakers to join in planning for the future of sea level rise.

San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine, Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) continue to host a series of workshops on sea level rise for elected officials, city managers, city planners, and public works directors.

“San Mateo County is one of the most vulnerable counties in the state because we not only have a coastal zone, but we have a highly developed bay zone, both subject to sea level rise,” Gordon said. “It’s a very slow-moving crisis and sea level will continue to rise over the next decade, and we have an opportunity to plan and prepare so that we’re not in a reactive mode.”

Gordon said he proposed and has chaired the Assembly’s Select Committee on Sea Level Rise, which has evaluated at-risk areas that could suffer severe consequences.

“We’ve learned that there are a lot of different sections at risk around the state; everything from the Air Force (base) to wastewater treatment facilities, we’ve learned there’s a threat to coastal agriculture from saltwater intrusion. … So there’s a whole variety of issues that we’re going to need to pay attention to,” Gordon said.

Many scientists agree that the sea will rise at least three feet by 2100 and it’s critical that cities and governments begin to plan with it in mind, Pine said.

The conference series provides a platform for officials who lead in creating land use policies to share ideas, resources, and information. Attendees are asked to help make decisions on three key concepts.

The first will be to decide if San Mateo County should adopt a cohesive planning concept that assumes the 3 feet of sea level rise prediction, Pine said. Officials will also discuss preparing a countywide sea level rise vulnerability assessment and the third issue will to consider how to fund adaptations, Pine said.

The county’s bayfront is lined with developments such as residential communities and high-tech companies that are at direct risk of being affected by sea level rise. Gordon and Pine said cities and special districts must work together and create a comprehensive planning scheme to effect meaningful change.

“We need to understand that there’s some places where we should not develop. We need to understand there’s other places where we have to protect existing developments and, at the end of the day, there’s going to be costs related to protecting what’s in place and adapting in some way. So we’re going to need to figure out how we pay for these things over time,” Gordon said.

An important part of the discussion will involve evaluating which parts of the county face the most imminent danger from extreme storm events like king tides, Pine said.

Pine said he became increasingly concerned after speaking with an official from Genentech who noted if the South San Francisco pump station near its campus was to flood, it would shut down the entire facility and its operations.

Gordon noted “in our immediate area, probably the greatest economic risk would be if San Francisco International Airport was to not be able to function and at this point, it’s pretty difficult to move the airport.”

Some ideas Gordon said they’ve generated in the Assembly committee that he hopes will evolve are armoring certain zones with special sea walls, adding levees and restoring marshes.

Pine said another intent of the conferences is to create standing working groups or a joint powers board. One group would oversee the preparation of a countywide sea level rise vulnerability assessment and the other to consider funding options for addressing necessary plans.

Pine said he would like to consider creating financing or assessment districts and cited Santa Clara County’s related district as a possible model. Bringing together those who create county land use policies and are at the front lines of preparing for climate change is critical to ensure the county doesn’t become paralyzed when the seas eventually rise, Pine said.

“San Mateo County is known for having a very collaborative political environment and if there’s any place we need to collaborate, it is on the issue of sea level rise. Because it does not lend itself to a city-by-city solution,” Pine said. “So I really think that San Mateo County is the county most at risk to sea level rise in the state of California. And I think we are starting to take the initial steps to be a leader in not only California, but in the country, to addressing the challenges of sea level rise.”

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Reuters filed an extensive sea level rise/coastal erosion story today -- wave action dynamics explained, why seawalls don't work, what's happening around the country.

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