Sea-level rise and development in SF


It’s good the Chronicle is taking on climate chance and sea-level rise. It’s good that Carolyn Lochhead is writing about the reality that storms like Hurricane Sandy are part of our future and that all types of coastal development are now at risk. It’s scary:

Naval bases, power plants, ports, highways - trillions of dollars of investment - sit on U.S. coasts because it once made sense to put them there. As people flocked to the shores, tiny beach towns became cities. Congress is hardly maintaining roads and bridges; its appetite for giant new sea walls around New York Harbor has yet to be tested. "You may be able to have the government rebuild New Orleans, and maybe you could have the government rebuild from Sandy," said John Englander, author of "High Tide on Main Street," a book on how rising seas will affect the coasts. "But as sea level rises and reclaims shoreline all around the United States and all over the world, governments can't afford to reimburse that. It's not just Miami, it's Charleston, it's downtown Seattle, it's Sacramento, it's every coastal city and city on rivers."

 Oh yes -- and it’s San Francisco, where sea-level rise doesn’t seem to be an issue in the city’s plan for massive real-estate development on the waterfront.

 The Chron has a map of what the Bay Area might look like after a two-foot increase in sea levels and a six-foot increase. It looks like this.

Of course, it might be okay because we can build super-tech levee that will create artificial waterfalls and protect us all from living on islands.

(You could argue that climate change isn’t about new technology, but that would be no fun -- and would require actual political leadership.)

Anyway, here’s the problem with the Chron’s map: It makes San Francisco look just fine. The entire city is in white, safe from that pesky inundation that will ruin lesser parts of the bay.

Thing is, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission has spent a ton of time on sea-level rise, and has its own map, that’s a bit more accurate, or at least more detailed -- and that shows some major-league problems for this city.

Check out the areas in blue: It’s most of the northen and eastern waterfront. That includes not only Mission Bay, where the city is pinning its hopes for a biotech boom, but also the site of the Warriors Arena, 8 Washington, and 75 Howard. In other words, the plan to make the waterfront into a heavily developed entertainment and residential neighborhood isn’t going to work for very long -- unless everyone gives up his or her car and buys a boat. Or unless we, the taxpayers of San Francisco, spend billions protecting all this development that doesn’t make sense in the first place.

Oh, Treasure Island’s going to be a much smaller island, too.

It’s entirely possible -- and likely -- that state, federal, and local tax money will go to protect some essential, vulnerable coastal areas. It makes no sense to try to move both the San Francisco and Oakland airports; we’re going to build barriers to protect them. But how are we going to protect an arena that’s built out over the water when the water starts to lap up to the doors? Who’s paying for that?

The Chron has done a good job asking the questions at the national level -- but, just as we so often see with economic inequality and tax policy, nobody wants to bring the message home.


That could be caused by more people pissing in the ocean. Total non-issue.

That said, the rich are always smart enough to live on the hills or higher floors of waterfront property.

Floods are for the little people, as Leona Helmsly might have said.

But yeah, tim, we get it, don't build on the waterfront because rich people are boring.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

You just play rich on the internet or you just like to argue on their behalf.

Intellectually challenged troll.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

I'm not rich and you still haven't refuted the points made.


Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

because you said that the rich are smart.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:06 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

Pretend mathematician troll.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:51 pm


Posted by marcos on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

What's your point? Levees can be built to protect those areas which aren't - like SFO.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

Wealthy people have water views and poor people do not.

So if we don't build on the waterfront, there will be less wealthy people in SF, meaning in turn that Tim's policies and politicians are more likely to win at the polls.

He doesn't give a flying crap if a few rich people have their homes flooded.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

Is that LOTS more people will have water views!!

See - every cloud has a silver lining.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 22, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

Big chunks of the city's infrastructure depends on current sea levels or is threatened by salt water and can't easily be defended with levees. Some examples: Sewage treatment, water supply and distribution, port, SFO (not trivial to levee that huge area), 101 freeway, bridge footings. Just for starters.

I know infrastructure isn't sexy but without sewers, no city.

Posted by Festus on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

should be able to deal with a few inches of extra tide.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

Like the one they built in the Thames Estuary near London. It lets shipping thru but can quickly be raised to prevent high tides.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 6:51 am

BCDC tried to drive a stake through its heart.

But the bad idea of barriers across the bay, most recently to halt sea level rise, go back at least to the 1870s. There are some big differences from the Thames or even the closest comparison, the amazing Dutch barriers at Rotterdam. SF Bay currents move far more water than the Amazon River does at full flood. The bay is deeper and wider. The bay has to be open 24/7 for big ships. We've got lots of stuff built at sea level that isn't designed to be flooded or drained.

I'm afraid we are actually going to have to deal with sea level rise rather than wishing it away with a magic technological bullet.

Posted by Festus on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

Even given that SF is full of stoners, it should not be beyond the so-called technology capital of the world to handle a few extra inches of tides.

Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 2:08 pm slash pdf slash planning slash Golden_Gate_Dam_Report dot pdf

Since the 1870s folks have been trying to fix all our problems with a big technological magic bullet called a barrier. So many problems, and just one solution. Hmmm.

Posted by Festus on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

It's the only way to stop global warming -- and to provide free MUNI for Tim's kids. Also, if we all just made art then the world would immediately begin to cool. Because art is cool.

Posted by Chromefields on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 7:07 am

every problem in the world looks like a nail.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 8:24 am

There will never be a hurricane hitting SF ("storms like Hurricane Sandy are part of our future") in our lifetime, and also not likely in the next few lifetimes.

The reason our summers are so cold is that the ocean is so cold. A hurricane needs a minimum ocean temp of 75 degrees to exist. Even in the most extreme La nina situations in the bay area the ocean has struggled to get to 64 degrees.

Just had to point that out.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:38 pm
Posted by anon on Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

"A hurricane needs a minimum ocean temp of 75 degrees to exist."

Nature has a way of destroying conventional wisdom.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 8:07 am

Build levees > destroy ecosystem.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN. on Jan. 26, 2013 @ 7:55 am

Even in the centuries which appear to us to be the most monstrous and foolish, the immortal appetite for beauty has always found satisfaction.

Posted by Cert Exam on Feb. 03, 2013 @ 5:32 am

Sometimes I wonder if the Guardian does any research before preparing a piece of journalism like this at all. Were any experts consulted, or did the author just prepare a piece assuming the new developments aren't engrossed in the issue and their environmental review and permitting depend on a solution. The BCDC maps show present-day conditions. Areas like Treasure Island, and many of the other inundated areas on the maps, will be raised and stabilized to account for the next 100 years of SLR. And generally speaking, the issue with SLR won't be constant inundation. It will be flooding during extreme storm + high tide events. The new developments will be the only areas high and dry on the shoreline when this happens, but ultimately the Bay as a whole will need a regional solution if SLR becomes a reality. At least the new master-planned developments account for that by leaving a adaptive management buffer zone to deal with the issue locally should SLR exceed the amounts they are already planning for (while the Embarcadero is totally under water at that point).

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

Love the map. Reminds me of the 1850's circa map that's been floating around a couple of decades that shows the original topography of the city, includng creeks, estuaries, marshes, and major creek inlets.

It will be so nice to see the return of the Islais Creek estuary, a large and vibrant Mission Bay (canoe rentals for sure), and a more robust wildlife habitat along the entire eastern seaboard. I wonder if the city will see the return of Precita Creek too, down the middle of Cesar Chavez.

Can't wait!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 09, 2013 @ 9:23 pm