Saturday, June 28, 2014
(San Francisco City and County) Rising seas — Civil Grand Jury finds San Francisco needs to do much to prepare
June 27, 2014
SFGateBy Lois Kazakoff
For too long, rising seas have been a topic of political debate, not an action plan.
This week, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, an oversight body of 19 citizens who volunteer their time for a year, released its findings on how well San Francisco has prepared for climate change. The bottomline: the city has not integrated consistent plans to address rising seas into city policies — despite acknowledged widespread awareness of the threat.
The grand jury report suggests the city and county of San Francisco amend the planning and building codes to include provisions addressing the effects of sea level rise. It recommends that the city retrofit its waste water treatment system to prevent saltwater back flow — already a problem — and install pumping stations to keep the sewer discharge system working.
Notably, it calls for a surcharge on Port of San Francisco leases, and urges the city to create a reserve fund and collaborate with other agencies. Despite the recent high-profile debates over leasing waterfront properties for a sports stadium or a museum, the costs of adapting to sea-level rise will affect the city’s ability to attract tenants going forward.
The grand jury’s findings come just weeks after a report that identified Northern California and in particular the San Francisco Bay as areas that will experience flooding before the rest of the United States. Farmers Insurance also filed and then withdrew nine class-action lawsuits against cities in the Chicago area for failing to prepare for flooding brought on by climate change — a legal action that put cities across the nation on alert that old assumptions must give way to new realities.
San Francisco and other Bay Area cities have in recent weeks hired “resiliency officers” to plan for recovery from flooding and other disasters. Yet, unlike an earthquake or other disasters, sea-level rise is not a discrete event but rather is slow-moving change with dramatic economic consequences. “Can anyone buying property today in a potential flood zone expect to see property values reduced by the end of a 30-year mortgage? the grand jury report asks. Property values and investor confidence in the city’s economy are tied to that answer, whatever it might be. The question alone points to the need for more robust mapping and an overhaul of city infrastructure.A 49-square-mile city bounded on three sides by water needs a consistent and comprehensive plan — and an honest discussion with voters about just what adapting to rising seas is going to mean and cost.