Committee: Time for Bay Area to begin addressing risks posed by sea level rise 

The Bay Area must prepare for the sea level to rise by at least 3 feet during this century. That’s one of the key messages that emerged from the last in a series of hearings held around the state by Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and his Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy.

The Sacramento hearing featured testimony from representatives of several state agencies charged with responding to sea-level rise. Gordon said other key findings from the meeting included that the state must do a lot more planning, and it must assess the risk that sea level rise poses to California’s built environment.

Representatives of various agencies at the hearing testified that they believe current laws in place allow them to respond to a potential crisis, but Gordon said their response capability is limited due to a lack of finances.

The assemblyman said the amount of money needed is not yet known.

“We don’t know because we haven’t done the planning,” Gordon said. “We need to figure out what we need to do and what it’s going to cost.”

California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester was one of the speakers who said existing agencies and laws are sufficient.

“I don’t think we need to have new agencies, new programs or new institutions,” he said. “We need to invest [in] and support the agencies we have, including the other agencies that are here today.”

Those included the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Coastal Conservancy and the California State Lands Commission.

Coastal erosion resulting from sea level rise and how it could impact the Peninsula was another hot topic. Lester, who said Local Coastal Program laws must take into account the effects of erosion, illustrated such impacts with slides showing how the Land’s End apartment complex in Pacifica lost 90 feet of buffer zone when most of the land between the apartments and the cliff at the edge of the complex fell into the ocean in just one week.

The development is now protected by a sea wall, which Lester noted can ultimately cause beaches to disappear.

Lester said that under Local Coastal Programs, developers building along the coast must waive any right they may have to demand the future installation of sea walls if their properties are threatened.

The Coastal Commission has used the LCP law to control the use of sea walls and related barriers at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Half Moon Bay, which was forced to remove an emergency revetment after the agency determined that the structure was not necessary to protect existing hotel buildings, Lester said.

One concern expressed by San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission Chairman Zachary Wasserman was residents’ ability to react in a timely manner to the hazards posed by sea level rise. Wasserman argued that despite a quarter century of warnings, less than half of Bay Area residents seem prepared for a major earthquake, and that could be an indicator of how the public would respond to the threat of rising sea levels.

Wasserman suggested encouraging the public to think about the problem in “very concrete terms.” Although the sea is projected to rise 15 to 17 inches by 2050, and 55 inches by the year 2100, he said citing those figures may not be as effective as simply telling people to prepare for a sea level rise of “at least 3 feet.”

Gordon said the select committee plans to release a report summarizing its findings in late February.

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