March 18th, 2013


Executive Director, Association of the Bay Area Governments

Chair, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission

Former Director, SF Department of the Environment

Many people alarmed about climate disruption thought America’s coastal cities had a decade or two before they had to really get serious about sea level rise. Then came Hurricane Sandy. Seas that are rising, warming and expanding combined with other factors to deliver an unprecedented knock-out punch. California has an estimated $100B in property at risk of sea level rise, much of it in the Bay Area. What would a Sandy-like event look like in the Bay Area? What is being done to prepare for such a catastrophe? 
Will we see a Hurricane Sandy in the Bay Area? According to Melanie Nutter, director of San Francisco Department of the Environment, we have to be prepared. She spoke of the “pineapple express” of 2012, “where we saw rising tides and rising sea levels in the Bay, along our Embarcadero and along our ports. You could see the impacts of a severe weather event in the Bay Area. So for anybody who was a naysayer, I think once we saw that, it really brought it home last year.” 
Zack Wasserman, chair of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, said that, though he would not wish a Sandy on New York or New Jersey or San Francisco, the storm did serve as a wakeup call. “The problem with adapting to a rising sea level is it occurs over such a long period of time, it’s not really here now for people. Sandy, to some extent, brought it home.” 
What Bay Area communities are at greatest risk? Ezra Rapport, executive director at theAssociation of Bay Area Governments, pointed to areas of lowest elevation as well as infrastructure damage, which would impact the entire area. He spoke of the added complication of seismic risk. “The risk assessment for the Bay Area is the first order of business, and we have not done a good one to date.” He said that the South Bay is at particular risk, and that the Army Corps of Engineers is currently looking at how to protect it for the next 30 years. He would like to see more of a sense of urgency among the tech companies. 
Unlike New York or Chicago, Wasserman said, “We are a very diverse region with nine counties 101 cities, a whole range of special districts, and there is no one, dominant player.” He spoke of problems in coordinating all the efforts in a reasonable and cohesive way. “We’re going to have to figure out how to do this together by talking and working more closely on a voluntary basis.”
Nutter spoke of a range of studies underway in San Francisco. The good news is that the work is being done, she said. The challenge is where the money would come from. She spoke of collaboration among cities throughout the country and around the world and sees opportunity for additional progress.