In The News
Bay Area could become first region to plan for sea level rise in long-term development
By Julia Scott
Bay Area News Group, 10/6/11
The Bay Area could become the first region in California, and perhaps in the U.S., to recognize and plan for sea level rise in its long-term development.
At a public meeting Thursday afternoon, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission is expected to approve a major amendment to its guiding Bay Plan document with new language on climate change in the Bay Area. The vote will mark the first time that a California regulatory agency has adopted policies that require communities to look at the implications of building in areas that may be flooded 50 or 100 years hence.
Key groups -- developers, trades unions and environmentalists -- are behind the plan but the consensus-building process was so contentious that it took two years and five months to get there.
Will Travis, BCDC executive officer, said his agency realized it had to step back and educate development lobbyists and other groups about the threat of climate change and how it would affect the Bay Area's transportation map, energy infrastructure and housing supply.
"The pushback was from people who were not convinced sea level rise was really happening and were focused on job development and didn't want to change any of the rules," Travis said.
Now, however, "people who were initially hesitant are seeing that we have a big problem in the Bay Area, and we need to work together to solve it," he added.
A key message in the mix is that it would cost more to ignore the problem, from a financial and environmental perspective, than to plan for it.
The new Bay Plan language now requires that low-lying habitat, such as marshland, be given special consideration in the face of potential development.
It requires cities or developers to do a cost-benefit analysis of building in low-lying areas and to submit a plan to cope with sea level rise and other climate change eventualities.
Environmental groups support the climate change amendment, with reservations.
"It could have used stronger language in telling communities that building in a low-lying area is going to be costly," said Arthur Feinstein, chairman of the Sierra Club's Bay chapter.
April Wooden, community development director for Suisun City, got behind the amendment after opposing it but still has reservations about overly "vague" language that she fears could discourage the Delta city's expansion plans.
"I feel like California needs to pay attention to how to make this environment more business-friendly, not less business-friendly," Wooden said.
Thursday's vote will have limited implications, at least in the short term.
The BCDC doesn't have the power to block development outside of its jurisdiction, which consists of a thin, 100-foot band of shoreline around San Francisco Bay.
The agency does have jurisdiction over salt ponds, which would include the Redwood City Saltworks site. Saltworks developer DMB Inc. contests the BCDC's regulatory claim on the property.
Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.