The City of Oakland is considering an 800-acre development along its San Leandro Bay shoreline (just opposite the Oakland airport) called the Coliseum Area Specific Plan, or Coliseum City.
The City of Newark is considering a 500-acre development on wetlands and low-lying land immediately adjacent to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
What do these proposals have in common with the San Francisco and Oakland airports, as well as the campuses of Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard? At least one startling fact: they are all likely to be under water by the year 2100 — if not sooner.
While it still defies one’s imagination, the reality of climate disruption and sea-level rise is that many, if not most, of our bayshore communities face potential inundation from a three- to six-foot rise in the Bay’s water level. And by inundation we are not talking about occasional flooding, but rather being underwater all the time as the Bay rises above present shoreline elevations.
Add an increased number of extreme weather events (remember last December’s four to 11 inches of rain in one day) and even those shoreline communities not actually inundated by a higher sea level will face increased risk of significant flooding during storms and high tides.
It is a grim picture but an all-too-likely reality. The question now is: what do we do about it? The best solution, of course, is to stop global climate disruption altogether, and the Club is doing all it can in that area. Unfortunately, it is probably already too late to avoid some of the worst impacts.
So what can we do to mitigate these impacts? It is a question all the regional agencies are considering. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — the state agency charged with protecting San Francisco Bay—recently adopted a Climate Change Amendment to its Bay Plan that calls for halting new developments along the shoreline until we figure out how we can protect them, or whether we should build them at all.
The fact is, shoreline protection such as levees is expensive, and, as we’ve seen in New Orleans, not a sure thing. There are estimates that building levees around the Bay could cost many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Where would that money come from? And who will pay for their maintenance? Moreover, the environmental impacts of traditional-style levees are immense, including wetland destruction and loss of habitat for fish and other species.
The Coliseum Area Specific Plan would create three new professional athletic stadiums, many units of housing, and lots of commercial property. Although Oakland can probably use all of this, its location is highly questionable. Most of the site was once the tidal marshes of San Leandro Bay, filled in with soil from the early 1930s into the 1960s.
The Coliseum project extends to the shoreline of San Leandro Bay, one of the Central Bay’s richest aquatic wildlife habitats, sustaining tens of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds. The Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park located on San Leandro Bay would be adjacent to the proposed development. This park’s waters and wetlands support one of the largest populations of the endangered California clapper rail (now called Ridgway’s rail). Massive development is not usually a good neighbor to a flourishing wildlife habitat and it is likely that Coliseum City would have devastating impacts on this rich aquatic habitat.
Similarly, the Newark development is located on a site that was once known as the Whistling Wings and Pintail duck clubs. Its wetlands support the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—the only mammal to survive on saltwater and found only in San Francisco Bay. The Newark site once hosted thousands of waterfowl, but its wetlands are now drained yearly. Nevertheless, the site is included in the expansion boundary of the National Wildlife Refuge and it offers a rare opportunity to restore an entire tidal marsh slough system — if we can succeed in stopping the development.
It will take our best efforts, and huge amounts of money, to save our existing shoreline communities. Does it make sense to build new communities in these threatened areas? We don’t think so.
Recently, the Newark project lost a battle in court for failing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act’s requirement for full analysis of the project’s impacts. While this doesn’t kill the project, it does give Newark residents and others a chance to reexamine it and discuss how appropriate it is to build in lands that will be submerged someday soon.
Meanwhile, the comment period for the Oakland project’s environmental impact report just ended, and the Bay Chapter submitted a letter expressing the concerns just discussed. There are many steps yet to go in this project and lots of opportunities for citizens to take part in the decision-making process.
If you are interested in engaging in how the Bay Area should address sea-level rise, contact Arthur Feinstein at (415)680-0643. You are also invited to attend the Conservation Committee’s regular meetings, held on the first Thursday of each month at the Chapter office.
— Arthur Feinstein