Baykeeper Update

BCDC Approves Amendment to the Bay Plan Addressing Sea Level Rise

This afternoon the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) unanimously approved an amendment to the Bay Plan which addresses climate change - with specific focus on sea level rise adaptation. Baykeeper has been an active proponent of the amendment, submitting multiple comment letters, speaking at numerous public hearings and negotiating the final draft of this Bay Plan amendment. Other environmental groups engaged in this process include Save the Bay, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Sierra Club and Marin Audubon.

Originally proposed in the spring of 2009, BCDC commissioners believed the amendment would be approved last fall. Delays arose last year after a select group of development interests began an intense lobbying campaign aimed at delaying or preventing the process of planning for sea level rise. This is despite the fact that researchers have found the unique geography of the Bay Area makes it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and widespread flooding over the coming decades. Although some of the language in the original amendment was in fact weakened as a result of lobbying efforts, the document largely remained intact from the September 2010 Draft.

Some have said this revision to the Bay Plan represents a robust plan to address sea level rise along San Francisco Bay, yet much more must be done to inform the public of hazards associated with failure to plan for sea level rise and local governments must be equipped with tools to assist them in adapting to sea level rise. Over the last year, BCDC's efforts to inform stakeholders and local governments of the consequences of sea level rise and the need for this amendment has undoubtedly convinced some of the need for climate adaptation strategies and sound planning rules. We look forward to seeing the development of a regional strategy to address sea level rise, which is now a requirement of the Bay Plan.

Recently, I participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Bay Planning Coalition on the topic of this Bay Plan amendment and sea level rise planning, in general. Other panelists included representatives from BCDC, the Building Industries Association (BIA) and the San Francisco Port. Both the audience and panelists seemed to recognize that development of a regional approach to sea level rise is much preferred over a piece-meal city-by-city strategy. We support this effort and hope that constructive stakeholder engagement will result in sustainable solutions that are likely to include a mixture of open space conservation, design guidelines for new and redevelopments in areas susceptible to sea level rise, protection of priority areas and in some instances managed retreat of erodible shorelines or other low priority areas.

Mention of the subject of managed retreat is a particularly sensitive topic and likely to spark opposition from less developed portions of the region. We hope these concerns can be addressed and that sensible solutions will be developed aimed at protecting Californians from flooding and ensuring the region's remaining wetlands continue to provide valuable habitat and flood mitigation services. Managed retreat strategies have recently been adopted in Ventura and Pacifica to address coastal erosion along these cities, which is likely to accelerate in coming decades. Cities located along the Bay have not yet been forced to address this issue but it is one that San Francisco is currently facing in regards to erosion of Ocean Beach. These strategies are useful models for identifying public outreach needs and costs associated with shoreline protection and relocation of critical infrastructure.

During the process of reviewing drafts of the Bay Plan amendment and engaging on revisions to the document several BCDC commissioners were particularly engaged in seeking input from stakeholders and remaining sensitive to all sides. We would like to recognize their efforts and thank, in particular, Geoffrey Gibbs, Jim McGrath, John Gioia, Barry Nelson, Anne Halsted and Sean Randolph. We hope they will continue to lead the conversation regarding our need to plan for and adapt to sea level rise, since efforts taken here are likely to become a model for coastal regions along California and elsewhere.

For more information please contact Ian Wren ian@baykeeper.org