ULI San Francisco Blog

Tackling Sea-Level Rise: New ULI-San Francisco Report Cites Best Practices for Resilient Planning and Development

Urban Land Institute’s 5 Key Findings Emphasize Greater Cooperation, Flexible Strategies, Innovative Finance

ULI San Francisco is pleased to announce the release of, “Tackling Sea-Level Rise: Best Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area”, a report summarizing a year-long research aimed towards helping Bay Area governments, developers, land owners and other constituents to plan appropriately for sea-level rise. Maps prepared by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the Pacific Institute using USGS data estimate sea-level rises could inundate potentially 280 square miles of Bay Area property by 2050. The conclusions are based on an amalgam of sources in arriving at an estimate of approximately 55 inches in sea-level rise affecting California over the next 100 years. Most recently, the National Academy of Sciences projected that the state’s sea-level rise would likely be approximately 36 inches by 2100, and that levels as high as 66 inches could not be ruled out.

“Tackling Sea-Level Rise: Best Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area” points to the need for public and private collaboration in examining subregional resilience planning initiatives and resilience-related development entitlement conditions in the Bay Area, as studied by ULI members and experts including economists, developers, engineers, public finance and insurance specialists, and staff from local and state governments.

“Usually, cities and other jurisdictions compete with one another for jobs and tax base, but for sea level rise they need to collaborate – it’s imperative,” said Charles A. Long, President at Charles A. Long Properties and co-chair of the Tackling Sea-Level Rise initiative. “ULI San Francisco’s report highlights specific best practices in collaboration that can help the region effectively respond to this looming crisis.”

“Radical as it may sound, from this point forward humankind needs to think of the location of shorelines as ‘permanently temporary’,” said Will Travis, recently retired Executive Director of BCDC and now an industry consultant. “To deal with this dilemma, we’ll have to find new ways to plan for, and make productive use of, our immediate shoreline areas in ways that are resilient and flexible. Today’s laws and regulations make that difficult, if not impossible, so as we begin to figure out resilient shoreline development, our planners, officials and private sector interests will need to work together to reverse-engineer laws for a more resilient future.”

In an example of interjurisdictional collaboration, Novartis, a private company, explored a multi-agency partnership to address problematic flooding. When frequent floods occurred at the lower reaches of Belmont Creek in San Carlos, it affected operations at a Novartis pharmaceutical facility. A study determined that the creek’s watershed spanned three cities, Belmont, San Carlos and Redwood City. While no one city was responsible for managing the watershed, the study’s highest ranking strategies for balancing flood protection, environmental impacts, and cost needed to be applied upstream in Belmont. An interagency meeting was convened of municipalities and regulatory agencies, Novartis presented the findings, and a collaboration was born among the three cities. “It’s great to see the interest and that the follow-up to drive this to and through execution is happening.” said Dr. Martin Renner, Head PharmOps San Carlos at Novartis. “It will be key for flood prevention and ensuring smooth business in the area not only Novartis.”

ULI Key Findings

Resilience will only come through effectively addressing governance, finance, and design challenges, according to the ULI report. Each of these areas requires public and private stakeholders to think through dilemmas, such as local versus regional responsibility, public funding versus private funding, and perimeter protection versus elevation of developments—or even deciding whether new development should be allowed in areas thought too vulnerable to sea-level rise.

ULI’s Tackling Sea-Level Rise offers these five key findings for consideration by communities and the private sector as they engage in efforts to increase the resilience of communities and private development:

  • Rethink approaches to governance and scale – Resilience planning requires interjurisdictional collaboration at the subregional level and funding and leadership at the regional level.
  • Integrate resilience into existing planning and funding systems – Planning for resilience needs to be embedded in existing planning and capital planning tools, such as general plans, capital planning cycles, zoning codes, building codes, local coastal programs, hazard-mitigation planning, and sustainable community strategies.
  • Develop and implement innovative financing – Financing solutions for long-term shoreline resilience are in their infancy and need to consider proposals that address areawide infrastructure, amortization of costs, a regional funding base, and measures that pay for future rehabilitation.
  • Engage the private sector – The public and private sectors need to work together because neither can tackle the impacts of sea-level rise alone. This is not just a governmental problem: business involvement in community resilience planning is essential for the creation of innovative solutions.
  • Establish certainty in standards and flexibility in response – Entitlement agencies should address uncertainty concerning the impacts of sea-level rise by agreeing on a standard initial increase in sea level that should be considered by developers of new projects.

“Tackling Sea-Level Rise: Best Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area” report is available for download at http://sf.uli.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2011/05/Tackling-Sea-Level-Rise.pdf.

Funding for the ULI San Francisco report was generously provided by the Troy, MI-based non-profit Kresge Foundation, a key partner in ULI’s resiliency-related work nationally. The foundation focuses its philanthropic efforts in and around the nation’s cities.

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