February 11th, 2014
Swelling sea levels used to be a concern associated with future generations and faraway lands. Then Superstorm Sandy poured the Atlantic Ocean into the New York subway. Here on the west coast, we’re no less vulnerable to the rising tide, and it’s not only our coastal communities that will be affected. From shoreline to bay to Delta and beyond, California’s economy is bound together by highways, railways and airports. Cities and states are beginning to realize they need to start planning now for tides heading their way.
The citizens of Redwood City have already made the issue of rising sea levels a priority. But as Alicia Aguirre, that city’s former mayor, points out, the problem is not limited to one community. “It's not just fixing what's happening in Redwood City, it's fixing what's happening all along the bay and along the coast as well. How do you work with developers and politicians and county government…and say, "This is what we can do?” Larry Goltzband, Executive Director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, agrees that for Californians, focusing on one area is short-sighted. “Those ships you see…docking at the port of Oakland, many times carry product that employs people in Redding or employs people in Tulare County…. So, it is in the best interest of all of California, whether you touch the bay, whether you see the bay on a daily basis, to actually invest in the bay for economic and environmental reasons.” Adding to the big picture, Julian Potter of San Francisco International Airport points out the ripple effect that damage to the region’s airports would cause worldwide. “The economic impact is not singular to any one side -- everybody gets impacted by it, whether or not you’re near water. Chicago will be impacted by it, any of these hub cities.”
Goldzband says retreating from the shoreline is not an option. “People will always want to build near the water,” he says. “I think that's probably just part of our DNA after thousands of years. The question that we…have to figure out is, how do we ensure that as the water rises, economic vitality and our community's vitality continues to grow?” Whether it’s due to a hurricane, tsunami or just the slowly rising tide, it’s inevitable that our coastline will be changing dramatically in the coming decades, and with it our economy, our environment and our way of life. Sandbags and levees aren’t enough – Californians must come together to create and enact real solutions, or we’ll all be in over our head.
Photos by Ed Ritger
This program is generously underwritten by the San Francisco Foundation.