The City’s plan for waterfront development, right, addresses sea level rise with three approaches: Accommodate, protect and retreat.  (Courtesy S.F. planning)

The City’s plan for waterfront development, right, addresses sea level rise with three approaches: Accommodate, protect and retreat. (Courtesy S.F. planning)

SF aligns planning for sea level rise with waterfront development

San Francisco is looking to incorporate the threat of sea level rise into the dozens of major projects planned along the waterfront in the coming years.

The waterfront already grapples with coastal flooding and shoreline erosion, but such conditions will likely worsen as California coastal waters are expected to rise another 36 inches in the next century, according to projections from the National Research Council.

In fact, just several weeks ago, part of a parking lot along The Embarcadero fell into the San Francisco Bay, said Diana Sokolove, a senior planner with the Planning Department, during a presentation last week to the Planning Commission on how San Francisco is preparing for sea level rise.

“We have a dire situation,” Sokolove said. “Rising seas are a slow moving threat, [but] we are seeing the effects right here today.”

To that end, Mayor Ed Lee last year convened a Sea Level Rise Coordinating Committee to unite various city departments that have a stake in The City’s waterfront and infrastructure. The committee last week released its first step in addressing that challenge, the Sea Level Rise Action Plan, which serves as a call to action but doesn’t offer a particular solution.

Fuad Sweiss, city engineer and deputy director of Public Works, said the report is a “framework” for how and why The City will confront sea level rise.

“As [sea level rise] becomes more critical, as more development happens in The City, and as The City invests in its infrastructure — whether it’s existing or future — we will have guidelines on how to design projects to make sure such infrastructure is protected,” Sweiss, who also serves as co-chair of the coordinating committee, told the San Francisco Examiner.

The report highlights various ways to tackle sea level rise, like raising or waterproofing infrastructure exposed to the waterfront; creating natural or engineered barriers to the waters; and relocating sensitive assets to low-risk areas.

Sweiss emphasized there’s no way to know exactly how much the waters will rise in California and the rest of the world due to overall warming temperatures of the planet, and many effects may not be felt for decades.

That’s why waterfront development must take into account such changes, he said.

“The City is planning for resiliency,” said Sweiss. “We’re not thinking five and 10 years from today, we’re thinking 50 and 100 years from today.”Planning

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