By Joan Dentler0, Bay City News Service
The threat of rising seas in San Mateo County was the focus of a planning conference in Foster City on Friday morning, hosted by federal, state and county government leaders.
"Sea level rise is one of the most critical issues we face in San Mateo County, and there are no more crisis-oriented issues than this one," said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, one of the conference hosts.
In addition to Speier, California Assemblyman Rich Gordon and San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine convened the Sea Level Rise Planning Conference for San Mateo County.
Organizers said the conference was designed to educate local land use policy makers about the profound impact of sea level rise and to start planning to protect communities on the Peninsula.
San Mateo County Supervisor David Pine said he was pleased with the turnout, and was optimistic that the conference's goals would be met. He noted that of the 20 cities in San Mateo County, 19 were in attendance. In addition to city staff and elected officials, officials from special districts and regulatory agencies were there.
"The goal of planning this conference was to bring together those responsible for land use policy in San Mateo County. By getting these policy
makers into one room, we can address three important concepts," Pine said.
"The first concept is to introduce the reality of a 3-foot sea level rise, and the significant effect it will have on San Mateo County's people and property," he said. "The second concept is to design an organizational structure on how to prepare for this, and the third is to create a task force to make recommendations and explore options for funding."
One of the conference presenters, Dick Santos of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, underscored the importance of a regional approach to tackling sea level rise. Pine noted that there is no counterpart to that agency in San Mateo County, and that an organizational structure needs to be set up for both preparation and funding. "This can't be done city by city," he said.
Gordon, who chairs the Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise & the California Economy, said it's imperative the county start to plan for what is an inevitable outcome of climate change and global warming.
"Climate change is a great threat to our future. Cooperation between local, state, and federal agencies is needed to adequately respond to the serious effects of sea level rise," Gordon said. He noted that $2.5 million was recently added to the state budget to deal with sea level rise.
John Englander, a climate expert, and author of "High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis," told the audience that the sea level will rise by at least three feet by 2100.
San Mateo County is particularly vulnerable and has been dubbed "ground zero" for sea level rise on the West Coast. "It is imperative that we start to work together plan together, coordinate together for what is an inevitability. Our seas have already risen and will continue to rise over the next century," Englander said.
Zachary Wasserman, chair of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, stressed that government needs to think outside of the box when it comes to dealing with an issue that may not present itself in our lifetime. "The 3-foot rise concept is hard to get into people's minds," he said.
"But we need to get them to start thinking about how to deal with this problem and talk about things like sea walls and extended marshes and dykes," he added.
Audience members broke into smaller groups to discuss a variety of issues pertaining to sea level rise, including what it would mean for future planning and development, local financing options, and should San Mateo County form a flood control and financing district.
Organizers said two groups will be formed to make recommendations on countywide planning and financing options for addressing sea level rise and preparing a sea level rise vulnerability assessment.
Pine said he's optimistic that the county will develop a workable plan for dealing with sea level rise, and pointed to the collaboration among federal, state, county and city leaders coming together today to address the impacts of rising seas in San Mateo County.
"San Mateo County has a unique culture of collaboration," he said.