Sea Level Rise

California is shrinking

By Sabrina Brennan

It’s time to accept that coastal California is shrinking. A new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts chronic Bay Area flooding from rising seas as early as 2060. “Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.

The Pacific Institute calculates that San Mateo County will lose more in property value than any other county in the state. Property damage in the county is estimated to be in the region of $39 billion, with sea level rise projected to affect more than 100,000 residents.

In July, the Mercury News reported that San Mateo and Marin Counties and the City of Imperial Beach filed a lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court. The suit alleges that, “major corporate members of the fossil fuel industry, have known for nearly a half century that unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products creates greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet and changes climate.”

The suit argues that 37 oil, gas and coal companies actively worked to “discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence and persistently create doubt” in “a coordinated, multi-front effort.”

The suit asserts what many of us already accept as fact, that fossil fuel companies “have promoted and profited from a massive increase in the extraction and consumption of oil, coal and natural gas, which has in turn caused an enormous, foreseeable, and avoidable increase in global greenhouse gas pollution.”

Armoring the coast and building levees in the Bay will be an unimaginably expensive public undertaking, and that doesn’t include relocating highways, railways, airports, and other critical infrastructure.

Last month, the Guardian reported that Mayor Serge Dedina said that up to 30% of Imperial Beach could be affected by climate change. “As the lowest-income, highest poverty-rate city in San Diego County, we have no capacity to pay for the extensive adaptation measures.” Within 15 years flooding could affect tens of thousands of Marin County residents and cause upwards of $15.5 billion in property damage. “This lawsuit is intended to shift those costs back where they belong – on the fossil fuel companies,” says Marin County supervisor Kate Sears.

A well-funded army of lawyers is organizing to defend deep-pocketed multinationals that include San Ramon-based Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, while at the same time the Plaintiffs continue to approve new development within sea level rise inundation areas. These new developments will add to the already huge cost of removal and replacement of hospitals, schools, airports, fire stations, police stations, ports, roads, railroad tracks, pump stations, sewage treatment facilities, power plants, utilities, hazardous material sites, and more.

As communities become dependent on costly levee systems to stay dry, and climate projections continue to worsen, we will soon be spending exponentially larger sums of money to protect development now being built in inundation zones. One good example is the 8-mile long levee do-over in Foster City that is now budgeted for $90 million. That levee must be rebuilt three feet higher or residents will be required to buy costly flood insurance.

In addition to suing oil companies our elected representatives have a responsibility to protect the public from the huge financial burden sea level rise will bring to coastal California. They can do this by using their powers to implement policies that limit development in known inundation areas and to prohibit future shoreline armoring in favor or wetland restoration.

Suing the fossil fuel companies is a great start to holding those responsible for the coming disaster to account, but that must only be a beginning. Without common sense and practical pragmatic legislating any legal action becomes nothing more than a show. If they really want to leave a lasting legacy current local legislative bodies must show through use of their powers that they have an understanding that development in inundation zones is literally pouring money down the drain. Anything less is going to be an expensive and complex disaster.

Published in the Daily Journal on Aug 14, 2017 and on the Everything South City website. Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on Aug 23, 2017. 

Planning and Adapting to Sea Level Rise: Presentation

John Englander the nationally acclaimed author of "High Tide on Main Street" and speaker on state, regional, and local responses to sea level rise will give a presentation.  

Surfer's Beach

When: Monday, December 9, 2013, 8:00am-12:30pm

Where: Collage of San MateoCollage Center, Building 10, 1700 Hillsdale Blvd. San Mateo, CA

Attendance will be limited. Contact Michael Barber in Supervisor Dave Pine's office. or 650-363-4528

Possible gas leak worries South City officials

Consultants to test for methane contamination from old landfill

Todd R. Brown, staff writer  |  Feb. 6, 2007 at 2:39am

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — One generation's trash is another's environmental headache. Case-in-point: a 57-acre landfill at Oyster Point that may be leaking methane. 

A rise in the amount of the hazardous gas found there prompted the city to grant $94,000 to a consulting firm to test whether the methane is migrating from the landfill and where it is heading. 

"One of our biggest concerns with methane is that it's going to get into a building, build up and then explode," said Dean Peterson, director of environmental health for the county. "The requirement is that no methane or no gas should go off the site." 

According to a city staff report, tests in April and May of gas monitoring wells at the site by Terra Engineers — the same firm that will assess the possible leak — found higher-than-allowed levels of methane. 

"There's no imminent public safety or public health risk," Peterson said, adding that the gas exposure is "affecting neither the day care nor any of the businesses down at the marina." 

The Peninsula Family YMCA Gateway Child Care Center on Gateway Boulevard is less than a mile west of the landfill area. 

Methane is explosive and can displace oxygen and cause asphyxiation the same way carbon monoxide can. It also is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. 

Methane is easy to measure, Peterson said, but other gases produced by decomposition in landfills pose dangers, including vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen used to make PVC.

Terra Engineers will look at whether the methane is creeping along utility trenches that are lined with gravel and connect to buildings, Peterson said, because they can serve as easy pathways for the lighter-than-air gas to travel along. 

The firm also will be installing another monitoring well once it examines the methane source, according to City Engineer Ray Razavi. 

"Some of their wells were getting filled with water," he said. "They'd like to have an extra well, just to be on the safe side." 

Although Razavi said no buildingsare in the immediate vicinity of the elevated methane, construction of a hotel and conference center there has been under discussion for years. 

"There's some proposals to build stuff right on top of Oyster Point, but nothing has been planned or accepted yet," he said. 

The landfill, which was closed in 1975 and capped with clay, runs along Gull Drive and is now home to Oyster Point Marina. More than 4,000 cubic yards of liquid and solid waste, including steel drums, were removed and the cap extended during construction of Gull Drive in 1995, according to a city staff report. 

The state required that gas monitoring wells be installed as part of the closure plan, and Terra Engineers (then called Gabewell) was hired for the job, which includes quarterly monitoring. 

The county has 15 closed landfills, Peterson said, and several vent and burn off accumulated methane, including Colma's landfill beneath the Home Depot store and Brisbane's Baylands. 

Peterson said handling a possible leak at the Oyster Point landfill requires plenty of study. He said while the city has known about the problem since last year's tests, engineers have been putting together a plan for how to deal with the unlined material. 

"Often times we don't have an exact landfill boundary," Peterson said. "They weren't managed so well in the old days as they are now."

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers the North County. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or