A countywide effort to address sea level rise is gaining momentum after San Mateo County supervisors took steps to form a new government agency to manage flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion and stormwater infrastructure this week.
By expanding the San Mateo County Flood Control District’s responsibilities to address sea level rise and adjust its governance structure to include city and county officials, officials have looked to the proposal to form the San Mateo County Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency Agency to facilitate coordination between jurisdictions as they set their sights on a new set of challenges for water infrastructure projects.
Having focused on the threat of a rising shoreline for the last five years, Supervisor Dave Pine noted the effects of climate change are being documented across the globe through events such as the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and erosion on coastal bluffs in San Mateo County at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday.
Noting Foster City’s efforts to improve its levee, protections on the San Francisquito Creek and the San Francisco International Airport’s investments in shoreline planning, Pine acknowledged several efforts to combat the effects of sea level rise are already underway. Released last year, a report completed by the county’s Office of Sustainability detailed the impact of a creeping shoreline as well as a range of mitigation measures for sea level rise, added Pine.
But to better position the county and its 20 cities for federal and state funds and develop expertise in sea level rise, Pine advocated for a new agency to focus on the cross-jurisdictional work needed to address the complex issue threatening San Mateo County’s Bayside and coastal shorelines.
“We … know that sea level rise poses a particular threat in San Mateo County,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “There’s a lot happening, but to really take this to the next level, we need to come together in a more formal way.”
Established in 1959, the San Mateo County Flood Control District has largely managed flood control for the areas surrounding the Colma, San Bruno and San Francisquito creeks, explained county Public Works Director Jim Porter. After the Board of Supervisors allocated some $6.2 million to address flooding in the county’s unincorporated areas, officials have been able to begin addressing flooding along the Bayfront Canal in Redwood City, the Belmont Creek in Belmont and San Carlos as well as the Navigable Slough in South San Francisco, he said.
Porter acknowledged many flood mitigation projects must now account for high tides, intense storms and sea level rise, which can also drive up the cost and extend the timelines of projects already estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.
Since collaboration between jurisdictions can be an attractive feature of applications for state and federal funding, Porter underscored the importance of the collaboration between the county’s multiple jurisdictions as they seek support for these types of projects.
“We as a county want to speak as one voice about these issues,” he said. “Water knows no boundaries … It’s important we look at this as a ... county.”
More than three years ago, Porter said the City/County Association of Governments formed an ad-hoc water committee to explore countywide coordination of water projects, noting the group has focused on exploring the effects of sea level rise in the last year. In crafting a proposal for the new agency, the C/CAG water committee convened 18 staff representatives from C/CAG, San Mateo County, cities and other water-related agencies, he said.
Porter said consensus was reached among staff and C/CAG officials that cities and the county would contribute $1.5 million annually for three years to establish the new agency and fund two or three staff members to identify funding sources for sea level rise mitigation measures. Of the $1.5 million contributed annually, the county would come up with $750,000 and cities would collectively contribute $750,000 in different amounts based on population, he said.
Approved by the C/CAG Board of Directors Jan. 10, the proposal will go before city and town councils in the coming months, said Porter. He added Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, has agreed to pursue state legislation needed to change the flood district’s governance to a seven-member board consisting of five city officials and two county supervisors, one of whom will represent District 3, which includes much of the county’s coastline.
Once the agency is formed, Porter said it will focus on hiring an executive director, entering into contracts with the county’s Public Works Department for flood protection services, studying the coastline to prioritize mitigation measures to prevent erosion and establishing a presence in Washington, D.C., so the agency can be effective in advocating for federal funding.
In voicing support for the new agency, Supervisor Don Horsley, who represents District 3, noted the threat of erosion on coastal housing and harbors and the importance of developing protection measures for the coast. He credited coastal residents and officials for focusing on projects protecting shoreline over the years and maintaining a beautiful stretch of the California coast.
Moss Beach resident Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, who is also a board member on Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, also supported a renewed focus on countywide collaboration to protect the environment, housing, roads and businesses as well as the agency’s potential to become leading experts in sea level rise.
“Much of the really critical natural and built infrastructure is directly in harm’s way on the coastside,” she said. “I look forward to seeing this agency move forward and take a leadership role in the state.”
Visit resilientsanmateo.org for more information.
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