Biking on the Bay Trail

This blog is a part of SeaChange SMC’s Guest Blog series zpgnjuz. The series will feature perspectives on sea level rise from members of the community.


Moffett Field near Sunnyvale; and my route.


By Shannon Fiala

As a planner and cyclist, a few Saturdays ago I woke up with a mission: to bike the Bay Trail from San Francisco to San Jose.  After getting a bit lost in the unfinished cul-de-sacs of the new San Francisco Shipyard development and looping out to Candlestick Point, I rolled into San Mateo County. Along the entire ride, I marveled at the incredible foresight of the McAteer-Petris Act of 1965, which created the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and required shoreline projects, particularly those that proposed to fill the bay, to provide ‘maximum feasible’ public access, which has often translated into investments in the Bay Trail. The plan for the Bay Trail began in 1987 with state legislation that directed the Association of Bay Area Governments to foster the trail’s development, in partnership with shoreline cities and counties, often with funding from the state’s Coastal Conservancy. So far, 330 miles of the 500-mile trail have been completed with segments connecting all nine Bay Area counties.

However, the laws and government agencies that were created to slow a shrinking bay are now adapting to accommodate a rising reality. The Bay Trail represents just one of many coastal assets that San Mateo County could potentially lose to sea level rise in the absence of intervention.  Thankfully, San Mateo County’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment is underway, which will serve as the basis on which to create an adaptation plan for shoreline communities. But for now, I highly recommend hopping on your bike and taking full advantage of this regional treasure.

Friendship Bridge over San Francisquito Creek, East Palo Alto.
Friendship Bridge over San Francisquito Creek, East Palo Alto.
Figure 2. Stormy skies near Oyster Point, South San Francisco.
Stormy skies near Oyster Point, South San Francisco.
Bay Trail sign in Bayfront Park, Millbrae.
Bay Trail sign in Bayfront Park, Millbrae.
<img class=”wp-image-734 size-large” src=”http://seachangesmc click here for×768.jpg” alt=”Surrounded by tidal wetlands near Bair Island, Redwood City.” width=”640″ height=”480″ srcset=”×768.jpg 1024w,×225.jpg 300w,×576.jpg 768w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px” />
Surrounded by tidal wetlands near Bair Island, Redwood City.
On top of the flood control levee, Foster City.
On top of the flood control levee, Foster City.
Pedestrian bridge near Seal Point Park, San Mateo.
Pedestrian bridge near Seal Point Park, San Mateo.

*Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SeaChangeSMC (or the County of San Mateo).

San Mateo County’s opportunity to lead by example

This blog is a part of SeaChange SMC’s Guest Blog series. The series will feature members of the SeaChange SMC Community Task Force’s perspectives on sea level rise.

By David Harris

When my daughter was born 13 years ago, I remember staring at her tiny hands and wondering what they would enable her to do over the course of her lifetime. Play basketball? Ride a bike? Write a book? Raise her children if she eventually became a mother?

It’s hard to look at young children, particularly the children of family members and friends, and not think about what the future will hold for them.

Though there are too many unknowns to predict what their lives as adults will be like, climate change and rising sea levels will almost certainly impact their opportunities and choices. Even if they choose to live somewhere far from the Bay Area where the impacts may be less, climate change is likely to define the way they think about their world.

Though not a perfect analogy, consider how the Great Depression and World War II shaped the lives of our parents and grandparents. For many baby boomers, the Vietnam War was the defining event of their generation. For Gen X’ers, 9/11 and the war on terrorism have loomed large as they grew into adulthood, and for many Millennials, the 2008 financial crisis has influenced how they see their future.

But climate change and sea level rise are different in a fundamental way.

The enormity of the impact of the events I mentioned on the generations that were most affected was either largely or completely unanticipated. Sea level rise we can see coming a mile away. Sometimes referred to as “a slow-moving emergency,” it may well be the defining event of our children’s generation and those that follow.

Scientist predict that more than 350,000 people in the Bay Area’s nine counties will have to move to higher ground if sea levels rise three feet by the end of this century, according to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle.[i] More than 680,000 people will have to move if it rises six feet.

The article also quotes Stanford climate specialist Katherine Mach as saying 190,000 people in San Mateo County would have to move if sea levels rise three feet and 250,000 would have to move if sea levels rise six feet.

Why aren’t we doing more about it?

If one part of your brain is thinking “I’ll be long gone by then,” think again. Before those levels are reached, there will be more flooding as severe storms inundate low-lying communities and erode the coast collaboration tools. And if you don’t live in either of those areas, you rely on roads, wastewater treatment plants and other infrastructure that will be affected.

The fact is that most of us will act on something if we feel our actions will have an impact on us, our families and our communities. For example, one of the things that makes many San Mateo County communities attractive to parents is the quality of its public schools. Like many other places, parents’ time and energy make an enormous difference, helping out with everything from schoolyard duty to aiding teachers in the classroom to organizing fundraisers.

But how can parents, or anyone who cares about the generations that follow us, prevent the climate from changing or the sea level from rising?

Like so many other problems facing the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless.

As I said, we all know is that we can make a difference at the local level, regardless of what’s going in Washington, and that’s what some people are doing.

San Mateo County, one of the counties in California that is most at risk from sea level rise, is conducting a vulnerability assessment through an organization called Sea Change San Mateo County. This assessment is evaluating how representative assets including waste water treatment plants, roads, schools, airports and wetlands will be impacted as water levels rise on both the bayside and coast.

The county, partnering with state’s Coastal Conservancy, is working with city governments, community groups, businesses and other organizations. When the study is completed later this year, the county will continue to work with these groups to begin to develop mitigation and other options for the future.

The Bay Area, and the Silicon Valley in particular, prides itself as a place with the talent, resources, energy and courage to translate big ideas into practical solutions. While technology and the marketplace have important roles in addressing climate change and sea level rise, political will and grass roots community activism are also critical.

If the people of San Mateo County can effectively marshal all of these forces together in coming years, we will not only find a way for successive generations living here to cope and hopefully thrive with the changes ahead. We’ll also have an opportunity to show the rest of the country — and maybe the world — how it can be done.

David Harris lives in Burlingame and is a member of the Sea Change San Mateo County Community Task Force

*Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SeaChangeSMC (or the County of San Mateo).

Sea Change SMC Case Study

On Tuesday April 19th, we met with the Pacifica Nursing & Rehab Center, completing our site visits and interviews for the County’s Sea Level Vulnerability Assessment case study. Our study includes an assessment of 30 different assets, which has made for a very busy two months for our team! We have met with each of the asset managers and toured the sites. These visits have provided a behind the scenes look at many of the services provided at these sites and how critical they are to our county.

Stay tuned for the summary of each of the assets. We will present the information gleaned from the asset survey, site visits, and interviews in the Vulnerability Assessment report as individual Asset Vulnerability Profiles (AVP). The case study for each asset will include consequences from the asset failing, potential flood scenarios, and the impacts of erosion. Where information is available, the AVP will also identify potential adaptation options.

These case studies are a representative sample of the thousands of assets located within the County, and will help the County and cities understand the potential vulnerabilities our communities could face in the future. This is not a list of priority or “most vulnerable” resources, but rather a set of representative assets to provide insight into how sea level change could impact our community.

A big thank you to the asset managers for completing the questionnaires, interviews, and showing us around during the site visit!

For the full list of case study assets, click here.








What is sea level rise and what does it mean for San Mateo County?

Sea level rise is a result of our changing climate. Higher temperatures cause ocean waters to warm and expand, and land-based ice to melt. These two factors result in higher sea levels. San Mateo County is one of the most vulnerable counties in California to sea level rise. In 2009, the Pacific Institute estimated that San Mateo County has $24 billion in assets at risk, including 11 square miles of wetlands and 115,000 homes in low-lying areas. According to projections for California, sea levels could increase by up to 2 feet in the next 35 years, and by up to 5 1/2 feet by the end of the century.

Rising TidesTo address the challenge of sea level rise, the County has initiated SeaChange SMC. SeaChange SMC is led by the County’s Office of Sustainability and Supervisors Dave Pine and Don Horsley, in partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy, U.S. Congresswoman Speier, and representatives from San Mateo County’s twenty cities. We are working closely with a technical working group, policy advisory committee, and a community task force.

Vulnerability Assessment: The first step in addressing sea level rise is to understand what is at risk. SeaChange SMC is working on a vulnerability assessment for the bay and coastal shorelines to identify key assets at risk from different scenarios of sea level rise and storm events. The assessment includes a focus on nature-based solutions and reducing impacts to underserved communities, and involves San Mateo County cities, businesses, and community groups.

Preparing for floodingData Challenges: One of our goals is to gather data and information on existing assets and flood control structures in a centralized Geographic Information System (GIS) using the County’s Open Data Portal. Although there is a lot of information already available, it is not comprehensive or it is scattered across different agencies and organizations online collaboration tools. Given that flood waters do not know jurisdictional boundaries, the challenge of climate change and rising tides is a regional issue. Collaboration between all the affected stakeholders is critical to implementing effective solutions.

First Community Workshop! On January 30, 2016, SeaChange SMC hosted a free Sea Level Rise Open House to discuss sea level rise, present updates on the assessment, and gather community feedback. Over 180 community members learned about sea level rise and the vulnerability assessment through presentations, displays, and hands-on activities. Members of our Community Task Force developed a “What Do You Value” station, where attendees listed things important to them that could be impacted by sea level rise. In addition, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) had an activity for attendees to share how they are prepared for flooding.


Stay Involved: There are many ways to stay involved: attend one of our community events, read our blog for regular updates, and join our SeaChange SMC Facebook Group to participate in the ongoing dialogue. This blog will be used to share more information about our Vulnerability Assessment, high tide events like King Tides, and any sea level rise related articles and photos.

Now is the time to prepare for this slow moving emergency.