by Alice Kaufman, Legislative Advocate
In a time when our region is worrying about protecting homes and businesses from rising seas, one would think that cities would not want to add to the amount of development in the path of sea level rise. But in Redwood City, the Inner Harbor Specific Plan would change the zoning and the general plan in order to allow four 9-story office towers comprising over 1 million square feet of office space, plus 550 residences, to be built in an area known to be vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise. Worse, the Plan proposes to allow dredging of a shallow-water wetland area that provides valuable habitat for waterfowl in order to create a private marina—even though testing has shown that the bay sediment in the area contains alarmingly high levels of contaminants, including mercury, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The Plan proposes to address the sea level rise issue by, essentially, having developers construct their own flood-protection infrastructure. This haphazard approach to protecting the community from sea level rise is about as nonsensical as creating a functioning road system by asking each homeowner to construct the portion of the road in front of their own house. Further, although the Plan encourages landowners to construct gradients at the water’s edge and plant tidal marsh vegetation, there is no evidence that the Inner Harbor area (which is built on bayfill) can sustain a healthy tidal marsh, and no requirements for landowners to maintain and monitor any marshlands that are created.
Rather than relying on piecemeal attempts to provide flood protection, the city should develop a comprehensive sea level rise plan, coordinated with other cities and San Mateo County, that addresses the entire Bayfront, not just a few pieces of property here and there. I am advocating with the city not to approve the Inner Harbor Specific Plan and instead to focus their efforts on a feasible sea level rise plan.