Redwood City Should Plan For Sea Level Rise

Redwood City expects to update its Climate Action Plan this year, but so far the draft plan contains no specific actions for adaptation to sea level rise. We’re pushing for Redwood City to begin climate adaptation planning, including planning for restoration of the Cargill salt ponds.

What’s Happening

Redwood City has been developing an updated draft Climate Action Plan (CAP) for adoption by the City Council, which lays out a number of specific actions the city can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the draft CAP includes measures to replace street lights with LED lights for energy efficiency, create bike lanes and install bike parking, and expand electric vehicle charging stations in public facilities. These are all laudable steps to reduce emissions.

Where the draft CAP falls woefully short, however, is in identifying similarly specific actions to adapt to climate change impacts. The undeniable truth is that regardless of efforts to reduce emissions, climate change is already occurring and is having measurable impacts that must be addressed. Redwood City’s failure to at least begin the planning process for climate adaptation puts Redwood City residents at risk and makes it more likely that future adaptations will have to rely on hard infrastructure such as levees and floodwalls, rather than natural infrastructure such as restored wetlands and living levees.

The draft CAP devotes only 2 paragraphs to the topic of sea level rise, and contains no specific actions or concrete steps to address this problem. This failure is all the more alarming in light of the fact that the previous CAP, adopted in 2013, stated that the city would develop recommendations for a climate adaptation planning process. It seems that nothing been done to follow up on that commitment in the years since 2013, and that Redwood City is content to continue running in place when it comes to climate adaptation planning.

Why This Matters

Redwood City is one of the most vulnerable cities in California when it comes to sea level rise. Redwood City’s long and convoluted shoreline, the result of decades-old construction that filled in tidal wetlands, is projected to flood in several locations with only 1 foot of sea level rise; in fact, those locations already flood during annual king tide events. 

The best way to protect against sea level rise is to restore wetlands, create living levees, and otherwise work with nature rather than against it. However, these green infrastructure solutions take longer to implement than concrete floodwalls and earthen levees. Delay in initiating the process of adaptation planning could result in our communities being forced to choose between concrete flood protection or allowing flooding to occur. 

In particular, the Cargill salt ponds offer an irreplaceable opportunity to restore over 1400 acres of former wetlands, thus providing flood protection to a large section of Redwood City and North Fair Oaks, including some of the most underserved communities in the area. Redwood City should be initiating adaptation planning that incorporates the restoration of the Cargill salt ponds.

What You Can Do

The City Council will be considering the draft CAP sometime this fall. We’ve submitted proposed language to the City for inclusion in the CAP. When this issue comes up for a vote, we’ll send an Action Alert so you can email the City Council. Your voice makes a difference!

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