Tag Archives: Sea level rise

Menacing threat to Vallejo (and Benicia): Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ‘zombie ice’

Brendan Riley’s Solano Chronicles: Vallejo’s shoreline threatened by zombie ice

Flooding around the old Times-Herald and News-Chronicle building in 1967 on what’s now Curtola Parkway could occur again there and elsewhere in Vallejo without safeguards against predicted sea rise. (Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum files)

Vallejo Times-Herald, Sept 11, 2022

Efforts to extend the shorelines of Vallejo and now-closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard, just across the Napa River, transformed bay and river waters into thousands of acres of low-lying land. But those efforts that spanned more than a century are threatened by “zombie ice” and other effects of global warming.

A new study, published Aug. 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change, describes part of Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ice sheet as zombie ice because it’s doomed to melt. The study says that by 2100 the melting ice sheet, no longer being replenished by glaciers getting less snow, will raise global sea levels a minimum of 10 inches and possibly as much as 2 ½ feet.

The sea rise from the Greenland ice sheet would be in addition to other Arctic and Antarctic ice melting due to global warming. Other documents, including a National Academy of Sciences report and a current State Sea-Level Rise Action Plan, warn that ice melt from all sources could cause two or more feet of sea rise on the West Coast as early as 2050 and five to six feet of rise by 2100.

Vallejo was part of a 2018 sea-rise study by a group called Resilient by Design. The study included an interactive risk-zone map on the Internet at sealevel.climatecentral.org/maps that shows the impact of rising levels. That easy-to-use link is available to anyone interested in seeing how our area would be impacted by varying amounts of sea rise.

The Resilient by Design link indicates that a foot of sea rise, without new levees, seawalls or other barriers, would flood a large strip of Vallejo’s Riverfront Park, along Wilson Avenue north of Tennessee Street. On Mare Island, part of its southwest tip would be underwater. Flooding also would occur on marshy land to the north, adjacent to State Route 37 and Dutchman Slough; and on SR37 near Black Point, several miles west of Vallejo.

Without protective barriers, a five-foot rise in the tideline would cause temporary or permanent flooding on most of SR37 (Sears Point Road) between Vallejo and Novato to the west. Much of the Mare Island fill land would be affected, including parts of Nimitz Avenue in the shipyard’s historic core.

In Vallejo, a long stretch of Mare Island Way and part of Curtola Parkway could flood. That would affect the municipal marina, Vallejo Yacht Club, a former State Farm Insurance building proposed as a new Police Department, the Ferry Building, Independence Park and the city boat launch area. Many locations to the south also could flood, including the city’s sewage treatment plant, Kiewit Pacific and the old Sperry Mill site.

Those projected flood zones would affect most, if not all, of the Vallejo and Mare Island shorelines that were expanded starting in the 1850s. Old navigation charts show the Navy, which opened its first West Coast shipyard in 1854, quickly filled in a strip of marshland along the river and constructed a seawall or quay where ships could tie up.

Expansion of Mare Island continued for decades, resulting in the shipyard increasing from less than 1,000 acres to its estimated 5,600 acres today. The new land was formed all the way around the island mainly by dredged mud from Mare Island Strait, the renamed stretch of the Napa River between the island and Vallejo, and by fill that was imported or obtained by digging into original higher ground on the island. Some of the new land is designated as marsh or tideland, but at least half of the new acreage has streets and roads and was used for all types of Navy shipyard activity.

On the Vallejo side, expansion into the Mare Island Strait added nearly 500 acres along the waterfront. The projects included one in the early 1900s that filled in a wide section of river that once separated Vallejo from South Vallejo.

The new land was formed by establishing a barrier that ran straight from the city boat ramp area almost to Lemon Street in South Vallejo. Mud dredged from the river on the west side of the barrier, or bulwark, was then pumped into what once had been navigable water and tideland on the other side.

The dredge-and-fill process that began on a large scale in 1913 took several years, creating more land and more direct road links between the two communities. Present-day Sonoma Boulevard between Curtola Parkway and Lemon Street would not exist without this project. The same goes for the sewage plant, Kiewit and many other businesses.

Without all the fill, you could anchor a boat at the present-day location of Anchor Self Storage on Sonoma Boulevard. The river reached what’s now Curtola Parkway on the north, and spread as far east as Fifth Street, where it turned into a marshy connection to Lake Dalwigk. On the south side, the railroad tracks that cross Fifth Street near Solano Avenue once ran along the water’s edge to the old Sperry Mill area.

More acreage was added to Vallejo’s shoreline in the 1940s near the Mare Island causeway, and in the 1960s as part of a massive redevelopment project that resulted in Vallejo’s entire Lower Georgia Street business district being bulldozed. Many longtime Vallejoans can remember walking out on a pier over tideland to board ferries that ran to Mare Island. That tideland is now the seawall area where people can park cars, take a ferryboat to San Francisco, have a drink or dine out, or go for a stroll.

Before redevelopment, the original Vallejo Yacht Club building stood in the same location as the current building – but on pilings over tideland. Much of the fill dirt for this waterfront extension came from Vallejo’s historic York Street Hill – the site of California’s Capitol in 1852 and 1853. The hill was scraped flat and trucked to the nearby riverfront.

In addition to the shoreline work, nearly 500 acres of usable land were formed by levees and fill in a marshy area where Larwin Plaza, now Vallejo Plaza, was built in 1960, along Sonoma Boulevard on the north side of Vallejo. White Slough, which flows into the Napa River, is on the edge of this shopping center. Traces of the marsh once extended nearly to Tennessee Street, several blocks to the south.

Brendan Riley — Vallejo and other Solano County communities are treasure troves of early-day California history. My Solano Chronicles column, running every other Sunday, highlights various aspects of that history. If you have local stories or photos to share, message me on Facebook.

One Bay Area city may surrender land to the rising sea

A $900 million plan outlines how Hayward is preparing its sewage plants, natural gas power plant and 1,899 acres of marshes and tidelands for  a rising San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco Chronicle, by John King, July 2, 2021
LINKS TO THE SERIES: Mission Creek, Foster City, Hayward

By 2100, we may need to let rising waters cover portions of today’s shoreline, once and for all.

“You’ve got to be forward-thinking,” said Al Mendall, who served on the Hayward City Council from 2012 until December. “As a layperson, it seems obvious to me that we’re going to have to consider some form of retreat at some point. Not just in Hayward, but all around the Bay.”

Before San Francisco Bay’s shoreline was recognized as an irreplaceable resource, it was where cities put garbage dumps, highways and industrial zones. Out of sight, out of mind.

That’s why the west edge of Hayward north of Highway 92 includes two sewage plants and the natural gas power plant that opened in 2013. The white toll booths of the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge shimmer in the haze of automobile exhaust. Two stumpy hillocks conceal long-closed dumps.

But there also are 1,800 acres of protected marshes and tidelands, along with the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center built in 1986. Even as new warehouses and research parks are built next to such preserves, populations of species like the snowy plover and salt water harvest mouse continue to increase.

A group of pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month.

Three pelicans rest in a channel near the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

It’s a juxtaposition that feels oddly timeless, but the placid scene can be deceptive. Already, several times each year, the combination of high tides and strong winds send sheets of water fanning across the trail from the interpretive center. Factor in the likelihood of significant sea level rise and the rare could become commonplace.

Sea level rise is fueled by higher global temperatures that trigger two forces: Warmer water expands oceans while the increased temperatures hasten the melting of glaciers on Antarctica and Greenland and add yet more water to the oceans.

Variations of this forecast — inconvenience followed by upheaval — are found all along the edges of San Francisco Bay. The difference is that Hayward worked out a detailed plan for what might lie ahead.

In February, Hayward’s City Council approved a set of strategies on how to adapt the shoreline zone to what climate change might bring between now and 2070. In some areas, the city would restore marshes or relocate trails. In others, new levees would shield industrial functions that cannot be moved, like the wastewater treatment facility.

John Blanchard/The Chronicle | GIS data from ART Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer, Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, Scape and Hayward Regional Shoreline Adaptation Master Plan

The effort was led by Scape, a New York landscape architecture firm that has been active in sea-level-rise planning since Hurricane Sandy laid waste to coastal New York and New Jersey in 2012.

Unlike some bay settings — such as San Francisco’s heavily developed Mission Creek or Foster City, where a levee already protects homes — Hayward’s shoreline area offers room to maneuver. The area studied by Scape extends 3¼ miles from Highway 92 past the city’s northern border, while extending inland as much as 2 miles, past the power plant and research buildings to modest older homes.

Bicyclists are in the foreground riding along the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In the background the San Francisco skyline is visible amid fog and clouds.
San Francisco rises in the distance as cyclists ride through the Hayward Regional Shoreline last month. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

Scape’s team of designers and engineers was selected in 2018 by the Hayward Area Shoreline Planning Agency, which includes representatives from the city, the East Bay Regional Park District and the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District.

The scale of the area captured the firm’s notice. So did the scale of Hayward’s ambitions.

“Plenty of cities and agencies are beginning to study risks. Hayward is one of the few places taking the next step and trying to offer solutions,” said Gena Wirth, who led the Scape team.

The 244-page plan lays out steps that can be taken in coming decades to stay ahead of the changes that would accompany daily tides 4 feet above current levels. Another 3.3 feet were added to account for the waves that could be triggered by a once-in-a-century storm.

“You want to look for how you can restore natural systems in a way that magnifies the overall benefits,” Werth said. “It’s all about establishing a vision and then breaking it down into bite-size components.”

None of this is easy — or cheap.

The combined price tag for everything in the plan tops $900 million, and there is no funding yet. But the recommendations are split into 26 projects of varying size — the idea being that pilot programs and smaller initiatives can kick off within the next few years, building momentum for larger projects in later decades.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, definitely,” said Erik Pearson, the environmental services manager for Hayward’s Public Works department. “This is something we can use as a guide.”

The approach is applauded by scientists and officials wrestling with the challenge of a future in which the old danger — developers wanting to fill in the bay — is replaced by the need to keep the bay from reclaiming the low-lying lands at its edge.

“The level of sophistication and thoughtfulness is rare,” said Jessica Fain, the head planner of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state agency created in 1967 to watch over the health of the bay. “There’s a range of solutions spelled out, and also a real dedication to pursuing them.”

This includes what potentially is the most controversial solution of all.

After it describes various natural methods to enhance and protect the shoreline, the plan devotes two pages to “managed retreat.” Or as Scape puts it, “a management strategy for retreating from vulnerable coastal areas” and “adapting to sea level rise over time.”

In one design scenario, Scape went so far as to study moving the Interpretive Center from the south end of the area, near Highway 92, to the top of one the hillocks that hide a former dump. Besides protecting the center from flooding, this option “maintains visibility of the structure and offers expansive views of the Bay.”

Al Mendall, who served on Hayward’s City Council from 2012 until last year, has been an advocate for Hayward’s planning efforts along its shoreline. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The final plan doesn’t include this move. But it emphasizes that if sea level rise matches current projections, the relocation of buildings and services “would likely be needed … long-term.”

That topic rarely is discussed, except in coastal areas that routinely flood or suffer dangerous levels of erosion. But Hayward officials inserted it deliberately.

“It’s important to mention that the concept exists” within the larger discussion, Pearson said. “At 4 feet, it doesn’t make sense to look at retreat. But at some point after that, it may be the best approach.”

Experts familiar with bay’s potential reach welcome the willingness of Hayward and the design team to acknowledge this.

“We need to stop thinking, ‘This is going to be here forever,’” said Letitia Grenier. She leads the resilient landscapes program at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, which advised Scape on the Hayward shoreline’s environment. “That’s not the way the world works. We need to learn to live with that.”

Will Travis, who was the executive director of the bay commission when it released its first sea level projections in 2007, has a similar view.

“The hard decisions will be what not to protect,” he said. “How you prioritize where to put your (limited) resources.”

The plan went to Hayward’s City Council on Feb. 16. It passed on a 5-0 vote.

Mendall, the former council member, was excited to see the council act in unison — and with no public opposition.

“We wanted something doable, not pie-in-the-sky,” he said. “It’s a tool for the next generation to preserve and protect the shoreline.”

An aerial view of the Hayward Regional Shoreline. In addition to restored marshes, it includes wastewater storage ponds and a field of solar panels. Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle



EDITING – Mark Lundgren

VISUALS – John Blanchard, Carlos Avila Gonzalez,
Guy Wathen, Alex K. Fong, Drawings animated in Mental Canvas


GIS DATA – BCDC (2017). Adapting To Rising Tides Bay Area Sea Level Rise Analysis & Mapping Project: SF Bay [spatial data file]. SF Bay Conservation and Development Commission

Andrés Soto letter: Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

Letter to the editor, The Benicia Herald
[Editor: Note that letters do not appear in the online edition of the Benicia Herald.  Andrés Soto lives in Benicia and is well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for his environmental justice advocacy and his mastery of the saxophone.  I particularly like Andrés’ focus on 19th century historical context.  – RS]

Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

By Andrés Soto, July 23, 2015

Dear Editor:

Andres Soto
Andrés Soto

The recent phenomenon of transporting dangerous, volatile Bakken Crude by rail has created an opportunity for the American people to learn the true motives of Big Oil and Big Rail and what we as impacted communities can do about it.

Continuing derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations have shined the light on the Profit At Any Cost attitude of Big Oil and Big Rail. These industries grew up together in the late 19th century and led to some of the most egregious periods of income inequality, corruption and social conflict in US history.

Now these industries are asking us to trust them and allow them to bring Bomb Trains through our communities, putting our town’s economic viability at risk for a short-term economic gain. Exploding trains all over North America tell us a different story and we are not fooled.

Currently, the Valero Crude By Rail Project and the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo Crude By Rail Project both put our town at risk for a catastrophe. Communities all over the country are standing up to oppose this high risk venture by Big Oil and Big Rail. Recently, the WesPAC Crude By Rail Project in Pittsburg, California removed the rail part of the project to make it a straight pipeline project.

Fracked Bakken Crude and strip mined Alberta Tar Sands Crude are just two of the Extreme Extracted Crude strategies by Big Oil to bring oil to market that would be better left in the ground. An intelligent global cooling plan to save our planet for future generations and all species requires the we leave the oil beneath the soil!.

Valero has already admitted it can and is bringing Extreme Crude in by barge to the Port of Benicia, thus it does not need the Valero Crude By Rail Project to be profitable. Therefore, it begs the question: Why would we, the people of Benicia, allow this project to proceed when it is just too dangerous?

Global warming is going to cause significant parts of Benicia to be underwater. Shouldn’t we be working on preventing that, rather than trying find ways to contribute to the problem?

We are the people of Benicia and our voices need to be heard! The Benicia Planning Commission and the Benicia City Council have a responsibility to listen to us and do what is in the best interests of ALL Benicians. Stop Valero’s Dangerous Crude By rail Project!!!

Andrés Soto
Benicia, CA

Palo Alto passes fossil fuel divestment resolution

Press Release from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA)

Interfaith Victory: Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution Passed

PALO ALTO, CA — February 9, 2014.

The City of Palo Alto, responding to concerns from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA), voted unanimously to send a message to CalPERS (California Statement Employee Retirement System), the national’s largest pension fund, to pull its investments out of fossil fuels.

Councilmembers Marc Berman, Patrick Burt, Karen Holman and Liz Kniss submitted the initial “Colleague’s Memo” in favor of divestment. “Climate change poses a top-tier threat to our future. Our obligation to address climate change through all avenues requires support from all sectors,” noted Council member Cory Wolbach. “I was inspired to see the passionate and effective work of these congregations collecting 152 signed letters on behalf of fossil fuel divestment.  Those letters, presented by a cross-denominational coalition, sent a very powerful moral statement.”

Eileen Altman is an associate minister at First Congregational Church in Palo Alto and a PICA member who spoke at the City Council meeting. “As Christians, we share a core set of values and concern for God’s gift of life, both human and all other life. Our investments should reflect our values.” said Rev. Altman. “This concern is not a liberal or conservative value, but is a Christian value. The US political system unproductively magnifies differences when Americans everywhere share 98% of the same values. Climate is about the future of our children and is especially about the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate is the biggest social justice issue of our time. From the pews in Palo Alto and throughout the United Church of Christ, the first denomination to pass a resolution to move toward divestment from fossil fuels (in 2013), we welcome the opportunity to respectfully dialogue about climate with churches in all regions of the country and across all party affiliations.”

While the call for fossil fuel divestment may have its strongest impact as a symbolic statement, it also has practical implications for the economic value of employee pensions, explained Debbie Mytels, convener of PICA, which comprises a dozen local congregations that submitted signed letters to the Council in favor of the divestment resolution.

“While we believe it’s a moral obligation to stop using the fossil fuels that are causing sea level rise, extreme weather events and drought-related crop losses,” Mytels said, “it’s also important to question how long investments in these companies will be financially valuable.”

“If we want to protect our employees’ pensions, we need to get CalPERS to pull out of dirty fuels before they become ‘stranded assets’.” said Mytels, citing a recent statement by Deutsche Bank in Germany that said  “to meet climate change targets, over half of identified fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.”

“While we are pleased with Palo Alto’s progress in becoming a city that supplies ‘carbon free’ electricity to its utility customers,” Mytels said, “we feel it’s time for our city to demonstrate further leadership by joining the call for divestment.”

“Thankfully, Palo Alto itself does not own any investment in fossil fuels of any sort — that’s all the more reason for the Council to consider the long-term safety of our employees’ CalPERS retirement assets,” she added.

Reverend Will Scott, from California Interfaith Power & Light (CIPL), noted that “CIPL and our growing statewide network of more than 640 congregations are grateful for the inspiring work of the Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action group, now a CIPL Regional Working Group. Their regular, committed, and personal engagement on the local level as people of diverse faiths concerned about the climate crisis, is a strong model for other regional working groups in our network. Indeed, they are exemplifying the sincere, collaborative, practical, rooted and creative community resiliency needed throughout the world to meet the seriousness of this global challenge. California Interfaith Power & Light is learning much from PICA’s practices and shared wisdom.”

Palo Alto now joins a growing group of California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Brisbane, Richmond, Fairfax, and Santa Monica in calling for dropping fossil fuels from employee pension funds. Sunnyvale may be the next city. Other regional agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is mandated to protect Silicon Valley citizens from floods, have also passed similar resolutions due to concerns about sea level rise.

In advance of Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13, 2015, Norway announced last week that it would drop coal and tar sands companies from its national investment portfolio. Similarly, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has made such a decision, along with 50 other philanthropic organizations. The divestment movement is also growing significantly among national faith-based groups, and nearby Stanford University has agreed to eliminate its holdings in coal companies. Today, California State Senate President Kevin de Leon introduced SB 185, directing CalPERs to divest coal fossil fuel investments.

For more information about PICA, see http://www.interfaithpower.org/pica and http://pica.nationbuilder.com/

City of Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution.

The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously in favor of divestment:  https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7FCQAAfghe.jpg

PICA members celebrate: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7JCIAAsuEF.jpg

For more information about the international fossil fuel divestment movement, see http://gofossilfree.org/