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Proposed Assembly bill seeks to create planning database for sea level rise

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Assembly Bill 2516 would create a Planning for Sea Level Rise Database to help prevent agencies from “reinventing the wheel” when studying rising sea levels. - MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/2011 AP PHOTO
  • MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/2011 AP PHOTO
  • Assembly Bill 2516 would create a Planning for Sea Level Rise Database to help prevent agencies from “reinventing the wheel” when studying rising sea levels.

Arguing that state agencies have not done enough planning to respond to rising sea levels, Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, has introduced legislation that would establish a database of planning efforts for sea level rise in California.

Assembly Bill 2516 would require state and local agencies responding to the anticipated rise in sea levels to contribute monthly reports to the Planning for Sea Level Rise Database, which would be maintained by the California Natural Resources Agency.

The legislation seeks to address needs identified during a series of hearings held around the state by the Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy, which Gordon chairs. In addition to helping address the need for more and better planning, Gordon said the database would enable the various responding agencies to pool their knowledge, benefit from each other's findings and avoid duplicating existing research.

Gordon said he expects the cost of implementing the database will be minimal, and noted that the California Natural Resources Agency already has a "robust" Web page that will make the database accessible to the general public and concerned agencies. The assemblyman believes the reporting requirement placed upon agencies would not unduly burden them.

"We're not asking for any new reports or studies," Gordon said. "These are all studies that are already being conducted."

San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said the database will promote the replication of projects proven to work, while at the same time preventing agencies from "reinventing the wheel" by enabling them to review the outcomes of existing projects focused on sea level rise.

One example where agencies could apply information from the database, according to Pine, is Adapting to Rising Tides, a study conducted by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center. That study, which looked at threats to Alameda County's shoreline from Emeryville to Union City, generated a portfolio of possible actions that might help the county adapt to rising sea levels. Pine said many of those mitigation strategies are readily transferable to other Bay Area projects, such as the SFO/San Bruno Creek/Colma Creek Resilience Study, which seeks to protect flood-prone neighborhoods and infrastructure adjacent to San Francisco International Airport.

Another example Pine cited was the multi-jurisdictional effort to restore the San Francisquito Creek watershed and protect it from the type of severe flooding it received in 1998, which affected parts of East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In response, the Joint Powers Authority overseeing the project built unconventional horizontal levees and incorporated wetlands restoration into its flood-control strategy. Pine said other agencies could benefit from what the Joint Powers Authority learned from the project.

"In general, I don't think local government agencies are good at sharing their best practices," Pine said. "This bill would require them to do so."

Accessing the database could be a useful tool for agencies, Pine believes, because the centralized information would enable them to streamline their processes and reduce costs.

While SFO would be subject to the bill's reporting requirement, the airport currently shares data and expertise with organizations responding to sea level rise impacts, according to a spokesman.

SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said he couldn't comment on pending legislation, but welcomed any opportunity for the airport's efforts to be better integrated with those of other agencies.

"Anything that allows collaboration and helps us to work with our neighbors is a good thing," Yakel said.

California Natural Resources Agency spokesman Clark Blanchard said his organization could not comment on pending legislation.