Charlie Blanchard and Michael Barnes, two former members on the Albany School Board, wrote the following opinion article on the waterfront issue. They warn about the risk of high tides flooding the Albany Waterfront and oppose using the city’s public funds to develop the land.
“As Albany residents,the two of us do not want our tax dollars spent to acquire and upgrade land for parks that will soon be submerged. And we certainly wouldn’t want to live there, either.”
The controversy surrounding the Albany waterfront is presented as a choice between two opposing positions — commercial development or parkland. But these two positions are not really so different. They are both models of development.
The supporters of both flavors of waterfront development are ignoring a painful environmental reality — the lifetime of the waterfront as we know it is will be measured in decades. By the end of the century, due to rising sea levels, the waterfront will most likely be a tidal basin.
There is a third position, one that is both environmentally sound and fiscally responsible. Do nothing and enjoy the waterfront just as it is. As Albany residents, the two of us do not want our tax dollars spent to acquire and upgrade land for parks that will soon enough be submerged. And we certainly wouldn’t want to live there, either.
On weekend of January 10––11, we headed down to the Albany waterfront to see the effects of the 7.4 foot high tides that occurred late in the mornings on both those days. We didn’t have to look far for evidence of flooding. The lower reaches of the parking lot already have traces of debris that have washed up onto the asphalt during winter storms.
We did some quick checking with simple homemade surveying equipment (we are happy to provide details for anyone interested in a science project) and a detailed contour map provided by the County of Alameda. We found that with one meter of sea level rise, most of the waterfront will be underwater at high tides, leaving the Albany bulb and the racetrack grandstands as islands.
We can conservatively expect one meter or more of sea level rise this century, as two articles in Science magazine point out (see issues of 9/5/2008 and 2/6/2009). The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) uses similar figures for its discussions of the coastal impacts of rising sea levels.
Rising sea levels will also bring bring increased risks of flooding during storms. According to the PPIC (California Coastal Management with a Changing Climate, Ellen Hanak and Georgina Moreno):
Within the San Francisco Estuary, which is protected from the most violent wave action, the incidence of coastal flooding is expected to increase considerably. Models indicate that a one-foot rise in sea level (likely by mid-century) would shift the 100-year storm surge-induced flood event to once every 10 years (Gleick and Maurer, 1990).
In addition to whopping insurance premiums, long-term commercial development of the waterfront will require landfill and levees — levees that must be expanded regularly as the sea level continues to rise. Sort of like New Orleans, but with earthquakes.
Alternatively, public funds could be used to acquire the land for parks. This possibility is the motivation behind the city council’s $600,000 visioning process. The inevitable rise in sea level suggests a much cheaper visioning process — envision the waterfront underwater, at least at high tides.
A grim long term fate awaits Albany. Climate change will bring more violent storms and the need to upgrade city infrastructure. Perhaps a few centuries from now, assuming the sea level rises by only 50 feet, the San Pablo corridor will be submerged, Albany hill will be an island, and students at Cornell elementary will be able to play in the bay during recess.
Let’s enjoy our funky, feral piece of waterfront land just the way it is while we still have the chance, and instead of using resources on a disappearing waterfront, let’s use them to begin planning for the painful changes to come.
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