Blogging Bayport Alameda

November 19, 2013

Sea level-headed

Filed under: Alameda, Alameda Point, City Council, Development — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

There are a few topics out there that I know are really important, but one that I don’t feel I can write abut with any authority probably because as important as I know that it is, the subject makes me a little cross-eyed at time.   So, instead of me attempting to slog through it, John Knox White has shared this letter that he sent to the City Council on the issue of sea level rise and Alameda Point.   So here it, it should be very informative as to the discussion around how to plan for sea level rise at Alameda Point.   The letter is directed at the City Council, just in time for tonight’s meeting:

At Tuesday night’s meeting (11/19), your agenda presents a discussion on sea level rise that came to the Planning Board last week. At our meeting, members of the Board praised the science and data the city staff has chosen to determine predictions for future impacts at Alameda Point. The presentation does a great job of showing that the planning for Alameda Point is relying on solid climate science that is in line with current assumptions.

At that same meeting, a majority of the Board, 2/3 of the members in attendance, also questioned whether the city was using the right timeframe for mitigations from sea level rise. Staff is currently proposing to use a 37-year time horizon for initial sea level rise mitigation. As such, it is likely that some amount of Alameda Point will be built with less than 30 years before the next round of sea level protection must be built. New homeowners will not have paid off their first mortgage before the shoreline around the entire area will need to be dug up and replaced with a higher wall at immense cost and disruption.

As was mentioned the last time the Master Infrastructure Plan was presented to the council, to date our city has not discussed what the right sea level rise timeframe is for planning at Alameda Point. There are significant moral issues involved in this determination, including: if a new community is to be built at the Point, is less than 35 years enough of a buffer for protecting it?

It was unclear at the Planning Board whether this determination is just going to move forward without discussion. Unfortunately, the presentation you are receiving does not include the information that would allow Alamedans, our council or city staff to make such a determination.

But it does not mention that the most recent IPCC report, released in Sept 2013, found that sea levels were projected to rise 50% faster than 2007’s version of the report did. Additionally, that sea level rise projections are greater than they were expected to be six years ago.

It is clear that the climate science and modeling is still catching up with this issue, there are significant inputs that are still not included in the models. Every revision that has been made has been in the direction of greater impacts. In fact, climate scientists expect this to continue as new externalities are integrated into the modeling.

In this discussion, there are many trade-offs. Raising the initial mitigation height will increase upfront costs for development. But it will also lower costs for ongoing fees needed to build subsequent mitigations by spreading them over a longer turn. This will reduce the risk to the city’s finances as the city is more able to develop enough of the base to cover these additional fees.

What’s the worst that could happen? Building six inches higher on day one may be unnecessary in 50 years, but it will still likely be needed in 100. These are considerations that should be vetted and discussed, not brushed off as inconvenient to moving forward.

These trade-offs are important, they will have large impacts on the community that is built at Alameda Point, and could have significant repercussions for existing residents and businesses. At the very least, it is a discussion that deserves to be had publicly and openly, with a final determination made intentionally. Not because the year 2050 was an actual 50 year time horizon back when the first versions of these projections were made. In fact, staff reports earlier this year referred to 2050 as a 50 year time horizon.

As our elected policy-makers, you should determine the best time-horizon based on analysis that allows you to protect new residents and businesses appropriately, supports reasonable development and can be financed in a way that does not risk the city’s general fund. To do this, data and analysis is needed.

It’s my hope that Tuesday night, you will give direction to staff to bring a discussion on sea level time and time-horizons to you and any boards/commissions you feel are appropriate. In doing so, we can ensure that our development plans moving forward based on policies that have been made mindfully after a meaningful discussion of the key issues and tradeoffs.

And a few resources from the footnote of the letter:

“This is perhaps the biggest change over the 4th IPCC report: a much more rapid sea-level rise is now projected (28-97 cm by 2100). This is more than 50% higher than the old projections (18-59 cm) when comparing the same emission scenarios and time periods.”


“Many developments are now considered to be more urgent than in the fourth IPCC report, released in 2007. That the IPCC often needs to correct itself “upward” is an illustration of the fact that it tends to produce very cautious and conservative statements, due to its consensus structure – the IPCC statements form a kind of lowest common denominator on which many researchers can agree. TheNew York Times has given some examples for the IPCC “bending over backward to be scientifically conservative”. Despite or perhaps even because of this conservatism, IPCC reports are extremely valuable – as long as one is aware of it.” [JKW editorial: “cautious” and “conservative” mean “downplaying” impacts, not choosing greater ones]

“The range up to 98 cm is the IPCC’s “likely” range, i.e. the risk of exceeding 98 cm is considered to be 17%, and IPCC adds in the SPM that “several tenths of a meter of sea level rise during the 21st century” could be added to this if a collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice sheet is initiated. It is thus clear that a meter is not the upper limit.

It is one of the fundamental philosophical problems with IPCC (causing much debate already in conjunction with the 4th report) that it refuses to provide an upper limit for sea-level rise, unlike other assessments (e.g. the sea-level rise scenarios of NOAA (which we discussed here) or the guidelines of the US Army Corps of Engineers). This would be an important part of assessing the risk of climate change, which is the IPCC’s role (**). Anders Levermann (one of the lead authors of the IPCC sea level chapter) describes it thus:

In the latest assessment report of the IPCC we did not provide such an upper limit, but we allow the creative reader to construct it. The likely range of sea level rise in 2100 for the highest climate change scenario is 52 to 98 centimeters (20 to 38 inches.). However, the report notes that should sectors of the marine-based ice sheets of Antarctic collapse, sea level could rise by an additional several tenths of a meter during the 21st century. Thus, looking at the upper value of the likely range, you end up with an estimate for the upper limit between 1.2 meters and, say, 1.5 meters. That is the upper limit of global mean sea-level that coastal protection might need for the coming century.”

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  1. The JKW letter cautions that if we don’t plan for the worst (based on possibilities, not “cautious” and “conservative” estimates), “the shoreline around the entire area will need to be dug up and replaced with a higher wall at immense cost and disruption.” I’m not sure that anything will need to be dug up. What I got from the presentations (live and online) is that various berms/levees are designed to allow capping. Nevertheless, it’s still an important point – why not make the levees higher from the get-go? It certainly would be cheaper today than 30 years from now, and it would raise the confidence level for current and future landowners. It would also incorporate real-world infrastructure pricing starting today as the JKW letter suggests.

    A side note of perhaps irony or “oddities of military base reuse:” While the city is planning levees to keep water out, the VA is not worried at all about keeping water out. Because they are dealing with a blank slate, there’s nothing to save, so they are going up. When their clinic and offices are completed, they will be over 13 feet above Mean Sea Level and able to withstand a tsunami at high tide with elevated sea level. The cemetery will be over 12 feet above msl.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — November 19, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  2. 30 to 50 years from now I will be one of the oldest man in California if not the world , do I care if bay point by then has become the little mermaid theme park , clearly no .

    Comment by Richard — November 19, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  3. I saw this morning that they have installed two charging stations for electric cars at Southshore in front of the Dry Cleaners near Starbucks.

    Comment by frank — November 19, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  4. I think we should require that any new homes be built as functional houseboats. When the waters rise, they’re ready to go with the flow, not requiring significant city expenditures now and perhaps requiring just a special user tax for docks or water taxis as the bay slowly reclaims its former natural contours.

    Comment by Jack Mingo — November 19, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  5. I’m not going to go back and search the broadcast to be precise about it , but I welcome the reassurance, as articulated at the Planning Board mtg., that Sea Level Rise is a statewide & national level problem that Alameda should not and will not be addressing alone. it is not a “significant moral issue” that Alameda should somehow be feeling guilty about not spending enough money to protect future generations from. If it is, why not go all in and worry about the Meteor that is going to land in the Pacific Ocean, sending a splash that is expected to wipe out most Pacific Coast Real estate?
    California cities are going Bankrupt, and pushing too many individual city expenditures toward Sea Level Rise mitigation does not help. Prevent Bankruptcy now, not Sea Level Rise later.

    Comment by vigi — November 19, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

  6. As illustrated in the Arcadia picture book: “Alameda Naval Air Station” by WT Larkins & the Alameda Naval Air Museum; on page 32: On January 9, 1970, after a high tide of 7.3 feet and a 30 knot wind, there was an impressive flood at the Main Gate. It is logical to assume that after this event, the Navy did something to prevent future such happenings. Anyone know more about this? Might be more useful to discuss …

    Chicken Little Past: “The sky is falling!” v. Chicken Little Present: “The sea level is rising!”.

    Comment by vigi — November 19, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

  7. I remember that well and the Navy did do something to prevent future such happenings. They limited the number of ships that could dock at the base which reduced the water level of the Bay considerably. Plus they encouraged more fishing so the extra water could use the space vacated by the fish.

    Comment by Jack Richard (in solidarity) — November 19, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

  8. IPCC + computer climate models = 80% failure rate. So how much is this religious reliance on bullshit gonna cost and who gets the money? Stay tuned…

    Comment by Lavage10 — November 19, 2013 @ 8:47 pm

  9. Couple of comments I ran across are kinda germane to this thread and that perhaps future residents of the NAS may want to ponder.

    [NASalameda] #1658: Radium-impacted drain line becomes a regulatory/cleanup headache | Alameda Point Environmental Report

    I worked on the A6 line during the 1989 earthquake. During the clean up, some hazmat team was there to test the water that came into the hanger from cracks in the floor. I went to stick my hand in the hole to see how far down the water was and one of them came running over to me yelling “stop! stop!” When I asked him why he said the water was so contaminated, he was afraid of what could happen to me if I touched it with bare hands, and that he was not allowed to give more details about it.

    Tracy Pineiro

    On Saturday, October 5, 2013 6:27 AM, C. Garry Dedrick

    Good morning Carol,
    My name is Garry Dedrick.
    This is the first time I’ve written, though I do read quite a bit from this site.
    I was hired in 1972 at Alameda Air Rework Facility, NARF, and later named NADEP . I ultimately attained the position as foreman in 3000 Division.
    One year during Christmas vacation, there was idea to shoring up the hangar deck in Building 400. The idea was to pump concrete under the deck to stabilize it from sagging. That stabilization effort began and continued for two weeks. As soon as one concrete pumper truck emptied, another was taking it’s place and began emptying it’s load. It was a continuous procession. At the end of two weeks there was no sign there was ever any concert pumped under the hanger floor. All that concrete went somewhere but it wasn’t under the hangar deck. The effort ended and was a failure. There was never a solution to the original problem of a sagging hanger floor.
    The Base is built on wetlands/marsh. In that type of ecosystem, the ground is so saturated, that the water actually migrates in the soil/sand mixture. Water flows and acts as a very slow current. Any contaminates would likely migrate just like the moisture and or concrete. Over 50 years of contamination has spread from the original point of contamination to who knows where. It will never be fixed, not because we don’t care or want to clean it up, but because the clean-up is impossible.
    Radioactive material, strippers, acid, solvents… There is a large problem at the Alameda site. and won’t be fixed with a new drain pipe.

    Comment by Jack Richard — November 24, 2013 @ 10:24 am

  10. It saddens me that so many of the Alamedans commenting here do not care that their city might be underwater by 2100. Sea level rise has already occurred and is clearly documented using satellite measurements that confirm tide gauge readings. As for future rise, if the IPCC has been wrong about anything, it’s that they completely underestimated the rapid melt of the Arctic and, more importantly for sea level rise, the rapid melt of Arctic, Greenland and Antarctic land ice. They’ve underestimated how fast sea level will rise. The IPCC predictions in the 2013 report are considered by most scientists to be conservative estimates. The melting of the ice sheets in West Antarctica is accelerating. Just yesterday, at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in San Francisco, it was reported how the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf will likely fall apart during the next warm summer. I don’t care if won’t be until after I’m dead that my house is underwater, it greatly saddens me to think of Alameda and its culture and architecture destroyed. Don’t forget that long before it comes close to that point insurance companies will increase rates or completely drop coverage. I’m doing what I can to fight climate change. We should all be pushing the city to do much more, including decreasing Alameda’s emissions, forcing new construction to be built according to the projected rise, and starting on adaptation measures for existing areas.

    Comment by Maggie Scott — December 13, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

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