Brechwald’s team must get buy-in from more than 40 cities and nine counties in the region, engage environmental justice communities and develop uniform sea level rise standards. The BCDC guidance will incorporate the state’s most up-to-date sea level rise models, which come out in the fall.
At the moment, preparing for rising seas is mostly a free-for-all. Counties, cities and developers are coming up with plans separately and not all to the same level of protection, which has created a patchwork of inconsistent zoning and differing interpretations of state law. Developers have been able to dodge regulations in places like Newark.
“We want to make sure we’re considering impacts on neighbors so that we don’t have this issue of one city behind a tall wall and everybody around it flooding,” said Brechwald.
Regardless of whether agency staff are able to expand BCDC’s mandate successfully, they will present a vision of what a climate-adapted Bay Area shoreline could become. But at this point, the participation of cities, counties, advocacy groups and agencies would be voluntary.
Brechwald acknowledged it takes a long time to gain consensus from local governments and residents who aren’t regularly considering the effects of sea level rise.
“The biggest challenge is ensuring that we’re not rushing so much, that our engagement seems cursory, or like we’re checking a box,” she said.
Centering environmental justice in their climate plans
Agency officials have created advisory groups of local elected officials and representatives from environmental justice communities. Some of the environmental justice advisers and consultants will draft an outreach strategy with the agency’s equity subcommittee in the coming months.
Phoenix Armenta, BCDC’s senior manager for climate equity and community engagement, works with at least six community organizations and hopes to grow that number.
“Getting down to the folks we consider to be front-line communities is one of the biggest challenges for us,” said Armenta, who took the job at BCDC after working as a regional resilience manager for the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, a prominent East Bay environmental justice organization.
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