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With relatively little public notice, four Bay Area regional bureaucracies, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission have come together under the Orwellian sounding OneBayArea.org.

Planning for sea-level rise raises eyebrows

May 30, 2011

A regional agency tasked with managing environmental restoration and the built environment along the San Francisco Bay shoreline plans to adopt an updated sea-level-rise forecast this fall, but some agriculture and construction groups are concerned those predictions jeopardize major tourism and commerce thoroughfares as well as their properties. [read more]

Their charge is to develop a response to forecasts of a climate-change induced 55-inch rise in sea by the end of the century. The result is that these large regional organizations with could have enormous impact on limiting land use across hundreds of thousands of acres of prime Bay Area land.

Business is just now waking up to the potential impacts. For instance, consider one of the most extreme ideas floated: Abandon Highway 37 to the bay. No kidding.

That possibility is raised in a report entitled “Climate Change Hits Home” by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR.

In the report’s section on transportation, SPUR recommends public agencies “make decisions about what transportation infrastructure to protect, move, retrofit or abandon.”

SPUR suggests Highway 37 traffic in Sonoma County could be “shifted to Highway 121.” This is part of what SPUR calls “managed retreat.”

Such a “retreat” would, of course, be potentially devastating to landowners, wineries and other businesses dependent on Highway 37 as the primary way customers get to them.

But that is just the beginning. The Bay development commission’s proposed Bay Plan amendment would exert added control over 213,000 acres of the inner ring of the Bay Area, and much of it planned for development.  The area includes San Francisco International Airport and large swaths of land in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.

Business groups including the Building Industry Association, the Bay Area Council and the Bay Planning Coalition have strongly objected to the BCDC’s Bay Plan amendment on several grounds.

“The proposed regulations are of concern because they are being used by a segment of the Bay Area environmental community to advance an anti-development agenda of adaptive retreat from low-lying areas near the bay shoreline,” said Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for the Building Industry Association in San Francisco.

The plan, said Mr. Finnie, is a threat to local control over key land-use decisions such as where to build “infill residential development at a sufficient scale to meet the region’s current and future housing needs.”

Leaders from the building and trade councils around the Bay Area are organizing a coalition called Protect our Bayside Communities to address concerns about the Bay Plan amendment.

Mr. Finnie said the objectives of the group will be to assess the real threat posed by sea-level rise; encourage commitment to protecting existing and future development, and promoting private investment and public-private partnerships to raise the billions of dollars it will cost to respond to a change in sea level.

It is a big task. But so is the threat.

                                                                •••

Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com.

CORRECTION, June 2, 2011: An earlier version of this column said incorrectly that the BIA is leading the effort to form the Protect our Bayside Communities coalition.