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The Bay Area Neighborhoods Where Sea Level Rise Hits Hardest

Homeowners in East Palo Alto would be wise to take note

It’s time for another reminder that doom is coming, in the form of an ocean and bay that have patiently waited for centuries to swamp our fair city, this time from the San Francisco Chronicle, whose architecture critic John King today published an exhaustive study of the issue.

We’ve touched on this very issue ourselves, as entities both public and private ring alarms that sea level rise or even just particularly violent (and entirely inevitable) storms could cause everything from constant, low-level "nuisance flooding" that costs millions of dollars and renders some blocks nearly uninhabitable to a full-scale expansion of the bay that will permanently reclaim some parts of the city.

San Francisco doesn’t even have it the worst: Entire chunks of the East Bay and particularly the South Bay could vanish beneath the waves in 50 years. King’s story singles out a handful of particularly at-risk cites for consideration:

San Francisco: Right now, Mission Creek is just a small channel from the bay, exposed for less than 3,500 feet from Third Street to the end of Berry. But with a little bay rise added, it becomes an avenue for floods that could swamp a significant chunk of the waterfront during storms and high tides. Worse, there are waste holding tanks in the flood zone.

Oakland: The Oakland International Airport is right smack dab in one of the most vulnerable flood zones in the East Bay, encroached on by even one foot of sea rise, according to the climate science non-profit Climate Central. For that matter, it only takes two to four feet of bay ingress to imperil SFO.

East Palo Alto: Few cities on the bay are in such pronounced danger of calamity as East Palo Alto, where hundreds of people live only a few feet above sea level, shielded by levees that wouldn’t even stand up to a particularly robust storm.

Richmond: Unfortunately, Bay Area cities tend to have vital infrastructure facilities right on the water, either by necessity or poor planning. In the case of Richmond, it’s a wastewater treatment plant, which might soon be unable to drain itself during high tides.

Sonoma County: Low-lying Highway 37 passes right through the marshes of the San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuge. A five foot sea level rise could put nearly everything south of Lakeville and Sears Point underwater, cutting off road access between Novato and Vallejo.

Mill Valley: The bike path between Mill Valley and Sausalito that runs near Bothin Marsh could become regularly swamped and inaccessible after even a single foot of ocean creep.