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David Chiu seeks $250 million for SF seawall repair

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New bill would divert state funds toward looming $5 billion fix

The San Francisco waterfront. Photo by Ken Lund

State Assemblymember David Chiu gathered with other San Francisco lawmakers and officials at Pier 14 Monday to announce a bill he hopes will funnel roughly $250 million in tax revenue into repairing the aging, broken-down, earthquake-prone seawall that holds the bay back from the waterfront.

The bill, AB 2578, is a dense piece of work, reading in part:

Existing law authorizes the City and County of San Francisco to create infrastructure financing districts, including districts that include specified waterfront property, adopt infrastructure financing plans for those districts, and issue bonds financed by projected increases in ad valorem property taxes to fund certain public facilities.

Existing law specifies the types of projects a waterfront district may finance. This bill would make a nonsubstantive change to this provision relative to the types of projects a waterfront district may finance.

What that means, according to Chiu’s office, is that the bill will redirect property tax funds that would normally go to schools into a mechanism that will instead pay for seawall repairs.

But Chiu spokesperson Jennifer Kwart says “the money taken from the school gets backfilled by the state later,” calling it a “round robin” that diverts cash from a few different places for technical reasons.

Note that the projected $250 million would come in over the course of 45 years. Kwart notes that the final sum “could fluctuate based on property taxes.”

Speaking on Monday, Chiu said of the seawall, “We’re fortunate it’s lasted this long,” noting that it relies on weak soil and was designed with comparably archaic engineering standards.

Islais Creek Wharf in 1916.
SF Library

“With near certainty, the Big One will strike over the next three decades,” Chiu warned, saying the wall in its present condition won’t stand up to a 1906-level shake. The lawmaker also referring to the predicted sea level rise over the next 100 years. Both disasters could lead to drastic flooding if the wall doesn’t stand up.

The San Francisco Port Commission issued a 2016 report on the dire state of the wall. The 100-plus-year-old structure is made up mainly of landfill, a 100-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep trench filled with rocks and rubble resulting in a “pyramid-shaped dike up to 40 feet tall, capped with a bulkhead wall that holds waters back.

Chiu’s quarter million is one of several pending plans for financing retrofits and repairs. Which is good, since the Port anticipates the final cost will be somewhere in the ballpark of $5 billion.