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Map: How to fix nine Bay Area spots in danger of sea-level rise

Resilient by Design challenge yields proposals for new parks, new wetlands, and elevated highways

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Friday marks the end of a two-day summit in Alameda capping off a yearlong search for design and engineering solutions to the creeping threat of sea-level rise and chronic flooding in the Bay Area.

Dubbed the “Resilient By Design Challenge,” the essay into possible solutions for soon-to-be problems tapped “designers, architects, artists, engineers, scientists, communities, [and] students” to brainstorm challenges in some of the Bay Area’s lowest-lying and most vulnerable locales.

The results, revealed Thursday by participating teams composed of various firms and community groups in partnership, are wildly ambitious but still present plausible fixes as the waters creep in.

Here’s how seven of the trouble spots considered might be plucked from the insurgent tides, if and when the time comes.

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1. State Route 37

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The Problem: “State Route 37, a low-lying commute route that skirts the northern edge of San Pablo Bay, is both traffic-choked and increasingly flooded due to sea-level rise. [...] The UC Davis Road Ecology Center has observed, ‘the highway has the dubious distinction of constricting both traffic and tidal flows.’”

The Solution: “The project proposes to resolve the transportation problem of Highway 37 by designing a scenic causeway elevated on columns 20 feet high, allowing tidal flows and marsh migration to return to a natural condition.

The Team: Common Ground Design

Common Ground Design

2. San Rafael

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The Problem: “The city is threatened by flooding today. It is also threatened by the old paradigm of mono functional infrastructure.”

The Solution: “For good, practical, and humane reasons, the easiest solution for the complex pattern of urbanism and coastal dynamics in San Rafael would be to gate off its creek, raise the levees, and proceed with life as it is known today.

“‘Elevate San Rafael’ proposes that the city gradually shift resources away from the current pump and levy system and reduce the perimeter that it maintains for risk reduction. Paired with programs for upgrades to floodable buildings, acquisition of property for infrastructure protection, and equitable housing, the strategy proposes to build a city-scale apparatus of green infrastructure that would elevate life in San Rafael.”

The Team: Bionic Team

BionicTeam

3. North Richmond

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The Problem: “North Richmond lies in a topographic bowl and some of the lowest lying areas of the neighborhood are kept dry from stormwater flooding by a county-owned pump that deposits millions of gallons of urban runoff into the Bay, even during the dry season. This critical piece of infrastructure lies within the sea-level rise zone, is reaching the end of its functional lifespan, and currently serves as a stop-gap.”

The Solution: “A horizontal levee and muted marshland can protect the neighborhood, the West County Wastewater facility, the Richmond Parkway and co-exist with the warehouse uses that are providing local jobs. The levee and muted marsh strategies support a ‘transition zone’ where sediment can slowly gather and rise to grow valuable marsh habitat that will continue to filter and support the largest eelgrass bed in the Bay area, oyster beds and bird migration paths.”

The Team: The Home Team

Home Team

4. Marin City

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The Problem: “Marin City’s a bowl at the base of the watershed. [...] Deeply eroded gullies, severely paved culverts, and inadequately sized pipes drain the watershed causing chronic serious flooding events. Sediment and debris often clog this infrastructure and have silted the only retention basin exacerbating the problem.”

The Solution: “Rather than only site specific, element and component-based designs, P+SET proposed [...] a social design process which builds community capacity and ecoliteracy to address the challenges of coastal adaptation and resilience planning, especially in vulnerable communities experiencing generations of marginalization and exclusion.

“This capacity building program in Marin City [resulted] in an incipient People’s Plan to authentically reflect aspirations and intentions of the resident community of place. An intergenerational cohort expanded existing knowledge for assessing and addressing risks and developing near and long term strategies with a prioritized set of projects to be immediately phased into partial implementation this summer.”

The Team: P+SET

P+SET

5. Oakland Coliseum

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7000 Coliseum Way
Oakland, CA 94621
(510) 569-2121
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The Problem: “Many miles of road infrastructure already experience flooding during high-tide and king-tide events. Research on flooding at the Oakland Coliseum site reveals rising sea-levels are likely to cause problems first through the lower reaches of local creeks and then spreading out of the creek channels near I-880. [...] The Oakland Coliseum site and land to the north and south have a shallow water table, increasing the risk of groundwater flooding.”

The Solution: “Through the construction of ponds, landforms, and expanded streams, the communities of Deep East Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro will not only be able to adapt to sea-level rise and groundwater flooding, but will also have a network of flourishing greenways to enjoy for generations to come.”

The Team: All Bay Collective

6. Islais Creek

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Islais Creek
San Francisco, CA 94124

The Problem: “Today, the basin of Islais Creek—a historic watershed-turned-industrial district in San Francisco, built on rubble from the 1906 earthquake—is at risk from coastal and storm water flooding, as well as liquefaction.”

The Solution: “A large park with a restored tidal creek system and soft shoreline. [...] It retains, conveys and cleans water, protects the surrounding neighborhoods, and provides amenities and benefits to the community. [...] The central element of Islais Hyper-Creek is a naturalized creek, its restored watershed absorbing millions of gallons of stormwater annually while providing multi-level ecosystem benefits.”

The Team: Bjarke Ingels Group + ONE+ Sherwood

BIG + ONE + Sherwood.

7. Colma Creek

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The Problem: “Over the last half-century, residents in South San Francisco have lost their historic connection to the water. Parts of the community suffer from flooding and have limited access to a shoreline blocked by industry. And, like the entire Bay Area, San Mateo County is at risk from sea-level rise and seismic events.”

The Solution: “To create more public green space and continuous public access along South San Francisco’s Colma Creek, aiming to reduce the impacts of flooding, mitigate against sea-level rise vulnerability, restore native flora and fauna, and create more amenity and healthy lifestyle opportunities by connecting a continuous public corridor from Orange Memorial Park to a new public park at the shoreline.”

The Team: HASSELL

HASSELL

8. Alameda Creek

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Alameda Creek Trail
Fremont, CA

The Problem: “The Bay Area’s tidal ecosystems—its marshes, mudflats—are at risk. These systems require sediment to grow vertically in response to sea-level rise – without sediment, our bay lands will drown, [which] threatens ecosystems, recreational landscapes, and places hundreds of thousands of residents and the region’s critical drinking water, energy, and transportation systems at risk.”

The Solution: “To bring sediment to the baylands, we look upstream to Alameda Creek, the largest local tributary that feeds the Bay. Our proposal aims to redesign this waterbody to create functional systems that sustainably transport sediment, engage people, and provide habitat for anadromous fish.”

The Team: Public Sediment

Public Sediment

9. East Palo Alto

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The Problem: “The South Bay and Silicon Valley include some of the lowest-lying and most vulnerable communities to sea level rise in the Bay Area, and at the same time are growing rapidly without big plans for increasing housing, transit connectivity, or cooperation between jurisdictions.”

The Solution: “[The] project proposes new framework for cooperation and coordination across jurisdictions in the South Bay. Each municipality would enter a collaborative agreement to define how the region messages, deliberates, prioritizes, acquires funds and implements [...] projects. The framework may take the form of a Special District - The South Bay Multi-Benefit Resiliency District - whereby a host of funding mechanisms become feasible.”

The Team: Field Operations Team.

Courtesy Field Operations

1. State Route 37

California
Common Ground Design

The Problem: “State Route 37, a low-lying commute route that skirts the northern edge of San Pablo Bay, is both traffic-choked and increasingly flooded due to sea-level rise. [...] The UC Davis Road Ecology Center has observed, ‘the highway has the dubious distinction of constricting both traffic and tidal flows.’”

The Solution: “The project proposes to resolve the transportation problem of Highway 37 by designing a scenic causeway elevated on columns 20 feet high, allowing tidal flows and marsh migration to return to a natural condition.

The Team: Common Ground Design

2. San Rafael

San Rafael, CA
BionicTeam

The Problem: “The city is threatened by flooding today. It is also threatened by the old paradigm of mono functional infrastructure.”

The Solution: “For good, practical, and humane reasons, the easiest solution for the complex pattern of urbanism and coastal dynamics in San Rafael would be to gate off its creek, raise the levees, and proceed with life as it is known today.

“‘Elevate San Rafael’ proposes that the city gradually shift resources away from the current pump and levy system and reduce the perimeter that it maintains for risk reduction. Paired with programs for upgrades to floodable buildings, acquisition of property for infrastructure protection, and equitable housing, the strategy proposes to build a city-scale apparatus of green infrastructure that would elevate life in San Rafael.”

The Team: Bionic Team

3. North Richmond

North Richmond, CA 94801
Home Team

The Problem: “North Richmond lies in a topographic bowl and some of the lowest lying areas of the neighborhood are kept dry from stormwater flooding by a county-owned pump that deposits millions of gallons of urban runoff into the Bay, even during the dry season. This critical piece of infrastructure lies within the sea-level rise zone, is reaching the end of its functional lifespan, and currently serves as a stop-gap.”

The Solution: “A horizontal levee and muted marshland can protect the neighborhood, the West County Wastewater facility, the Richmond Parkway and co-exist with the warehouse uses that are providing local jobs. The levee and muted marsh strategies support a ‘transition zone’ where sediment can slowly gather and rise to grow valuable marsh habitat that will continue to filter and support the largest eelgrass bed in the Bay area, oyster beds and bird migration paths.”

The Team: The Home Team

4. Marin City

Marin City, CA 94965
P+SET

The Problem: “Marin City’s a bowl at the base of the watershed. [...] Deeply eroded gullies, severely paved culverts, and inadequately sized pipes drain the watershed causing chronic serious flooding events. Sediment and debris often clog this infrastructure and have silted the only retention basin exacerbating the problem.”

The Solution: “Rather than only site specific, element and component-based designs, P+SET proposed [...] a social design process which builds community capacity and ecoliteracy to address the challenges of coastal adaptation and resilience planning, especially in vulnerable communities experiencing generations of marginalization and exclusion.

“This capacity building program in Marin City [resulted] in an incipient People’s Plan to authentically reflect aspirations and intentions of the resident community of place. An intergenerational cohort expanded existing knowledge for assessing and addressing risks and developing near and long term strategies with a prioritized set of projects to be immediately phased into partial implementation this summer.”

The Team: P+SET

5. Oakland Coliseum

7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621

The Problem: “Many miles of road infrastructure already experience flooding during high-tide and king-tide events. Research on flooding at the Oakland Coliseum site reveals rising sea-levels are likely to cause problems first through the lower reaches of local creeks and then spreading out of the creek channels near I-880. [...] The Oakland Coliseum site and land to the north and south have a shallow water table, increasing the risk of groundwater flooding.”

The Solution: “Through the construction of ponds, landforms, and expanded streams, the communities of Deep East Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro will not only be able to adapt to sea-level rise and groundwater flooding, but will also have a network of flourishing greenways to enjoy for generations to come.”

The Team: All Bay Collective

7000 Coliseum Way
Oakland, CA 94621

6. Islais Creek

Islais Creek, San Francisco, CA 94124
BIG + ONE + Sherwood.

The Problem: “Today, the basin of Islais Creek—a historic watershed-turned-industrial district in San Francisco, built on rubble from the 1906 earthquake—is at risk from coastal and storm water flooding, as well as liquefaction.”

The Solution: “A large park with a restored tidal creek system and soft shoreline. [...] It retains, conveys and cleans water, protects the surrounding neighborhoods, and provides amenities and benefits to the community. [...] The central element of Islais Hyper-Creek is a naturalized creek, its restored watershed absorbing millions of gallons of stormwater annually while providing multi-level ecosystem benefits.”

The Team: Bjarke Ingels Group + ONE+ Sherwood

Islais Creek
San Francisco, CA 94124

7. Colma Creek

Colma Creek, California 94080
HASSELL

The Problem: “Over the last half-century, residents in South San Francisco have lost their historic connection to the water. Parts of the community suffer from flooding and have limited access to a shoreline blocked by industry. And, like the entire Bay Area, San Mateo County is at risk from sea-level rise and seismic events.”

The Solution: “To create more public green space and continuous public access along South San Francisco’s Colma Creek, aiming to reduce the impacts of flooding, mitigate against sea-level rise vulnerability, restore native flora and fauna, and create more amenity and healthy lifestyle opportunities by connecting a continuous public corridor from Orange Memorial Park to a new public park at the shoreline.”

The Team: HASSELL

8. Alameda Creek

Alameda Creek Trail, Fremont, CA
Public Sediment

The Problem: “The Bay Area’s tidal ecosystems—its marshes, mudflats—are at risk. These systems require sediment to grow vertically in response to sea-level rise – without sediment, our bay lands will drown, [which] threatens ecosystems, recreational landscapes, and places hundreds of thousands of residents and the region’s critical drinking water, energy, and transportation systems at risk.”

The Solution: “To bring sediment to the baylands, we look upstream to Alameda Creek, the largest local tributary that feeds the Bay. Our proposal aims to redesign this waterbody to create functional systems that sustainably transport sediment, engage people, and provide habitat for anadromous fish.”

The Team: Public Sediment

Alameda Creek Trail
Fremont, CA

9. East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto, CA
Courtesy Field Operations

The Problem: “The South Bay and Silicon Valley include some of the lowest-lying and most vulnerable communities to sea level rise in the Bay Area, and at the same time are growing rapidly without big plans for increasing housing, transit connectivity, or cooperation between jurisdictions.”

The Solution: “[The] project proposes new framework for cooperation and coordination across jurisdictions in the South Bay. Each municipality would enter a collaborative agreement to define how the region messages, deliberates, prioritizes, acquires funds and implements [...] projects. The framework may take the form of a Special District - The South Bay Multi-Benefit Resiliency District - whereby a host of funding mechanisms become feasible.”

The Team: Field Operations Team.