Islais Creek Planning Process Continues at a Trickle

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More than a year after planning efforts began, municipal officials and advocates have determined that the Islais Creek Adaption Strategy should include a comprehensive vision for how the watershed can best serve nearby residents, workers and businesses, as well as address ways to manage increasing flood risks. Bayview and the Southern Waterfront are especially vulnerable to sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

“The goal is for the City to have a framework to make infrastructure decisions into the next century,” said Robin Abad-Ocubillo, San Francisco Planning Department senior planner and urban designer. “We are really asking people to think not only about what should happen in the next 10 to 30 years but 60 years or 100 years even. What could or should that look like?”

Looming over any waterfront discussion is the expectation of greater incidences of floods, storm surges and extreme precipitation.

“We know that these are all factors that are going to impact our City but especially impact this geography because this geography was once a huge swampy marsh land that is now low-lying industrial land,” said Abad-Ocubillo.

San Francisco is predicted to encounter a three-foot rise in sea levels by 2100, according to a model developed by the National Research Council (NRC), a division of the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC analysis forecasts a six-inch sea level rise by 2030; 11-inches by 2050. However, if greenhouse gas emissions and ice melting accelerate beyond current projections, those numbers could double. The California Ocean Protection Council estimates that a four feet sea level rise is likely by 2100, with an upper range closer to seven feet. 

The Islais Creek study is funded through a $391,000 California Department of Transportation grant that focuses on examining how sea levels will likely affect transportation infrastructure. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency operates a bus facility and light rail vehicle yard adjacent to the Creek. Interstate-280 borders it the west. Nearby Piers 80 and 90-96 are shipping destinations.

According to Abad-Ocubillo, identifying strategies to water-proof infrastructure is a key part of the plan but so too is developing a long-term land use vision.

“While we are coming up with plans to make our transportation facilities, our bus yards, our rail yard and our maintenance facilities more resilient we can also be looking at recreation and open space, eco-system function, environment and habitat,” he explained. “This building typography of tilt-up one-story warehouses has been the same for many, many decades,” he said. While they have served the area well over the last century, are they as ideal for the next?

In addition to transportation, planners have cited four other areas to examine: community and social equity; governance; environment; and economy. These topics were identified by various City agencies after three public meetings and two online surveys. Governance refers to creating transparency throughout the planning phase. The other themes center on supporting public and eco-system health, as well as a vibrant equitable local economy. At the public workshops attendees supported encouraging mixed-income housing as a means to foster neighborhood character and diversity and improving access to open space along the shoreline.

“One thing striking is the activism that is already happening in the Bayview,” said Abad-Ocubillo. “The Bayview community has been working on sustainability and resiliency issues for a long time.”

Much of the public input reflected familiar District 10 concerns. Some advocates want to improve transportation options, by extending ferry service to San Francisco’s southern ports. Others expressed anxiety about industrially contaminated water and soil, and the erosion of African American culture in Bayview.

Difficulties in obtaining public input during shelter-in-place has delayed work on the strategy. Municipal officials hope that the next public workshop can be held in August, which would enable the plan to be completed by next summer.

The Islais Creek Adaptation Strategy is one of three projects focusing on climate hazards in the Eastern Neighborhoods. The Army Corps of Engineers and Port of San Francisco are in the midst of a three-year study examining flood risks from Fisherman’s Wharf to Heron’s Head Park. The Port is conducting a Southern Waterfront Assessment to address gaps in planning strategies.