A countywide effort to manage sea level rise is beginning to coalesce. In recent months, San Mateo County officials have taken steps to form a new government agency to address coastal erosion, flooding, storm water infrastructure and sea level rise. 

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Jan. 1 to help create the proposed Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency Agency. Six of the county’s 20 cities, including Half Moon Bay, have also pledged their support. 

By consolidating the county’s Flood Control District and Flood Resilience Program, and bringing city and county officials to the table, the agency would be equipped to launch new water infrastructure projects and foster coordination across jurisdictions. According to Erika Powell, manager for the county’s Flood Resilience Program, it would also better position the county to receive federal funds for addressing sea level rise. 

“We’re all planning and implementing projects individually, whether as a county or as cities,” said Powell. “We all have our challenges with the permitting agencies. And we’re not getting our fair share of grant funding from the state or federal agencies. This agency could help us leverage all of the knowledge and resources that we have.

“We have to start now,” she added. “Some of these projects are larger (initiatives) that are going to help us adapt to 2050 or 2100.” 

According to county officials, the threat of sea level rise looms large. A 2018 study found that by 2100, mid-level projections for sea level rise indicate that property with an assessed value of $34 billion located on both sides of the Peninsula would be under water. In addition, the same study stated that $932 million worth of property along the Coastside could be at risk from soil erosion. 

A 2017 study by the National Institute of Building Sciences estimated that each $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves an average of $6 in future disaster costs. 

Powell said that the proposal continues to build on the momentum of the water summit convened by the county and the City/County Association of Governments last month. At the summit, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier spoke of the need for a joint, countywide agency. 

“That was her call to action,” added Powell. 

The proposal is already making the rounds at city and town councils. At last week’s Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, all five council members voted to approve $25,000 worth of funding for three years to assist in startup costs for the agency. 

“I do not see how we could react to this without an intercity approach,” said Councilman Robert Brownstone. “Our culture tends to be more reactive, but we need to be proactive on this.” 

By April, county officials hope to have the approval of all cities in the jurisdiction before the process to form the agency goes to the Legislature. The amount each city is committed to providing is based on population. According to Powell, the agency would launch next January.

As part of the agency’s formation, a board of directors will be established with two members designated to represent the Coastside. One member will be either a representative from Pacifica or Half Moon Bay city governents and the other will be the county’s supervisor representing the Coastside.

“Our needs, issues and permitting are unique,” said Half Moon Bay Public Works Director John Doughty. “The bay is pretty predictable in terms of sea level rise; the open ocean on the coast is distinctive, with different wave action.”

“As a Coastsider, I believe it is incredibly important for the county to be as proactive as possible,” added Moss Beach resident Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, who is also a board member for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, “and (to mitigate) the impacts of accelerated climate change.” 

For more information, visit resilientsanmateo.org.

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