Richmond seeks help planning for foot of sea rise that will hit its long shoreline
on November 30, 2023
Looking inward from the tip of Point Pinole, it is hard to imagine that much of the gradually sloping expanse that is Richmond’s 32-mile shoreline could someday be transformed into a bulwark against global sea level rise.
In September, the city issued a request for proposals from contractors to author a strategic document that could guide Richmond’s response to the foot or so of ocean water expected to inundate coastal cities the world over.
In addition to requiring a detailed study of how sea level rise will affect Richmond’s coast and determining specific areas for levees and seawalls, the request calls for an inventory of toxic sites in the area — long a talking point among city council members.
Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who has been the driving force behind the RFP, said Richmond is taking cues from a similar plan developed by Hayward. That 240-page document lays out detailed “what-ifs” based on various sea level rise scenarios and lists a slew of strategies such as gently sloping to mitigate the effects.
“A whole section of that plan dealt with nature-based solutions, like ecotone levees and marsh restoration projects,” McLaughlin said. “I was really impressed with that.”
Proposals for Richmond’s plan were due Oct. 30. The city plans to select the winning contractor by the end of the year, following a public hearing process, according to city documents. The project budget is $250,000, which covers the year of work anticipated.
The request for proposals comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law this year mandating coastal cities to develop plans that specifically address sea level rise.
City maps of the area to be studied include much of Richmond’s shoreline but notably exclude the Port of Richmond and the strip of coast where Chevron’s Richmond Refinery sits. Port infrastructure will be considered under a separate plan developed by the city.
McLaughlin says the City Council plans to introduce an ordinance that will require private companies such as Chevron to cooperate on shoreline resilience projects. Specific plans have yet to be set, however.
A ‘living levee’
Richmond’s bird’s-eye-view plans come as Contra Costa County officials look to construct a 7-mile “living levee” from the Richmond Chevron facility to Giant Marsh.
Planners are now underwriting grants to fund a segment of the levee stretching less than a mile long, according to Liz Juvera, an environmental planner with the San Francisco Estuary Partnership. This segment will cost about $15 million, of which $694,000 has been raised so far to cover the costs associated with design work. Juvera said the total cost for all seven miles of the project is unknown at this time, though she expects a clearer budgetary picture will emerge once designs are complete.
Members of the working group also include Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, West County Wastewater District General Manager Andrew Clough, architect Tim Mollette-Parks and Bay Area Regional Collaborative Program Director Josh Bradt.
“It’s a truly unique approach to sea level rise,” Naama Raz-Yaseef, a group member and a community engagement manager with The Watershed Project, said at a Sept. 26 City Council meeting.
More than a seawall, the levee would gently slope upward from the coast, with parks, trails, boardwalks and protected wildlife zones throughout the project area, said Mollette-Parks.
Much of the project area lies within unincorporated parts of the county and is either undeveloped or — in the case of a large patch of land owned by waste disposal company Republic Services — used for landfills. Other parcel owners include Richmond, the East Bay Regional Park District, the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee and Chevron, according to planning documents.
McLaughlin was critical of the plan for not bringing Chevron in as a collaborator, which could put portions of the project that include the company’s land at risk.
“I mean, we need to know what’s going to happen with the toxic waste at the refinery as the sea level rises,” McLaughlin said.
Gioia confirmed that attempts to engage Chevron had been unsuccessful.
Richmond Confidential’s calls to Chevron were not returned.
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