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Project Summary

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is responsible for the protection of and development in San Francisco Bay. Recently, BCDC has endeavored to update its long-term planning and guidance document to include the potential impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Through this planning process, multiple supporting reports and partnerships have been developed that detail potential climate impacts and adaptation strategies available to the region. The BCDC website also has a fairly comprehensive virtual library of climate change planning resources for Bay area governments.

Project Background

The San Francisco Bay Plan outlines policies to guide future uses of the Bay and its shoreline. It was initially developed and adopted by BCDC in 1968 pursuant to the McAteer-Petris Act of 1965. In 1969, the California Legislature designated BCDC as the agency responsible for maintaining and carrying out the provisions of the Bay Plan for the long-term protection of the Bay. As such, BCDC has the authority to issue or deny permit applications for placing fill, extracting materials, or changing the use of anything within its jurisdiction over the Bay. The Bay Plan is continually reviewed by BCDC and may be periodically amended to incorporate new information.

The Planning Unit at BCDC is responsible for updating and amending the San Francisco Bay Plan. The Climate Change Planning Program is tasked to identify and report on the impacts of climate change to the Bay and develop potential adaptation strategies, create a regional task force to inform constituents of the potential impacts, and update the San Francisco Bay Plan to include these impacts. The Climate Change Planning Program is working to develop strategies that reduce the Bay’s vulnerability to climate change.

BCDC has been aware of the potential impacts of climate change since the 1980s when the Commission examined the impacts sea level rise would have on fills. In 2006, the State of California used IPCC scenarios to assess potential impacts in the state. The California Climate Action Team estimates that sea levels could rise 20-55 inches by 2100. The Pacific Institute estimates that a 55 inch increase in sea level could cost San Francisco $62 billion and put 270,000 people at risk of flooding. By 2100, 213,000 acres of Bay shoreline could be vulnerable to flooding.

Project Implementation

Sea level rise policies have been previously developed in regards to the Safety of Fills policy, the Tidal Marshes and Tidal Flats policy, and in a list of requirements for the analysis of restoration projects. In order to develop a comprehensive plan that includes all sectors that are vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise, the Climate Change Planning Program proposed to create a new Climate Change policy section that can be used with other policy sections of the Bay Plan.

BCDC staff developed background material for the proposed amendment in a report entitled Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on its Shoreline. To develop Bay Plan Amendment No. 1-108, the Climate Change policy section of the Bay Plan, BCDC held public hearings and conducted public workshops. Preliminary recommendations include:

  • Update sea level rise scenarios and use them in the permitting process;
  • Develop a long-term strategy to address sea level rise and increased storm activity;
  • Work with other agencies to integrate mitigation and adaptation strategies;
  • Provide strategic recommendations and requirements when planning and permitting developments in vulnerable areas;
  • Promote wetland protection, creation, and enhancement; and
  • Amend policies on protection of shorelines, safety of fills, tidal marshes and flats, and public access to better include the impacts of climate change.

Also, BCDC has partnered with a consortium of Dutch researchers to conduct a study on the impact of sea level rise in San Francisco Bay. The report, San Francisco Bay: Preparing for the Next Level, compares and contrasts two systems, San Francisco and the Netherlands, based upon a physical analysis and governance structure and preparedness.

BCDC is also partnering with the RAND Corporation to develop sea level rise plans despite the inherent uncertainty in climate change impacts and scenarios. The RAND Corporation has done similar work for water systems and availability; for more information, see the Using Robust Decisionmaking as a tool for Water Resources Planning in Southern California case study.

Project Outcomes and Conclusions

BCDC is striving to plan for the impacts climate change will have in San Francisco Bay. They have released multiple reports and developed partnerships to promote their goal of reducing the region’s vulnerability to climate change. They have also created a fairly comprehensive library of climate change resources relevant to the Bay area on their website.

Project Keywords

Recommended Citation

Feifel, K. (2010). San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission's Climate Change Planning Program [Case study on a project of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated May 2010)