San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission's Climate Change Planning Program

Kirsten Feifel Kathryn Braddock
Posted on: 4/28/2010 - Updated on: 10/28/2021

Posted by

Kirsten Feifel

Project Summary

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is responsible for the protection and development of the San Francisco Bay. BCDC’s San Francisco Bay Plan is a long-term planning and guidance document for the region. The Plan has been amended multiple times to include potential impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Through this process, multiple supporting reports and partnerships have been developed that detail potential climate impacts and adaptation strategies available to the region. BCDC also facilitates Bay Adapt, an initiative to establish regional agreement on actions to address sea level rise.


The San Francisco Bay Plan (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 Bay Plan. The BCDC developed a Climate Change Program to develop strategies that reduce the Bay’s vulnerability to climate change, particularly rising sea levels. Initiatives and areas of focus include the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Program, Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer Bay Adapt, public workshops, and amendments and policies for rising sea levels. BCDC has been aware of the potential impacts of climate change in the Bay Area since the 1980s when the Commission examined the impacts sea level rise would have on fills.


Sea level rise policies have been previously developed in regards to safety of fills and fill for habitat, tidal marshes and tidal flats, and in a list of requirements for the analysis of restoration projects. In 2009, BCDC staff developed background material for a proposed climate change amendment to the Bay Plan in a report entitled Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on its Shoreline. Between 2009 and 2010, BCDC held public hearings, conducted public workshops, partnered with a consortium of Dutch researchers to conduct a study on the impacts of sea level rise in San Francisco Bay, and worked with RAND Corporation to develop sea level rise plans despite the inherent uncertainty in climate change impacts and scenarios. The findings from these efforts were incorporated into the climate change policy and findings section of the Bay Plan (Bay Plan Amendment No. 1-108).

In 2016, BCDC facilitated a series of additional workshops for staff, stakeholders, Commissioners, and the public to reflect upon past and current sea level rise actions and identify best approaches to pursue going forward. As a result of the workshop, BCDC developed a series of recommendations that were incorporated into the 2017-2020 BCDC Strategic Plan and the 2020 reprint of the Bay Plan. Recommendations include:

  1. Create a regional sea level rise adaptation plan
  2. Complete multi-sector, county-scale sea level rise vulnerability assessments for all nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area using the Adapting to Rising Tides Program
  3. Explore new institutional arrangements to address the impacts of climate change in a way that promotes a shared regional perspective and increases collaboration
  4. Identify regionally significant natural and built assets and vulnerable communities and develop approaches to minimize and mitigate damage from flooding
  5. Change existing laws, policies and regulations to consider local and regional impacts of sea level rise
  6. Develop a regional educational campaign to increase awareness of sea level rise and adaptation options
  7. Assist efforts to identify, define, and fund regional sea level rise data repositories
  8. Develop a new Financing the Future working group

In Fall 2019, BCDC kickstarted Bay Adapt, an initiative to establish a regional agreement to protect the San Francisco Bay Area from rising sea levels. The goals of the initiative are to: (1) develop guiding principles for the Bay Area regarding adaptation to rising sea levels, (2) develop a joint platform of priority actions, and (3) adopt the joint platform with a commitment to act together.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Since 2011, the Bay Plan has been amended to include numerous climate change-related actions: requirements for sea level rise risk assessments; measures to protect existing and planned development; design regulations for shoreline protection projects; policies for public access; policies to encourage resilient development; policies for preservation and habitat enhancement; requirements for restoration project designs; a call for the development of a collaborative regional strategy; and the incorporation of environmental justice and social equity into planning and permitting. These amendments have been approved by the State Office of Administrative Law and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and are currently in effect.

In 2019, BCDC prepared a Bay Plan Climate Change Policy Guidance document to assist applicants and staff in preparing and reviewing BCDC permit applications. BCDC’s 2020 Bay Plan revision includes a section dedicated to updated climate change findings, policies, and recommended actions.

BCDC works with a number of partners, including the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Service, the California State Coastal Conservancy, and the nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma).


Feifel, K. and Braddock, K.N. (2021). San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission's Climate Change Planning Program[Case study on a project of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated August 2021)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is dedicated to the protection and enhancement of San Francisco Bay and to the encouragement of the Bay's responsible use. When BCDC was established, only four miles of the Bay shoreline were open to public access. By drawing attention to the Bay, the Commission has played a major role in making the Bay and its shoreline a national recreational treasure. The Golden Gate National Recreational Area and numerous local, regional, and state parks and recreation areas have been established around the Bay since the Commission was established.

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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