King Tide

29 thoughts on “King Tide”

  1. A little bit of context. All the S.F. Peninsula towns follow the same development pattern, from tony Palo Alto to blue collar Brisbane.

    1) Low grade light industrial & sleazy hotels along the bayfill as you describe. City leaders love this crap because it’s easy revenue but out of sight on the other side of 101.
    2) High grade tech/biotech office space in the most desirable bayfront spots, generally close to Caltrain and/or a freeway exit. Here’s one example: There’s a lot of this being developed currently. An early example was the Oracle campus in Redwood Shores.
    3) Charming Main Street downtowns around the Caltrain stations. Some, like Mountain View & Burlingame, gentrified long ago. Others, like SSF, are doing so rapidly:
    4) Generally nice 1950s/60s SFH development fanning out from the downtowns, bisected by the major “corridor of crap” that is strip mall El Camino Real.
    5) Multi-million dollar homes tucked into the hills all the way up and beyond 280.

    No doubt category #1 will be forsaken and some of #2. I worked out at Oyster Point a few years back, which was regularly inundated with King Tides. The whole parking lot was warped because it’s sinking. For an entire year, an abandoned boat sat at the point while the county, city and harbor district bickered about who would pay for its removal ( Can these clowns figure out a coordinated climate response plan? Doubt it.

      1. Tsunamis aren’t limited to the ocean. If an earthquake hit the Seattle area (there are multiple faults which run east/west as well as north/south directly under Bellevue, downtown Seattle, and out to Bainbridge and Whidbey Islands, etc) it would cause a great deal of water in Lake Washington and Elliot Bay to do bad bad things.

  2. It is true that new residents do add a cost to a city in terms of additional infrastructure for developments, and also road maintenance, sewer & water plu new kids in schools (though actually there is a baby bust at the moment in CA, so the schools ought to want kids), though developers will often put in the new roads, sewer & water mains & such, and additionally pay development fees and hookup fees that should cover much of the upfront city infrastructure costs. CA is a high tax state, and even higher taxed now than it was two generations ago. The money is there. What burdens cities even more than new residents is the cost of the city’s municipal staff and pension burdens.

    1. Yep. Looking at my CA city’s budget, it’s 2/3 police, fire and other folks (combined salary + pensions), even though the city was built out ages ago (last greenfield development: 1960s). Aging infrastructure costs should be exploding according to the Strong Towns thesis.

      Part of the reason they’re not are extreme housing costs ($$$ property taxes), booming tech economy and high taxes in general papering over the unsustainable nature of the budget. Eventually someone will be left holding the bag. I imagine they’re gonna try to hand the bag to ME first and not the Chief of Police. Just a guess.

  3. Was that the Travelodge in Burlingame? I had an awful night there in the early 80s.

    Kidding aside, another reason cities in California prefer businesses to housing is Proposition 13 which doesn’t let them increase taxes on residential real estate until it changes hands. If someone builds a home, you are stuck with that assessment, If they build a business that becomes more valuable, they can collect more in taxes.

    1. Not really. Prop 13 applies to commercial too, except that business can use loopholes to avoid transfer of ownership not available to homeowners. Partly why residential has borne an increasing portion of the tax burden after passage. Hence the proposed “split roll” that would regularly reassess commercial while leaving the residential lid as is.

  4. An interesting insight into land use issues. In South Africa one is not supposed to build below the 50-year floodline. Od course developers get away with this from time to time and in due course the owners suffer the consequences.

  5. I agree with your whole post, apart from this in the opening paragraph:

    “There’s absolutely no need to debate human induced climate change. The climate changes all the time with or without us. The real question is how we will adapt over time.”

    I strongly disagree. There absolutely is a need to debate human induced climate change, as this is a) something we have control over, and b) happening *much* more rapidly than ‘natural’ climate change, which is why it’s such a problem.

    1. Taking a position on anthropogenic climate change is useless. We – and I mean the really big global “we” – aren’t going to do anything about the burning of fossil fuels. Instead we’re going to adapt to the changes that come. Public policy will play a role, but mostly the insurance industry and plain old market forces will direct the response as money flows away from vulnerable places and toward places that are perceived to be safer.

      1. Johnny nails it. Even if California “did” something about it….Alabama is not going to. Neither, really, is China, or Nigeria, or India.

        All the “climate action plans” in the world won’t solve the problem. And if the climate crashes and humanity is reduced to 5% of our current numbers, the Earth abides and the universe will go on without us.

        1. That’s not true – China is doing a lot now. Somebody must have looked at the maps of China after the icecaps melt (It’s very grim, especially along the Yangtze). India also is getting a clue.Nigeria – not yet, but they will when the water starts rising, because they have a lot of delta.

          1. Dude. Have you been to India or China lately? I have. That’s the Poor Man’s version.
            How about the Rich Man’s version in Dubai? What’s the carbon footprint of a round of golf on a course irrigated with desalinated sea water? Or a few hours skiing indoors in 110 degree weather? Or eating food flown in from Australia and Argentina?

          2. Define “doing a lot”. Look up the definition for the word “Greenwashing”. Heck, the well-produced ads from Chevron show they are “doing a lot” as well.

            Plus: There’s two billion + people in India and China. A lot of carbon!

  6. If I am not mistaken things are much worse in FL. The situation in SF looks mild in comparison. One thing you didn’t say is whether it is noticeably worsening, as in FL. It can be expected to eventually but is it already?

    1. Florida’s situation is chronic. California has less dramatic day-to-day circumstances, but an earthquake would transform the landscape very quickly as levees fail en masse.

      The cost of fortifying every single vulnerable place (Florida, California, New England, Mississippi,Texas…) is huge. The majority of the property that’s in harm’s way is low value and not particularly worth as much as the cost of sea walls, levees, and pumping stations. So if locals look to the state and feds to pay for things there will be a great deal of competition for ever scarcer funds. In the end we’ll 1) Save the things worth saving 2) Add value to the lower value stuff we do fortify 3) Abandon low value stuff.

      1. Houston seems to have determined their approach already- Build the nice, new stuff out in The Woodlands and Katy- let everything else depreciate.

        As far as the bay area- would eventually a megaproject be more affordable than all this piecemeal stuff? Everything in the reverse delta is as low-lying as this and saltwater intrusion is a concern. I don’t know what amount of rise and flooding has to happen before the decision is made to do what was considered in the 1960’s and dam the golden gate.

        1. The cost of a whole bay engineered solution – which would necessarily include the entire inland estuary system as you point out – is enormous. It could be done if enough federal and state money poured in as part of a “make work” economic stimulus program. But if we do the same with New York, and Miami, and Houston, and Seattle, and every other place that needs an equally massive climate response infrastructure plan the numbers don’t add up. And this is before we consider all the unintended consequences of tinkering with natural flows on that kind of scale. The more likely trajectory is the one I’ve described. Valuable places will be defended, and cheap disposable places will be let go – give or take a lot of the usual political horse trading and influence peddling.

        1. Thanks for the link.

          In a political and economic environment where everyone needs funding for an unlimited number of climate adaptation projects absolutely everywhere… there are going to be winners and losers. If we take a wholistic national or regional approach we’re at the mercy of top down federal and state programs that favor heavy handed engineering solutions. These will necessarily sacrifice some places in exchange for others. And the higher-ups inevitably engage in insider deals with a handful of the usual suspects. This is a slight variation on the themes of “happenstance” and “triage” when individual locations have to fund their own responses as events unfold. Big fun!

  7. Last time I drove through SF I stopped to eat in South SF. I couldn’t figure out why the development pattern was the way it was and none of the prosperity of the area had managed to reach it. Now it makes sense.

    Which is funny because there is nothing new or difficult about building to account for flooding. One needs only to look at Galveston, TX and they will see office towers that have 30 feet piers underneath them to allow storm surges to pass under the building.

    1. Yes, and I saw the same solution in northern Maui; homes on one story piers with only the garage (and it’s contents) at risk

  8. One of the chief reasons for the cost of housing is that city governments in California find residents to be needy and burdensome. It’s not just the oft blamed NIMBYs. Governments (who really “own” the land in the sense that they decide its use) might stand up to NIMBYs more often if the incentives were different.

    1. Venice is so beautiful and unique that people are willing to walk through two feet of water just to enjoy the atmosphere. But a low grade industrial area near the airport? Not so much…

  9. I love the way you get your thoughts out there. Great use of photos of very ordinary places tho first off there are aerials of SF looking splendid on the bay: eye candy before the real story begins. Nice details like the hotel-keeper who can’t get change-of-use to a retirement home.

  10. If subaquatic mining became more widespread (as I believe it will, just look at deep water oil drilling – the technology for underwater mining isn’t that far off) then with rising sea level coming generations will have a fine underwater landscape to keep mining through. Like an aquarium but more Real Life to it (to brand the experience and sell it to the market place of miners and investors)

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