The Bay Area's most powerful developers, trades councils and chambers of commerce have withdrawn their opposition to a planning document that makes sea level rise part of the approval process for new development at the edges of San Francisco Bay.
The Bay Conservation and Development Commission will discuss the draft Bay Plan Amendment concerning climate change -- the region's first effort to codify the long-term threat of sea level rise as a factor in the development of low-lying areas that surround the bay -- at its meeting Sept. 1.
Despite the announcement that groups like the Bay Planning Coalition and the Bay Area Council are withdrawing opposition, several city officials still have problems with the fact that the BCDC, which normally just regulates public access, is taking on the role of land use arbiter. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sent in a letter of objection, and officials in Martinez, Fairfield and Suisun City continue to oppose the amendment.
"Suisun City is right on the water, and we do have parcel that we have entitled projects on, and we want to make sure we're not going to chill development by adding a new layer of regulation," said April Wooden, head of Community Development in Suisun City.
BCDC Executive Officer Will Travis said his agency's goals and jurisdiction have been "deeply misunderstood." The commission only has power to deny projects within a 100-foot shoreline band around the bay, and it cannot deny a proposal based on whether it adequately addresses the impacts of sea level rise or flooding.
"The logic has been, 'We can't afford to deal with the problem and, therefore, the problem can't exist.' We realize it takes a long time to get an awareness of why these changes are necessary. We're in the first stages of that," said Travis.
The Bay Plan Amendment requires projects to submit a risk assessment that takes into account both flood risk and sea level rise, and have a plan to cope with all eventualities.
The new policy also describes the kind of regional strategy that is still needed to decide where and how to protect existing development, roads, ports, train tracks and wetlands.
BCDC staff did not anticipate the furor that accompanied the draft they presented it in May 2009, when a group of land-entitlement attorneys caught wind of the language and raised the alarm among cities, investors and developers like DMB Associates Inc., the company behind the Saltworks proposal.
Powerful business-interest groups like the Bay Area Council and the Building Industry Association lined up against the document, warning members that the BCDC's policy changes would "kill jobs" by precluding development in certain areas without considering the economic merits of a proposal.
City officials said they felt the BCDC was on a power trip, trying to usurp their autonomy in land-use decisions.
"What we saw before really looked at more of a retreat strategy rather than a case-by-case. It focused on retreat first, carte blanche, and then said, 'what else can we do?' " said Scott Zengel, vice president of policy for the Bay Area Council.
In the end, DMB spent more than $100,000 lobbying the BCDC on the Bay Plan Amendment, according to filings with the Secretary of State.
The word "retreat" has been stricken from the latest draft, among other modifications. In a nod to the controversial Saltworks project, the amendment doesn't attempt to define infill development and says only that the BCDC will encourage projects that concentrate jobs or housing near existing mass transit.
The new language also prevents locals from requesting a full environmental impact report review under the California Environmental Quality Act based solely on sea level rise.
Environmental advocates are satisfied with the latest draft, notwithstanding the wording changes.
"It should discourage developers and local communities from pursuing projects or plans that ignore sea level rise. I don't know whether it will, but it should," said David Lewis, executive director of Save The Bay.
The BCDC is likely to vote on the Bay Plan Amendment on Oct. 6.
Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.
The dispute: Area government, business and labor leaders differ over how to plan for rising regional sea levels.
The proposal: Bay Plan Amendment requires projects to take into account flood risk and sea level rise.
IF YOU attend the meeting
What: Bay Conservation and Development Commission hearing on Bay Plan Amendment
When: 1 p.m. Sept. 1
Where: Port of San Francisco Board Room, Ferry Building, Second Floor, San Francisco
Find out more: www.bcdc.ca.gov