Ethnic Media Coverage

‘Under Water’: Calif.’s San Mateo County Takes Economic Hit from Sea Rise

above photo: Maria Leyte lives in San Mateo (courtesy of Telemundo 48)

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Intro: The accelerated rise in sea level is a threat to communities across the planet and the Bay Area is no exception. In the second part of her series, “Under Water,” Pilar Nino reports that San Mateo County faces the biggest threat due to sea rise and what they are doing to prepare for it.

To read Part 1, click here.

Pilar Nino: From 30 centimeters (about one foot) to one meter (about 3 feet) – that’s how much sea level is expected to rise in the coming decades between now and the end of the century.

Maria Leyte lives in San Mateo.

“The truth is you can’t imagine it until it’s already happened.”

PN: This puts coastal areas at risk and in the Bay Area, San Mateo County would suffer the biggest economic loss…about $26 billion, followed by Santa Clara which would lose $7 billion, according to the Pacific Institute…. The San Francisco International Airport would be under water, along with entire neighborhoods on both sides of Highway 101 on the Peninsula….
“We’re going to be swimming in our beds here.”

Don Manuel takes it with a sense of humor but he isn’t laughing when he learns he has to buy extra flood insurance because of the neighborhood where he lives in San Mateo.

Manuel Osuna is a San Mateo property owner.

“It affected us here so insurance went up about $1800 a year.”

Again, Maria Leyte.
“I think it doesn’t affect us because we’re not close to the water, anyway that’s what I think.”

PN: You don’t need to live near the water to feel the impact…Vital thoroughfares like Highway 101 could be flooded, along with power plants, public schools and fire stations.

That’s why special measures like new taxes would have to be undertaken by people to confront this threat, said the San Mateo mayor.

San Mateo Mayor Robert Ross:

“We just spent $21 million to improve part of our dams, but we have another section that’s going to cost us another $20 million and we simply don’t have that much money.”

PN: He is referring to these new walls that will serve as protection from an increase in water, along with the river bed, so the water doesn’t overflow…Although they were just used for the first time three years ago to prepare for regular floods, they wouldn’t be sufficient when faced with the projected mid-century and end of century sea rise.

Mayor Ross:
“First people are going to need to educate themselves, that they have to pay before they can see the benefit, and that’s difficult for the public….”
Manuel Osuna: “ I’m up there in age so this really worries me.”

Teresa Garza is a San Mateo resident.

“Like any good Mexican, we won’t start running until we see the water coming.”

PN: In our area, San Mateo County also has the most vulnerable population, and 24 percent of the residents are Latino.

A Bay Area resident: “When you start to think about it, it makes you afraid, not only for yourself but for those to come.”

PN: At least in this county they agreed last December that they need to create a regional district exclusively dedicated to confronting this problem…And planning experts say there is no single solution that will work for everyone.

Laura Tam with SPUR:

“In some places the solution may be to build a dam or a wall, in other parts to restore wetlands that can absorb water and act as a sponge .....said Tam, and the discussion could even include whether it is necessary to relocate entire communities, buildings or structures ....

PN: Meanwhile, they are advising people to watch out for certain things.

Douglas Mundo directs the Canal Welcome Center in San Rafael.

“Knowing where I live, how much will we be affected by sea rise?”

“What will happen to my property? What will happen with my homeowners’ insurance if I live near water?”

PN: And of course you’ll have to keep this in mind if you are considering building or buying a house so you don’t lose it like sand slipping through your fingers….

Pilar Nino is a reporter and producer with Telemundo 48.

This story is part of a New America Media-led collaborative reporting project ("Surging Seas Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon?") on the local impacts of sea level rise involving six Bay Area ethnic and community media reporters. The project was conducted in partnership with Climate Central, Stamen Design and Investigative Reporters and Editors, and funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Mize Family Foundation, and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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