Thursday, October 13, 2011

City in a Salt Pond Revisited


OP-ED: Future salt pond residents, left holding the (sand) bag

October 13, 2011, 02:39 AM By Tyler P. Berding

As an attorney who has defended Redwood Shores homeowners and who has represented homeowner associations battling over responsibility for flood protection — and the resulting damages when it fails — I have watched Cargill’s proposed new city-in-a-salt-pond moving forward in Redwood City with growing alarm. Hearing the developer claim that new Bay Area sea level rise plans are somehow good for their scheme is like rubbing salt in a wound.
As they tout the “benefits” for Redwood City, proponents of this development always carefully imply no costs to “current” city taxpayers. Because the fact is that future residents of any Cargillville will be left with massive, unrecoverable costs. This is particularly true given Cargill’s plan to build a levee that will not only have to be maintained in perpetuity, but also raised significantly even to meet their optimistic estimate of sea level rise.
All of this is at homeowners’ expense, long after Cargill has taken its profits and left town.
Flooding around San Francisco Bay has happened many times, and the riskiest areas are locations where the Bay margin was filled to create housing and commercial developments. San Mateo County already is the top county in the state with the most people and infrastructure threatened by sea level rise.
But what is different today from developments built three or more decades ago is that most are built as community associations which are then given responsibility for the expensive engineered facilities. Levees, berms, pumps, riprap and retaining walls will have to be maintained and repaired by the homeowners in those associations.
Developers avoid long-term responsibility and deflect opposition from existing cities with the claim that the huge tax burden for this expensive new infrastructure will not fall on them. Eventual property owners within these new developments are obviously on their own.
Maintenance and repair obligations start immediately, and as Cargill’s own plans anticipate, the facilities will eventually prove inadequate to forestall the coming rising seas. Eventually, the costs to these new Redwood City residents will be enormous. The costs of inaction are worse. Failure of private associations to maintain landscaping or potholes is one thing — imagine the consequences of neglecting critical levees and retaining walls essential to keeping the waters of San Francisco Bay from flooding thousands of homes, businesses and Highway 101.
There are plenty of places in the Bay Area available for the necessary higher-density infill, away from the shoreline on land not threatened by rising tides. And the eventual homeowners would not inherit the potential for both fiscal and physical disaster.
Anyone concerned with the Cargill salt pond development proposal should ask the city one simple question: “Who will be responsible for keeping these massive flood control improvements working in the years to come?”
Don’t be surprised by the answer.

Tyler P. Berding, a partner in the law firm of Berding-Weil, represents hundreds of homeowner associations all over Northern California.

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