Seawall Safety Bond
Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety Bond
Authorizes the City of San Francisco to issue $425 million in general obligation bonds for the improvement, seismic strengthening, reconstruction and repair of the hundred-year-old Embarcadero seawall and other critical infrastructure associated with it.
What the Measure Would Do
Prop. A would authorize a $425 million general obligation bond to fund planning, design, engineering and construction management for:
• Earthquake resiliency projects such as retrofitting and replacing the seawall, bulkhead buildings, wharves, piers and other critical facilities
• Flood protection projects such as flood walls and barriers, enhanced foundations and floodproofing
• Mitigation projects and other public benefits such as public access enhancements and transportation improvements
• Up to 2 percent for educational and interpretive art and other art enrichment on Port of San Francisco property
The measure would require the city to create a citizens’ bond oversight committee and to be transparent to the public through regular public hearings and online information.
The Embarcadero seawall is the foundation of 3 miles of the city’s waterfront, stretching from Mission Creek to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was built over a hundred years ago by the State of California off of San Francisco’s original Bay shoreline. This retaining wall enabled the city to use landfill to create and develop over 500 acres of land up to First Street — a low-lying area that the seawall still protects from flooding today. The seawall supports the city’s historic piers, wharves, maritime uses and iconic sites such as the Ferry Building, and it underpins utility networks including BART, Muni, ferries, the sewer and water systems, and communications infrastructure. According to the city, the seawall protects more than $100 billion of assets and economic activity.
Today the seawall is old and sinking into the Bay. In addition, it was built before the era of modern seismic safety. In 2016, a study by the city and the port found that the seawall is likely to be damaged by a major earthquake, which could threaten lives and cause potentially significant disruption to critical lifeline infrastructure, such as utility lines for water, electricity, natural gas, telecommunications and transportation.
The seawall currently protects the city from storm-related flooding and extreme high tides, but it was not designed for the future we now expect as sea levels rise. Even today’s extreme flood events could overtop the Embarcadero and flood the city’s BART and Muni tunnels.
According to the city’s budget analyst, the seawall is a critical infrastructure priority and is part of the general obligation bond program in the city’s 2018 Capital Plan. Because of the size of the project — expected to be between $2 billion and $5 billion — the port cannot fund the seawall retrofit through operating revenues.
This measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. As a bond measure, it requires two-thirds approval to pass.
• This measure would improve life safety and reduce the failure risk of critical infrastructure that affects most people who live and/or work in the northeast part of the city.
• This measure would have a long-term positive impact on the continued viability of business, property values, tourism, transportation and historic resources near the Embarcadero by reducing potential earthquake damage and providing flood protection.
• This measure would help leverage additional federal, state and private dollars to help fund the complete cost of earthquake upgrades (expected to be between $2 billion and $5 billion).
• All of San Francisco’s waterfront is vulnerable to earthquakes and sea level rise, and this measure would only partially pay for improvements along a 3-mile stretch of it. The measure would not provide enough money for strengthening and improvements in other areas, including lower-income parts of the city.
The Embarcadero seawall protects millions of dollars of assets and economic activity in the northeast part of San Francisco, as well as infrastructure of regional importance, such as communications, Muni and BART lines. Critically, the seawall is a lifesaving asset the city will rely on when the next major seismic event occurs, but currently it can’t fulfill this function. While SPUR recognizes that this bond is not large enough to fund the full slate of waterfront improvements needed to protect the city from earthquakes and sea level rise, we believe it is an important first step toward shoring up one of the most seismically vulnerable and critical pieces of infrastructure in the Bay Area.