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San Rafael gets funds for Canal area climate change project

November 28, 2022

The San Rafael Creek runs through the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

By Giuseppe Ricapito | Marin IJ

San Rafael will use a $762,000 grant to fund an equity-guided study on the effects of sea level rise and climate change in the Canal neighborhood.

The City Council agreed to accept the funds from the State Coastal Conservancy and the Marin Community Foundation for the “Canal Community Resilience Planning Project” at a meeting on Nov. 21.

The city plans to use the money to conduct a technical feasibility study of sea level rise adaptation options in the east San Rafael neighborhood and along the city shoreline. The project is tentatively set to span three years.

“This is an important project for the city as rising bay waters will affect the east San Rafael community first,” said Mayor Kate Colin. “The key aspects of this project is to explore the various options that can mitigate sea level rise, and engage with the community in both outlining and discussing the options.”

City staff developed the grant application along with county experts on sea level rise, as well as representatives of the Multicultural Center of Marin and Canal Alliance, according to a staff report.

The central focus is the Canal neighborhood, but the project includes the entire shoreline area within the boundaries of San Rafael. The city intends to identify possible infrastructure fixes to sea level rise with advice from underrepresented members of the community. The options include nature-based plans, hybrid and “hard infrastructure,” or built infrastructure, city staff said.

Potential projects the city might pursue after soliciting public input include ecotone levees, or shallow slopes that connect flood risk management levees to tidal marsh, and subtidal habitat restoration. The plans might include green-gray riprap, or a combination of rubble and “green” debris, as well as sea walls or a tide gate at the mouth of San Rafael Creek.

A staff report said at least one project will be identified for further development and possible implementation. The project will also address housing and neighborhood planning around climate change adaptations.

Amy Hutzel, executive officer of the State Coastal Conservancy, said the Canal area was recognized as an underserved community that has dealt with economic, social and environmental injustice. Despite a pumping system to manage groundwater and flood waters, the area has experienced flooding during high tides and storms, she said.

“There is a critical need to develop a community-informed climate adaptation feasibility study for the San Rafael Canal District and the entire San Rafael shoreline,” she said. “The project will include robust engagement to ensure that underrepresented community members have a voice in adaptation planning and that inclusive decision-making guides the process.”

Bill Carney, president of Sustainable San Rafael, said the city is demonstrating foresight by developing a framework for addressing the mounting impact of climate change.

“This is no easy task, but the approach outlined in the scope of work for the project holds promise to deliver well considered and workable responses,” he said.

The State Coastal Conservancy contributed $700,000. The Marin Community Foundation awarded the project $62,000. The city plans to contribute staff time and community facilities such as the Albert J. Boro Community Center. The city estimates the contribution at $138,000.

Johnathan Logan, a vice president at the Marin Community Foundation, said it supports a community-based approach.

“It’s always great when you can marry community voices and lived experience with expertise. I think this project is a great opportunity to do just that,” he said. “It’s a match made in heaven. We’re happy to be behind it.”

Read the story on the MarinIJ

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