Adapting to Rising Tides - Addressing Social Vulnerability and Equity in Climate Change Adaptation Planning in the San Francisco Bay Area

Designed to inform the Adapting to Rising Tides project (ART) being led by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the purpose of the white paper is to integrate social equity into adaptation planning for sea level rise and storm events. The report describes a social vulnerability assessment completed for the study area and the results; presents case studies which integrate equity into adaptation planning; and provides decision support tools and recommendations to inform social equity and coastal planning for the San Francisco Bay Area of California.

The report outlines the ART vulnerability assessment for a subregion of the Bay Area, which considers physical, social and economic assets, and how this area can become more resilient to climate change. Beginning with a historical analysis of emergency and recovery response planning in California and beyond, the white paper outlines the importance of rooting climate change solutions in the needs of local communities and local challenges, whether that include translation/interpretation services, transportation resources that can accommodate large families and residents with medical needs, and/or inclusive care for pets.

In 2013, Rooted in Resilience (formerly Bay Localize) published their own work plan encouraging regional agencies to partner with community groups and fully integrate social equity and environmental justice issues into Bay Area adaptation planning. See that report here.

Explaining their methodology, the white paper asserts that equity considerations in planning and emergency preparedness should include the following:

  • A socio-economic analysis of vulnerable communities - this should include race, income, mobility, social networks, and access to disaster responses services and community support;
  • A description of historic exposure and response to past hazards; and
  • An understanding of community needs, resources and opportunities for cross-jurisdictional cooperation.

The analysis describes the demographics and social vulnerability of populations exposed to 16” and 55” of sea level rise in combination with an extreme storm event within 7 cities in Alameda County. It catalogues the number of households within the inundation area with residents who are renters, linguistically isolated, without a vehicle, low income, and/or people of color. Among other findings, the analysis determines that 33% of households at risk of inundation are occupied by renters.  The report also utilizes a social vulnerability index to estimate the relative social vulnerability for different populations (described on page 18). This finds that 34% of the people living in areas at risk of inundation are highly socially vulnerable.

The ART project is also integrating social vulnerability in assessing critical infrastructure, services and institutions. To better understand community concerns, the project surveyed community leaders about best practices. Survey participants emphasized the importance of engaging vulnerable populations and school-aged children through shoreline visits, field trips to impacted areas, and through partnerships with local community groups.

Three case studies of recent or ongoing planning processes that are integrating equity and community issues are summarized.

  • Integrating Social Vulnerability into Adaptation Planning —Fresno and San Luis Obispo Counties
  • Measuring Equity: Plan Bay Area’s Equity Analysis Framework
  • Integrating Equity into Sea-Level Rise and Flood Protection Projects

For the first two, the paper explains which resident are communities of concern based on social vulnerability factors, and what community assets, such as community organizations and religious centers support resilience within these communities. The final case study explains how community member participation in data collection, ecological restoration, and flood protection projects can better engage and support disadvantaged communities.

The final section summarizes key conclusions and recommendations from demographic and survey analysis to inform equity considerations in the Adapting to Rising Tides project and for the larger community of climate change adaptation and equity planners, organizers, and advocates in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Publication Date: June 2012

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Heidi Nutters

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Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Case study

States Affected:

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