The Governance Gap: Climate Adaptation and Sea-Level Rise in the SF Bay Area

This report summarizes the results of a study of governance for climate adaptation to sea-level rise and coastal flooding in the San Francisco Bay Area (SF Bay Area) of California. The study focused on the “governance gap” that exists between the problem of sea-level rise and the implementation of adaptation solutions that increase resilience. From the research, possible solutions to those problems were identified, and a set of recommendations were developed that are “likely to receive stakeholder support, be feasible to achieve and take forward steps on the path towards adaptive capacity.” 

The combined research found that the fundamental and overarching problem to address is the: Regional interdependence and the Imperative for multi-level cooperation. This study makes clear that interdependence is a fundamental aspect of climate adaptation - which is described as relevant in four main ways: Shared experience interdependencies; Vulnerability interdependencies; Solution interdependencies; and Policy interdependencies.

7 Key Governance Challenges were ultimately identified, along with suggested Action Items to address each of the priority challenges:

Challenge 1: Institutions for Multi-Level CooperationThere is currently not a single central agency or institutional arrangement with comprehensive responsibility for sea-level rise and climate adaptation planning in the SF Bay Area. Instead, local governments, regional infrastructure operators, private companies and others are creating their own forums and planning processes at different levels, creating the potential for fragmented decision-making, lack of regional coordination, and failure to account for interdependence.

Action Item 1: Sea-Level Rise “Adaptation Vision” Task Force

Challenge 2: Regional Adaptation Planning for Sea-Level RiseThere is no single plan for climate adaptation and sea-level rise in the SF Bay Area, although a number of relevant plans are created by regional agencies under different legal mandates.

Action Item 2: Update Existing Regional and Local Plans According to Adaptation Vision Document

Challenge 3: Funding PortfolioFully implementing all gray and green infrastructure needed to enhance adaptive capacity will require substantial funding for which there is currently a shortage of identified sources.

Action Item 3: “Local First” Innovative Funding Strategy

Challenge 4: Integrated PermittingFragmented permitting and administrative procedures require substantial time to understand and complete, which may delay or block project implementation, increase costs, or produce conflicting recommendations. Implementing on-the-ground adaptation projects in the form of green or gray infrastructure requires obtaining permits from multiple levels of government.

Action Item 4: Integrated Permitting Team for Coastal Adaptation Infrastructure

Challenge 5: The Climate Science EnterpriseStakeholders need professional assistance to translate the best available science into their local planning contexts and legally-defensible regulations, especially when the scientific knowledge is advancing faster than policy decisions.

Action Item 5: Climate Science Services Center

Challenge 6: Civic EngagementSea-level rise is a challenge to civic engagement because it is currently perceived as a “slow moving natural disaster” that is not immediately visible, where the costs of adaptation are short-term and more certain while the benefits are long-term and uncertain … Civic engagement by disadvantaged communities is further constrained by lack of capacity to effectively participate in planning, attention to other short-term priorities, and history of distrust with political actors.

Action Item 6: Comprehensive Civic Engagement Strategy

Challenge 7: Political LeadershipA more consistent and visible amount of political leadership is needed to make more than incremental progress. Advancing planning and implementation of sea-level rise adaptation requires leadership from elected officials and high-level administrative officials in government agencies and other relevant organizations.

Action Item 7: State and Federal Legislative Member Organizations Focused on Sea-Level Rise and Climate Adaptation



Publication Date: June 30, 2017

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Mark Lubell

Related Organizations:

  • University of California, Davis


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Policy analysis/recommendations

States Affected:


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