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Thursday, June 8, 2023

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News + PoliticsIs SF ready for climate change? A flooded city seemed unprepared

Is SF ready for climate change? A flooded city seemed unprepared

Why did city officials wait until the intersections were impassible to put out warnings and close streets?

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San Francisco has a detailed climate change and resilience plan. Local officials know that it will take hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare for what is now inevitable.

We got just a tiny taste of it this weekend—and the city seemed pretty badly unprepared.

I was out in the torrential rain, riding in a cab along Cesar Chavez Street; a bad idea in retrospect, but when we left home it seemed fine. It was raining hard, but whatever; we had raincoats, and the driver was happy to pick us up and head toward King Street.

Parts of the hillside came down in Bernal Heights

Then, in a ten-minute ride, I saw freeway intersections completely flooded and cars inundated. At the Pennsylvania Street intersection, cars were plowing, sometimes without success, through two feet or more of water. When we got to Illinois, another flood put the cab under; the driver was able to make it half a block to higher ground, and we were all fine (just a bit wet as we walked to the T-Third) but his Prius was shot.

Six hours later, I got an email from Sup. Shamann Walton telling me to stay home because the roads weren’t safe. That’s the only message I got from any city agency warning about road conditions (and I am on everyone’s email list). (Sup. Catherine Stefani went to twitter to urge us all to clean out our storm drains.)

By midafternoon, images of floating parkets and mudslides were all over Twitter and Facebook. I was safely inside Underdogs Cantina, watching my son’s school, Michigan, lose to TCU in the college football playoffs. The place was jammed with Michigan fans, all of whom travelled from somewhere else to get there. Many had stories like mine.

Three hours later, it was mostly safe to venture home.

But here’s the question:

Everyone in local emergency services knew that the rain was coming. Why was nobody from the Department of Public Works or the SFPD stationed at the intersections where everyone knows were likely to flood, to close them off or warn drivers?

Why didn’t the cab companies or Uber or Lyft, which are so tech-wired, warn their drivers to stay out of low-lying areas?

Why did the CHP wait until cars were submerged to close the freeways?

Was the mayor even in town and paying attention?

San Franciscans are not used to flash-flood warnings. We’re not used to any major weather problems. But we need to be, and the city needs a better system for warning people not only to stay home but to avoid the areas where flooding is not only likely but almost certain.

I get all sorts of alerts on my phone. I got nothing this weekend. I should have known better than to go out; fair enough. But we all need to be better prepared, because this wasn’t a freak event.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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