Friday, April 25, 2014

Save the Bay by Working With Nature not Against It - III

Here is a 14 minute video of a sea wall being overwhelmed by the 2011 Tsunami.  Minute 1 - boring, large seawall, shallow bay.  Minute 2 - water starting to rise but still boring.  Life goes on as normal because everyone feels secure behind the high sea wall.  Skip ahead to minute 5:40 and wait until the 5:57 mark.  Please write in the comment section below if you think a sea wall is desirable for SF Bay.  Click on the lower right corner of the video to enlarge it.

The flooding photos show a cascade of water over a seawall at Miyako which is obviously a bay protected on 3 sides and with a mountainous island clearly in view.  See also:

That is from an earthquake about 43 miles from the Japanese mainland.  Average sea level rise along the Japanese coast was only a few meters, but at Miyako, the waves crested at 124 ft in some places.  "Hayward Fault" anyone?

I lived in a small town just south of Atlantic City for a few years (Margate).  Atlantic City, Margate, and Ventnor all share the same small island which is really just a large sand bar.  All houses were built with a crawl space which raised the first floor of the house about 4 ft above the ground.  Every time a hurricane came by the streets flooded for a few days, which made the evening news, but really caused no substantial harm to anything I could see since every house was built with that in mind.  As a kid I thought it was kind of neat.

So you could build with flooding in mind, pylons driven down, raised floors, sea walls, etc., etc., but the real question is why bother?  A sea wall will cost literally $Billions and to try to protect land which should never have been filled in in the first place.  And it won't even do that when anything substantial happens.  As Steve Sarrette pointed out, if the govt. rewards irresponsible building, it is no longer irresponsible to build there.  Anyone around here not on landfill is probably high enough and on firm enough ground to not need a sea wall so we're really only only talking about new office space which is going to be depreciated over 20 years at the end of which it will be torn down anyway.

The sea wall would be built by every one's taxes to benefit a few developers who could just as easily build anywhere else.  Why would anyone want to pay extra taxes so developers can build on landfill?  There is no shortage of land on the East Bay.  There is lower pop. density in almost every town in the South and East Bay than in Mtn View, Sunnyvale, and Sta, Clara.  Tax $ for a sea wall could instead go to schools, libraries, public transportation, etc., etc.

(see local population densities here:

If you want to do something with the shoreline, plant rice marshes.  It will absorb the impact of waves.  In addition, certain types of rice remove heavy metals like Cadmium and Mercury from the water and soil (called chelation).  The SF Bay is heavily polluted with mercury (hence the "SJ Mercury") from the gold mining days.  A steady removal of that would be a good thing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Save the Bay by Working With Nature not Against It - II

Take a look at these pictures of the 2011 Japanese Tsunami and those on the previous blog cited above and let me know in the comments below if you really feel like relying on a sea wall to protect the low-lying sections of San Francisco Bay.
National Geogrphic photos from:

Both Fukushima and New Orleans had sea walls, levees and the like.  In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the levees had been neglected despite numerous warnings by responsible authoritative people.  That is typical of the way the US treats infrastructures and has to be accepted as a given. In my mind, it is the most cogent argument against relying on sea walls or a levee.  In the US , government is always a day late and a dollar short on infrastructure.  

In Fukushima, the sea walls were well maintained and higher than the Tsunami but were overwhelmed by surges and "echos" as the incoming water waves reflected off of shore and underwater irregularities.  The 2011 quake the caused the Tsunami was the largest shift ever recorded.  Planning for the ones you can predict is of no help at all against those you can't predict.

Despite the biggest reclamation and restoration in the US, much of the SF Bay is land fill and perilously close to the water.  Redwood Shores is a goner if the sea rises even a little, along with much of the Bay side of SF.  The general rule is that water-side flat land = landfill.  Landfill will shake like Jello in an earthquake.  Old landfill is where most of the destruction occurred in SF during Loma Prieta earthquake.  The idea that if the seas rise 3 feet we can build a 4 ft. wall and be safe is too bizarre to bother to refute.  Nature works in surges with long periods of calm when it appears nothing is happening and it appears we can all go back to sleep followed by a catastrophe which was predicted then forgotten about.

After the disasters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy around NYC and neighboring areas a Dutchman was brought over to advise on how to mitigate and avoid similar future disasters as well as coping with rising sea levels.  He comments on a number of proposals many of which could serve the SF Bay as well, instead of or in addition to a sea wall.

"Henk Ovink Weighs in on Post-Sandy Proposals" here:

My favorites are MIT's
"...the Meadowlands of New Jersey is the pits of the Sandy-affected region. Flooding and surge came together there with contamination to create an ecological nightmare. But this is also an economic opportunity. ... The project involves creating a water system that becomes a natural reserve as well as a recreational amenity. It does this in part by enlarging the marshland, so that when there’s a surge, it can hold it, but at other times the water is getting filtered and cleaned.”

And Rutgers
 Resilience and the Beach. (Sasaki/Rutgers/Arup
) “This project considers the Jersey Shore. In fact, there is no single Jersey Shore. There are three zones: barrier islands, beaches and inland bay. Each has different demands. The project envisions the possibility of developing on the inland side of barrier islands, so they could serve the community and as barriers. It looks at the boardwalk in Asbury Park as a source of protection for the beach. And in inland regions, it would enhance the capacity of lakes to hold water in a storm.”

Living Breakwaters. (SCAPE/Landscape Architecture) “The goal here is to reduce risk for communities on the South Shore of Staten Island, which is highly vulnerable to surge and erosion. The scheme reconnects communities with the water, develops breakwaters and natural barriers offshore and creates new oyster reefs, which reduce storm surge, improve the water quality and allow for beaches to grow again.”

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How Big a Library for Sunnyvale?

1. Summary:  Sunnyvale's library is 60,000 sq. ft.  Residents want and should have more library space like their neighbors.  To get there, the current 60,000 sq. ft. needs to become 113,000 sq. ft. if there is no growth and 160,000 to 200,000 if there is population growth.  The proposed commercial development of 14 acres of the Civic Center in exchange for a few buildings will provide totally inadequate library space even if there is no population growth in Sunnyvale.  The only way to get adequate library space is to go to the voters with a better proposal for renovation and addition to the existing library, and conversion of park buildings to branch libraries.  Joint school-city library use should be explored as well.

2.  How much Space?
To see how large a library Sunnyvale residents would like to have we can't look at the California state average because Sunnyvale library space is almost exactly the state average (less than 1% smaller).

Sunnyvale Library Space = 0.4309 (sq. ft. / person)
CA Average Space = 0.4344 (sq. ft. / person)

 For the same reason we can't look at comparably sized cities because only about 10% to 20% of cities near Sunnyvale's population have much more library space.

We have to look at what Sunnyvale residents compare their library facilities to.  Those would be the neighboring cities like Mountain View, Santa Clara and others on the peninsula.  There we have library space (in square feet/person = SF/capita), for populations as seen below (click to enlarge):

(Note: Santa Clara's library space includes the 80,000 sq. ft. Central Park main library and the 7,000 sq. ft. Mission Library and Family Reading Center - the latter is closed Friday-Sunday as of this writing ).

The libraries shown above are in the top tier in sq. ft. per person in the state, but they are the standards by which people in Sunnyvale judge their own library.  These are presented in bar chart form below.  The red bar shows Sunnyvale, the purple shows the CA state average (click to enlarge).

Sunnyvale residents have  very high educational level, and thus have high expectations for their library relative to most Californians.  Most people in CA are served by very large city and county systems with a much smaller SF per person ratio, typically 0.29 to 0.37, roughly 3/4 that of Sunnyvale's - see below (click to enlarge):

At the lower end we have Santa Clara with 0.74 SF/person and at the upper end, several towns with 1.0 SF/person.  So choose the town you want to emulate, and multiply Sunnyvale's population by the SF/person number to get the library space Sunnyvale should have to get there.

To emulate:
Alameda or Santa Clara, 0.74 * 141,000 = 104,340 SF = 44,000 additional SF
Mtn View 0.8 * 141,000 = 112,800 SF = 52,800 additional SF
San Mateo, Redwood City, San Leandro = 1.0 * 141,000 = 141,000 SF = 79,000 additional SF

3. What About Population Growth?
But, Sunnyvale will gain population.  Mayor Griffith said during the 2013 LoWV forum that he felt Sunnyvale should have 200,000 people to accommodate all the office space and jobs currently in Sunnyvale, so more people could live near work.  If we want to plan for the future using that number, then:

To emulate:
Alameda or Santa Clara, 0.74 * 200,000 = 148,000 SF = 88,000 additional SF
Mtn View 0.8 * 200,000 = 160,000 SF = 100,000 additional SF
San Mateo, Redwood City, San Leandro = 1.0 * 200,000 = 200,000 SF = 140,000 additional SF

The proposed "public-private partnership" that would exchange about 14 acres of City-owned land in the Civic Center for a library would tear down the existing 60,000 square foot library and replace it with an 80,000 sq. ft. library.  This would raise Sunnyvale's library space to 0.567 sq. ft. per person.  Not even close to that of either Mountain View or Santa Clara and far below that of neighbors like San Mateo and Redwood City.  It is even more inadequate if you are expecting any growth in the Sunnyvale's population.
(The figure 14 acres was mentioned in the July 2012 presentation and is verified here: )

4. Conclusion:
In summary, the proposal to let 14 acres of the Civic Center be developed in exchange for a negligible improvement in library space makes no sense.  It also sets a terrible precedent that the City Council can spend anything it wants on anything at all without needing to go to the voters, by transferring city assets to private developers using vague phrases like "public-private partnership" to hide the reality.

In 2007 Sunnyvale voted on a library bond measure to tear down the old library (of 60,000 sq. ft.) and erect a new library of about 100,000 sq. ft.  This would have raised the sq. ft. per person ratio to 0.709 sq. ft. per person, still short of the library space of neighboring cities but a 40% increase.  The vote in favor garnered 59% but proposition 13 requires a 2/3 majority to approve new bond measures so it fell short by about 7%.

Some of those opposed felt there was a greater need for branch libraries, others felt a renovation would have been more cost effective, some because it wasn't explained very well, still others because there were no drawings or models of what the new library would look like.

Sunnyvale can get far more library for far less by asking the public to vote on a combination of renovation and addition to the existing library facilities, and by converting some park buildings to branch libraries.

4. Links to other aspects:
C.f., for an example of a beautiful library renovation and expansion for very little money look at:

Other cities trying to get an expansion of a library or a new library or branch create detailed plans and artists drawings with cost estimates.

Other cities renovate and expand like Pasadena, using buildings like our park buildings to create branch libraries, or some combination of the above.  To see, how other cities create large library space see:

Still other towns share school libraries lowering costs for both schools and cities.  See:

And virtually everyone does it much cheaper than the $1,000/sq. ft. of Sunnyvale's 2007 bond proposal. See avg. costs for library construction in CA (about $445/SF) here:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Work with the Sea - Don't Fight It!

The Dutch have hundreds of years working against the sea and have decided it is better to give in and learn to live with it.

NYT article here:

When I heard about the sea wall idea I thought it was a joke, a very bad joke.  I still think it is a joke, but many obviously do not see the humor.  Evidently some have no idea of what they are up against.  Let's see, puny humanity vs. Mother Nature - hmmmm - where should I place my bets???  I wonder...

A Sea Wall Didn't Help at ALL!
If you think about it at all, you realize that any sea wall has to be 100% effective, 100% of the time, with constant maintenance to fight the sea.  Does that sound like how the US treats infrastructure?

Also, North American coasts are partly sinking because the glaciers that formerly covered much of the central part of the continent have receded over the last few thousand years.  The effect of the glaciers was to push down on the center of the continent and as a result the edges pushed up - like pushing down on a hot water bottle.  With the glaciers mostly gone the land on the edges is sinking back down.  This all happens over thousands of years, but it is an ongoing process.

NYT Article here:

Friday, April 11, 2014

CA Water Project & is CA Drought Due to Climate Change?

A New York Times environment blog article (with many, many links) comes down firmly on the side of "natural variability" for the cause of the current drought in CA.  The main person quoted is a climate scientist who does NOT cast doubt on climate change itself, simply on that being the cause of the current CA drought.

Article here:

I personally have no doubt that climate change is real and is caused by human activity.  I also am strongly opposed to blaming climate change every time the weather acts a bit less than humans would like in a particular region.  That is more likely to discredit the concept of human induced climate change - as well as the individual "who cries wolf".  The issue is too serious to be thrown around so casually.

My reading of "The Atlantic" article below is that the grand CA water project Brown proposes is 50% over-engineering and that the real solution consists of a lot of 'little' local efforts at conservation, desalinization, gray-water, more local storage, greater efficiency, etc.  In addition, it appears that CA agribusiness would not suffer all that greatly (about 6%) under one computer model of climate change in CA.

Article here:

The worst CA drought known was in 1600-1650 when the average was 20% of normal rainfall.