By Sidra Goldberg Pierson

Oakland’s City Council is meeting on Monday, June 10 to discuss adoption and revision of the Proposed City Budget. The current proposal is missing a key piece of funding to protect Oakland residents and the Bay: an evaluation of Oakland’s 400 miles of storm drains and pipes that carry polluted water to the Bay. We know this system is deteriorating, but no one knows just how bad it is.

This evaluation, the Storm Drainage Master Plan (SDMP), is a necessary investment in Oakland’s long-term resilience, sustainability, and Bay stewardship.

Here’s What You Need to Know and How You Can Take Action

Many parts of Oakland already experience seasonal flooding due to decades of underinvestment in the City’s stormwater infrastructure, and climate change only exacerbates these threats to Oakland residents. We see the consequences of ignored infrastructure in Oakland’s pot-holed and dangerous roads. Patchwork attempts to reduce damage to the storm drain system without a comprehensive plan will set the city up for increased community flooding, unmitigated pollution, pricey emergency repairs, and potential regulatory fines.

Funding for an update to the SDMP will provide a critical tool for the city to begin to address all these needs. A SDMP update will:

  • Comply with the City’s own Resilient Oakland Playbook, which recommends this update:  The Resilient Oakland Playbook, a tool for fostering climate and economic resilience in Oakland, identifies updating the SDMP as a key action step. It warns that the City’s storm drainage system is in critical need of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. A key first step to identifying critical projects that will reduce potentially costly and dangerous flooding is to update to the SDMP.
  • Provide needed knowledge and data to address stormwater pollution systematically: This will help to ensure that Oakland infrastructure is resilient the face of climate change, sea level rise, and flooding from large storms while reducing trash and pollution flowing into the Bay.
  • Help the City to achieve trash clean-up goals: Oakland is required to achieve “100% trash capture from stormwater” by 2022 based on the Clean Water Act. If the City fails to do so, pollution will continue to run into the Bay, and Oakland could face fines that would further jeopardize efforts to achieve a clean and healthy Bay.
  • Allow Oakland to access state funding for needed trash clean-up: In pursuing work to clean up trash in stormwater, Oakland has an opportunity to partner with the California Department of Transportation to achieve the requirements of the Clean Water Act. A cooperative trash clean-up plan could give the City access to much-needed state funding, making trash clean-up faster and cheaper.

You Can Make a Positive Impact for Oakland

You have the opportunity to influence Oakland’s two-year budget before it is finalized at the end of this month. Please take a few minutes to call or email members of the budget committee, whose contact information is listed below. We have provided a template that you can either copy and paste into an email or use as a script for a phone call.

Council President Kaplan 510-238-7008
Council Member Fortunato Bas 510-238-7002
Council Member McElhaney 510-238-7003
Council Member Taylor 510-238-7006 (press 5)
Council Member Thao 510-238-7004

Phone/ Email Script:

Hello, My name is ________, and I am an Oakland resident. I am calling (/emailing) to request that funding to update the Storm Drain Master Plan be included in the Oakland City Budget. Completion of a Storm Drain Master Plan will protect our community from flooding during large storm events, prepare the city to meet regulatory requirements, and allow Oakland to partner with Caltrans to achieve critical funds to clean up trash in our stormwater. Also, an update to the Storm Drain Master Plan is a key recommendation in our own Resilient Oakland Playbook, as it will reduce community flooding and pollution that harms public health, creeks, Lake Merritt, and the San Francisco Bay.


The following Opinion piece was published on June 5, 2019, in the San Jose Mercury News.

Since our great awakening in the 1960s, the Bay Area has become a proud leader in protecting our local environment, from the redwoods and ridgelines to San Francisco Bay. We stopped shrinking the Bay with landfill and garbage dumps, cracked down on polluters and treated our sewage. We started restoring old salt ponds to lush tidal marshes for wildlife and flood protection, creating hundreds of miles of Bay Trail and shoreline parks.

But some wealthy developers don’t care, despite decades of being told, “no, we won’t build on the Bay anymore.” With Donald Trump’s help, Cargill Salt and luxury home developer DMB Associates keep putting their profit above the health of our Bay.

Sound familiar? In 2012, after years of massive public opposition, Redwood City officials halted the same companies’ project to build 12,000 homes on Bay salt ponds. They saw that “Saltworks” development would put people at risk from floods, destroy wildlife habitat, increase traffic and overtax city drinking water supplies.

Now Arizona-based DMB is back and trying to build on the Bay again, buoyed by the Trump administration’s attacks on federal environmental laws that protect wetlands and clean water.

But what made this the wrong place for housing before, hasn’t changed today.  Endangered fish, birds, and other wildlife need more shoreline habitat not less. California laws still protect water, wetlands, and the wildlife that depend on them.

Cargill’s salt ponds are still a top priority for addition to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Redwood City zoning and land use rules still prohibit housing or other development on this “tidal plain” of the Bay – only agriculture or public recreation and parks are legal there.

Traffic is still terrible on Highway 101 and other roads near this site, which is miles from Caltrain. Building thousands of luxury condos there would add more cars, traffic and emissions.

What has changed since 2012? More reasons not to develop on Bay wetlands.

Bay Area residents are more concerned than ever about climate change and sea level rise because we’re already experiencing more extreme storms and floods. We know it’s not smart to put more people and buildings at risk in this flood zone.

We have better science on how our Bay can adapt to rising tides. A new report shows natural solutions are cheaper than seawalls, better for wildlife, and that the entire Saltworks site is suitable for tidal marsh, not new development. [“New Plan to Combat Sea Level Rise,” 5-2-19] . We understand this so well that more than 70 percent of us voted to tax ourselves in 2016 to accelerate Bay marsh restoration.

Marsh restoration is proceeding on either side of the Saltworks site – it’s the missing piece of a continuous wildlife corridor from San Carlos to San Jose.

To combat climate change and create more resilient and equitable communities, the Bay Area needs to add affordable housing near transit hubs, not pave over more wetlands. Redwood City has led Peninsula cities by adding thousands of new housing units downtown and on transit corridors this decade, with more coming.

Local politicians hear the public loud and clear without developer-sponsored forums to “Reimagine Saltworks.” Redwood City Mayor Ian Bain says, “The community wants to see the site restored to wetlands and there’s close to zero appetite for another housing proposal.”

Over the last 50 years, we’ve turned the tide to stop shrinking the Bay, embraced it as our greatest natural treasure, and restored its health. We can’t let the Trump Administration and misguided developers take us backward by destroying the Bay we love.

David Lewis is executive director of Save The Bay.