Watching the shoreline

A new special district aims to address sea level rise and climate change issues that are coming to the coast. Adam Pardee / Tribune

A new local district aimed at combating the effects of sea level rise and flooding is making waves this year starting with a series of public meetings as it works to define its budget and priorities.

The San Mateo County Flood and Sea Level Rise Resiliency District, known as OneShoreline, was founded in early 2020 by the California Legislature to work to prevent and to address the effects of flooding and sea level rise throughout the county and on its shores, both on the Bayside and the Coastside.

Vice Chair Debbie Ruddock, who represents coastal cities Pacifica, Daly City and Half Moon Bay, said the district has begun ramping up activity over the past year, establishing its organizational structure and beginning to build a list of regional projects to prioritize. It has also launched a series of climate change risk and resilience forums alongside the League of Women Voters. The next forum, focused on wildfires and their effects on erosion and flooding, is set for June 3, followed by an October meeting specifically addressing the county’s Pacific Coastline.

In Pacifica, protecting public infrastructure and development is top of mind, where erosion and sea level rise could threaten thousands of residents and billions of dollars of property. Several recent studies have named San Mateo County as the most vulnerable county in the state to sea level rise, partly because of its long shorelines both on the coast and the bay. That led local leaders to take action to form OneShoreline through a state bill and kick-start its work with funding from the county and each of the 20 cities.

“Rather than waiting around for the state to put the funds behind addressing these problems, some leaders in San Mateo County got this idea ... to craft this solution,” Ruddock said.

While its project list has not yet been finalized, Ruddock said the district will work in line with the state’s focus on resilient and cost-efficient sustainable solutions, like building living shorelines and natural landscapes to prevent erosion. And OneShoreline’s work won’t be limited just to the coasts — all local watersheds, particularly those running through highly developed areas, are at risk of flooding as the effects of climate change materialize, each with its own set of challenges.

“The effects of climate change are localized, so you need localized solutions,” Ruddock said.

To start, OneShoreline will build off the existing work of the fractured system of flood districts it now replaces, bolstered by three years of funding from the county and cities. But Ruddock said she hopes the group is able to take on a life of its own, prioritizing partnerships with the county, local cities, fire districts and the many other local agencies all working on climate change mitigation efforts. The district is still trying to figure out how it will be funded going forward, but Ruddock said it will rely on public funding — from property taxes, bonds or other public sources.

“The big challenge is we need to find a funding source to cover our operations going forward,” Ruddock said.

Most of all, Ruddock said, she wants to get as much public input as possible during these early stages to help shape their mission and goals moving forward and to put a spotlight on local climate change solutions as urgent.

“Sea level rise is happening slowly, so a lot of people aren’t focused on it yet,” Ruddock said. “A lot of people don’t react until it’s right in front of us, until the frog is boiling in the pot.”

A full list of board meetings and upcoming forums, including the June 3 webinar, is available at

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