SAN FRANCISCO – Business leaders and Sen. Dianne Feinstein launched a $1 billion, 10-year fundraising goal on Thursday that is aimed at preventing some of Silicon Valley's leading technology companies from going underwater — literally.
The money, the biggest share of which is expected to come from the federal government, is being sought to build a new earthquake- and storm-proof levee system along the southern part of San Francisco Bay, where the corporate campuses of Facebook, Google and other high-tech ventures abut land that was drained a century ago for commercial salt-making.
Planners predict those sites and thousands of South Bay homes are at risk of catastrophic flooding over the next half-century due to a climate change-fueled sea level rise. Currently, the bay's tidal waters are contained by low-lying levees constructed more than 100 years ago to create salt ponds, and they would be inadequate to the task of protecting prime real estate even if they were not deteriorating, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation President Steve McCormick said.
"There are dozens of corporate campuses in that flood zone," said McCormick, who is leading a committee of corporate and foundation heads, elected officials and environmental representatives who plan to promote and lobby for the project. "There is billions of dollars' worth of land that would be, for all intents and purposes, rendered unusable."
Most of the $1 billion in anticipated costs would go toward building new levees, but the preliminary budget also covers restoring about 36,000 acres of wetlands that were drawn off and filled in over the last 150 years, Save the Bay Executive Director Davis Lewis said. Returning the bay's shores to a wetland state would not only be a boon for wildlife, but provide a natural safeguard against future flooding, Lewis said.
"The need for wetland restoration is already on the radar screen and is under way in parts, but to get it all done is going to require a lot more money," he said. "The significance of what's happening today is these powerful constituents in business, the foundation world and government are saying one of the next big priorities is raising the money to make this happen."
At this stage, the coalition expects half of the money for the project to come from the federal government, a quarter from the state and the remaining quarter from local sources such as a property parcel tax, McCormick said. Corporations and foundations are being encouraged to foot the bill for preliminary planning, public education and lobbying, he said.
Feinstein, California's senior U.S. senator, endorsed the effort while she was in San Jose on Thursday to break ground on a public transportation project. The work would comprise the largest wetlands restoration plan in the nation outside the Florida Everglades, she said.