Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Message from the City Manager – Levee Protection Planning & Improvements Project: A Critical and Needed Infrastructure Improvement

As your City Manager, I understand that there is a great deal of concern regarding the Levee Protection Planning and Improvements Project. There have been questions and comments about the project online, at meetings, and in conversations with City Council, City staff and myself. I first want to thank citizens for being engaged and sharing their thoughts with us. It is invaluable to our communication that citizens care enough to get involved with the process of local government. So let me address what I believe is the most important Public Works infrastructure project since the construction of Foster City.

The project began in 2014 with news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determined that the current levee system did not meet accreditation standards, meaning that Foster City would be designated as a flood zone if changes were not made.

In 2015, the City brought together a team of staff and consultants, and met with FEMA to request that Foster City properties not be designated in a flood zone. FEMA informed the project team that Foster City would be considered for “seclusion mapping” (which would delay the flood-zone designation) if progress was made to improve the levee. With that information, on April 28th, 2015, the City Council accepted “seclusion mapping” and on behalf of the City Council, former Mayor Art Kiesel informed FEMA (via letter) that improvements would be made to the levee system to regain accreditation.

On August 28th, 2015, the City held a kick-off meeting inviting our regional elected officials and all environmental agencies involved to discuss the proposed levee improvement project. Those in attendance included Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Senator Jerry Hill, Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, and County Supervisor Dave Pine; all of whom indicated the importance of collaboration, communication, and their interest and support in the City delivering a successful project. City staff continues to converse and meet with staff members of those leaders as we move forward to successful implementation of the Levee Protection Planning & Improvements Project.

For the past 2 years, the project team has worked diligently with consultants, over 20 environmental agencies including 4 regulatory agencies, residents, businesses, and engineers to decide the best course of action for the community.

This project is the largest and most complex since the initial development of the City. The levee along the bay is an integral part of the City’s infrastructure, safety, and enjoyment for the community. The priority for the City has been to maintain resident’s safety and property in a way that would be fiscally and environmentally responsible. A variety of options were presented to the City Council, and on May 8th, 2017 the City Council directed staff to proceed with the “2050 Sea Level Rise Plus Adaptability” Scenario, to further develop and analyze a future offshore adaptation strategy, and proceed with a general obligation bond financing alternative over a 30-year period. This option will not only protect your property and provide a cost effective approach to address sea level rise concerns, but prevent many property owners from having to purchase costly flood insurance. These improvements would also address potential hazards to the City’s infrastructure; such as the Corporation Yard, which houses the City’s water storage tanks and pumping station, providing for quality and reliable water and wastewater service, in addition to the lagoon pumping system.

Since 2015 we have held 37 public, regulatory, and project meetings on this project. We will continue to conduct meetings to ensure that informed decisions are made and everyone is kept up-to-date as we move forward.

Here are a few key facts that I ask you to keep in mind:

  • FEMA has determined that the Foster City levee system no longer meets FEMA accreditation requirements.
  • FEMA has temporarily granted Foster City “seclusion mapping” designation, so long as progress was made to address the deficiencies of the levee.
  • If the appropriate steps are not made, Foster City may be declared as a high-risk Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). In terms of impact to properties, this would mean that:
    1. All properties with federally backed loans or other types of loans, as part of the flood zone, would be required to indefinitely obtain flood insurance at a cost of over $1,000 and up annually; 
    2. All property owners would be required to disclose flood zone designation when selling their property; and
    3. Property values may be impacted.
  • Permitting is required from all 4 regulatory agencies involved. This includes FEMA, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), Army Corp of Engineers, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). 
    • BCDC requires resilience through design to the high range of 2050.
    • Both RWQCB and BCDC require risk assessments and adaptation strategies to address 2100 Sea Level Rise.
  • The City continues to meet with BCDC to discuss project design requirements, as well as the impact to construction costs.
  • The City also continues to meet with our regional elected officials to discuss the progress made thus far and the appropriate next steps in this project.
  • Estimated construction and project management costs are initially $90 million for the 2050 Sea Level Rise Scenario with future adaptation to 2100 Sea Level Rise.
  • A general obligation bond was determined to be the most cost-effective form of financing for this project out of the alternatives that were studied. A bond measure that requires 2/3rd votes to pass is projected to be on the June 2018 ballot.
  • No local, state, or federal funding is currently available for this project. However, the City continues to seek any grant opportunities, as well as work with local, state, and federal officials to seek other funding sources.
  • Lowering the lagoon levels in significant amounts is not a viable solution because our lagoon pump system would not be able to sustain flood protection or maintain its structural integrity in the case of a breach to the levee. In addition, this alternative is NOT acceptable to FEMA in order to retain accreditation.

The project team has posted detailed information about the project to the City website at every step of the way, and will continue to do so. We encourage citizens to learn about the project and continue to engage with us as it progresses over the next several years. Ask questions and bring your concerns to us, so that you may obtain accurate information. Visit the project webpage, sign up for the Levee Project listserv, sign up for the City’s monthly newsletter, follow us on social media, or contact Project Manager Allan Shu directly at (650)286-3271 or ashu@fostercity.org.

In closing, I want to emphasize and assure residents that the City and its staff will do all that we can to ensure the health and safety of the community and it is paramount that you have confidence and trust in us by working together.

After nearly 32 years with the City of Foster City, I care about you and this City. I have dedicated my career to this community, and it has given just as much back to me. I have full confidence that the improvements to the levee will serve everyone, and I applaud the community for their interest in the City of Foster City, and encourage you all to stay engaged.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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