This week, cities across the country celebrated the sixth annual National Infrastructure Week by shining a light on vital infrastructure projects and speaking out about the benefits of investing in our roads, transit systems, sewers and important public buildings like libraries and hospitals.
The theme this year was: “The future won’t wait. Neither can we.” In San Francisco, this message of urgency really hits home, because we know we will be subject to certain natural events in the future: A large earthquake will occur. Sea levels will continue to rise. Extreme weather and storms will affect our beautiful shorelines.
The advantage to this foresight is that it gives us the opportunity to prepare for these known challenges. The City is taking deliberate steps to improve our resiliency — and infrastructure — so that we can maintain our way of life in San Francisco despite known natural threats.
Strengthening the Embarcadero Seawall is one the most important infrastructure projects of our generation to protect our city from sea level rise and help ensure our ability to withstand a major earthquake.
If you’ve never heard of the Embarcadero Seawall before, you’re not alone. Because the Seawall is an underground retaining wall, it’s largely invisible. Yet, the world-famous destinations along the San Francisco waterfront — including the Embarcadero Promenade, the piers, the Ferry Building and ferry terminals, the Exploratorium, AT&T Park, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf and many more — are supported by this piece of human-made infrastructure.
The Embarcadero Seawall supports more than $100 billion in assets and economic activity along the waterfront. These assets at risk are 10 to 40 times greater than the investment needed to strengthen the seawall.
The Embarcadero Seawall may be located along the waterfront, but it is protecting and supporting vital transportation resources that reach every neighborhood in The City. For example, the Muni Metro system registers more than a half-million daily boardings on routes that terminate downtown.
This vital but unseen piece of San Francisco infrastructure was designed and constructed before the advent of modern engineering techniques and was never intended to withstand seismic forces and soil liquefaction. Investigation by the Port of San Francisco shows that the seawall has aged and settled and no longer offers the adequate flood protection. For more than a century, the seawall has served us well, but it is now in need of significant improvements to withstand the next major earthquake and protect us from increasing flood risk due to sea level rise.
We are proud to see city leadership prioritize the Seawall Earthquake Safety Program, a multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild the 100-year-old seawall. Mayor Mark Farrell’s May 1 budget included significant investments to many important infrastructure projects, including $6.35 million for seismic improvements for the seawall. We also anticipate a $425 million bond measure to strengthen the waterfront to go before voters in November.
San Francisco’s waterfront is a backbone for the regional transportation system, an iconic destination and world-renowned for its beautiful public open space, restaurants, family museums, attractions and more. More than 24 million people come and go each year, use the seawall and rely on the unseen infrastructure that makes our city’s waterfront beautiful.
The future won’t wait. Neither can we. We must do everything in our power to make sure we have a safe Embarcadero Seawall now and for future generations.
Aaron Peskin represents District 3 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Carmen Chu is the elected Assessor of San Francisco. Naomi Kelly is the City Administrator.