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Elevate Communities to Lead: A Story from San Rafael’s Canal Neighborhood

January 26, 2024

By: Annie Sneed, Bay Adapt

Sea level rise will impact all Bay Area shoreline communities, but it will hit some harder and faster. This includes San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, which is one of the region’s most vulnerable communities. The City of San Rafael recognizes this, and it is taking an innovative approach to adaptation planning for the Canal: elevate the community to lead.  

The Canal sits on low-lying land and makes up the majority of San Rafael’s shoreline; it also has the densest population in the Bay Area outside of downtown San Francisco. Its residents are primarily non-native English speakers, immigrants, lower income, and renters. This means that the neighborhood will face the brunt of the city’s sea level rise impacts—in fact, parts of the Canal already sit feet below high tide.  

To help the neighborhood prepare for these impacts, the City of San Rafael has partnered with Marin County, UC Berkeley, and two community-based organizations, Canal Alliance and the Multicultural Center of Marin. The group aims to engage Canal residents in sea level rise adaptation planning and build up community capacity and leadership. To achieve this, they are establishing a community-led steering committee, public workshops, and focus groups with local residents. Community input will then help guide adaptation planning for the Canal neighborhood and the city.  

Community outreach in the Canal also focuses on education and creating a shared language for talking about sea level rise. “Most people living in this neighborhood have no idea that there is any risk of flooding today, let alone that the area is vulnerable to sea level rise,” explains Carly Finkle, Senior Policy Manager at Canal Alliance, “Moving forward, we’re hoping to meet Canal residents where they’re at with information about the risks and options, and get people’s reactions and feedback.” These efforts will ultimately ensure that the city’s adaptation planning is grounded in local needs and priorities.  

In this work, the City also aims to build up capacity of community-based organizations. “Developing strong partnerships with community-based organizations is how we’re changing the planning process,” says Kate Hagemann, the City of San Rafael’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience Planner. “We hope to create larger changes in the decision-making process, and this work is helping us take a step in that direction.” 

Read article at Bay Adapt.

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