Nobody asked for my guidance in this fall’s elections. That’s OK—this isn’t guidance, just a few observations from October.
The mayoral candidates in Oakland, almost unanimously, have ignored the two geological elephants in the room. First is the Hayward fault and its chronic threat to this wonderful city. Oakland is the upcoming victim, at some time unforeseen, of a magnitude-7 earthquake that will rip the ground all the way from beyond Sheffield Village to beyond the Claremont Resort. And ten times as many magnitude-6 events, the size of the 24 August Napa earthquake, will arise from the same stretch of the fault in the next century or so. Second is the rising sea level, which within our children’s lifespans will lap onto the waterfront and airport.
But those aren’t really election issues; they’re policy issues. We have staff making plans and pushing them forward an inch at a time, about as fast as the Hayward fault creeps. I’m sure that our next mayor, whoever it is, will support them fully. One of those plans is aimed at our large stock of vulnerable buildings—soft-story apartments. These multifamily dwellings, many of them fine old buildings, house some 20,000 people. In forecasts of the Big One, fully two-thirds of the Oakland residents made homeless will come from this class of structure. The city has mapped them, and when you contemplate the map maybe you’ll start thinking of them the way fire officials think of old-growth eucalyptus stands.
The Oakland Soft Story program has made good progress this year. Mayor Quan and Councilor Kalb got a task force together in April to get an ordinance ready for early 2015 that will concentrate on this low-hanging fruit of civic resilience, and I commend them both. (City Manager Henry Gardner published an excellent memo this month on the status of the program.) Dan Kalb isn’t up for re-election this year; Jean Quan is. Quan also is the only one of the mayoral candidates to mention earthquakes on their websites. She has a lot going for her, from my parochial viewpoint, like her support for the geology sign at Joaquin Miller Park. She took the time to show up at the Loma Prieta 25 policy conference on October 16, where she presented a spirited defense of the city’s earthquake preparedness efforts.
She gets it. I didn’t vote for her, though, because I think at least three other candidates will make better mayors. It’s OK if you disagree about that. But I trust that all of the likely winners will carry on correctly, with goading from Dan Kalb and skilled assistance from our Chief Resilience Officer, Victoria Salinas. Both of them get it, too.
That’s earthquake preparedness. Nobody’s talking about sea-level rise, but a lot of people are thinking about it, and I believe we’ll make the necessary adjustments in a timely way. It happens that the subject is on Salinas’s radar. If you never heard of her before, it’s because the Chief Resilience Officer is a grant-funded position that just started this year. I very much want her to succeed and be supported here after the grant runs out. Again, not an election issue.
On the state side of the election, I have less to say. The big water bond, Proposition 1, will direct some money at the Delta levees, which is an enormous area of vulnerability to earthquakes and sea-level rise. The more money the better, I say.
And in the Secretary of State election, I believe in Alex Padilla. He was off my radar until he sponsored the legislation for the statewide Earthquake Early Warning network last year. And last month at the Third International Earthquake Early Warning Conference, he showed up and seemed quite at home among the scientists and emergency-response people who care deeply about this technology. Turns out he’s a trained mechanical engineer, and as state senator for the district including Caltech, he regularly visited the school to keep up with the science there. It was by chance during one such visit that he got wind of the ShakeAlert early-warning system, and to his credit he took up the issue and carried it over the goal line. I believe that as Secretary of State, he would do the right things for the state’s voting technology. Actually I’m sure Pete Peterson would do a good job too, but I want to reward Padilla for good behavior even if he never deals with earthquake stuff again.
BTW check the Announcements/Q&A page about a walk I’ll be leading on November 8.