Jan 20, 2023 - News

San Francisco starts counting its storm costs

Flooding on The Great Highway

Flooding last week on The Great Highway. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

With clear skies for the foreseeable future, San Francisco officials are assessing damages from the recent string of storms and questioning whether responses from the city were adequate.

What's happening: The Department of Emergency Management's initial estimate of damages released this week totaled $46 million. That includes damages to public and private property in San Francisco, as well as city-owned property outside of the county, including the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System.

Why it matters: The historic weeks of rains — which included the city's second wettest day ever on record — raises questions about San Francisco's preparedness for extreme weather, especially as the impacts of climate change intensify.

What they're saying: “Since the beginning of this year, our City agencies have worked around the clock to respond to a number of storm-related issues,” Mayor London Breed tweeted this week, thanking city workers for “providing the support and resources we needed to take care of San Francisco and keep residents safe.”

Meanwhile, Supervisor Hillary Ronan, who represents the Mission District, told the Chronicle she thought the city should have put up flood barriers ahead of the massive New Year's Eve storm, which could have helped mitigate damages to hard-hit areas like 17th and Folsom.

  • Joseph Sweiss, a spokesperson for the SF Public Utilities Commission, said the city did not anticipate so much rain.

The head of the utilities commission, Dennis Herrera, said recently that no city could design a sewer to withstand the levels of the New Year's Eve storm.

  • Yes, but: San Francisco is pouring billions of dollars into modernizing its sewer system across the city, including a $630 million project to reduce the risk of flooding in specific, low-lying areas.

Details: San Francisco saw 17 inches of rain between Dec. 26 and Jan. 15, almost amounting to its yearly average of just under 23 inches.

  • Trees fell throughout the city, and who could forget the day of hail, thunderstorms and lightning (which struck Sutro Tower)?
  • Tragically, one resident appears to have died from a downed tree limb in Golden Gate Park, though her cause of death is still not confirmed.

Of note: The city is offering $5,000 grants to small businesses in known flood zones and $2,000 to others to help assist with storm-related damages.

  • The SFPUC also says that since New Year's Eve, residents have claimed over 2,400 storm drains as part of its Adopt-a-Drain program.

Zoom out: President Biden visited Santa Cruz on Thursday to see some of the wreckage left behind by recent flooding and landslides.

  • Across California, at least 20 deaths have been attributed to the storms and overall damages are expected to be in the billions of dollars.

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