Reflections from Acterra


Climate change awareness builds resilient communities

By Violet Saena, Acterra

A community partner spotlight highlighting content written by a key local partner from each Design Team. Local partners were asked to respond to a set of questions about their experience working with Teams and Resilient by Design.

East Palo Alto has been repeatedly referenced and reported in formal research as one of the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise. Recent studies project that by 2030 a one foot rise in sea level is expected in the Bay Area (National Research Council, 2014). By 2050, this will be a two foot increase from current levels—and an increase of five plus feet by 2100 ( NRC, 2014). Given the very slow nature of this change, however, these projections have not yet reached a broad level of community awareness in East Palo Alto—despite its lowland nature and great vulnerability to the aggressive nature of these anticipated climate extremes. The limited resources, lack of knowledge and low capacity to see and understand the nature of sea level rise leave the community unable to respond.  

The inclusiveness of the Resilient by Design (RbD) approach provides an opportunity to embark on a project to teach the community of East Palo Alto about its vulnerabilities. Indeed, this project requires a level of awareness and understanding of the community itself as well as an understanding of what the community perceives as risk. The Field Operations Team and Acterra have partnered up with community leaders and local community-based organizations to design a strategy to engage the community in its multiple languages through visual presentations of information, outreach to highly attended community events, and more tailored efforts to learn about and address the barriers and concerns of the community. RbD has now constructed the partnerships and collaborations with organizations that experience significant community participation such as Faith in Action, Anamatangi Polynesian voices, Kavanagh Neighborhood, and the local churches.


Acterra has been pleased to give the community an opportunity to be heard and be present in initial discussions about next steps. The community members who have attended to date were highly supportive of our initial ideas and called for more engagement, more information sharing and more education to better prepare more members of the community for the uncertainties to come. There was high interest in how local citizens might respond in proactive ways to the anticipated climate extremes and future sea level rises. 

As a community partner, we understand the limitations we are facing together—the need for reliable infrastructure, solid finance, and strong collaboration with multiple stakeholders to build resiliency and capacity to design concrete steps to develop protection for the EPA community. However, we are trying to protect a community for which a large percentage of the population continues to have little understanding of its vulnerabilities. We therefore believe it is imperative that we continue this inclusive process of outreach and invite every citizen of East Palo Alto to work collaboratively with us and learn how to become informed about how to join in the decision-making about how to build capacity to address the factors that, if unattended, could greatly compound the harmful effects of these very real risks.