Reflections from Shore Up Marin
By Ms Terrie Harris-Green, Shore Up Marin
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. Terrie Harris-Green is an environmental justice advocate for Marin City and Co-Director of Shore Up Marin, one of P+SET's local partners.
1. Is your community currently facing regular challenges related to flood risk?
Marin City is a prime example of vulnerability, giving other bay communities, and especially disadvantaged bay communities in the US and around the world a picture of the challenges that are coming their way as climate impacts increase over time. Marin City is also a community that has been advocating for equitable adaptation to sea level rise and for solutions to current flooding since 2013 through Shore Up Marin. Marin City is an active and involved community with a demonstrated track record of success in proposing, funding and implementing major community programs. These existing conditions provided the qualified community leadership in place to assure that the P+SET “Designing Our Own Solutions” concept would be successful. For example, we recommended the main participants be adults rather than youth, and recommended the name “Designing Our Own Solutions” as more attractive to community members. Shore Up Marin’s Marin City-based leadership was able to identify diverse community members to represent a cross section of skills, experience, location, homeowners, renters, private and public housing, upland and in “the bowl” section of Marin City.
Marin City has experienced chronic flooding for over 75 years. During the last 100 years sea levels have risen 8” in the Bay, challenging infrastructure built for lower water levels. We face seriously outdated infrastructure; pipes that are too small, clogged and broken; a detention pond that was built before sea levels rose and before climate change was affecting the amount of storm intensity that’s been wreaking havoc on our community. We’ve experienced 3 to 4 feet of sediment buildup in the detention basin which limits its overall effectiveness to do the job it’s supposed to do. On top of that, in order to address the problems of flooding a complex mix of private and public jurisdictions need to be corralled. No one seems to want to take responsibility for repairing anything. Sometimes even different parts of the same infrastructure are the responsibility or require the involvement of different parties such as Caltrans, the Gateway Shopping Center owner, County of Marin, the District 3 Flood District and the Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District, and others. The Marin City Flood Study spoke about how the pipe to the bay is way too small and that the tide gate has been broken for years. We have water pouring down the Mt. Tam mountainside which causes flooding and mudslides. Some of this water goes into a drain and out into a recognized EPA Superfund Site. When we have a King tide and a storm, we have water pouring into Marin City from the Mount Tam watershed, rolling in from the 101 freeway, and from the Bay, itself. Major flood events are happening with greater frequency, many times cutting off the one way in and out of Marin City. This means people cannot get to work, home from school, get critical health and other needs met and that emergency responders may be trapped outside the community when needed the most. Many of our water pipes and sewage pipes are older and they were laid close together. We are concerned that there is breakage and potential contamination of our water supply, which may be driving the fact that we have the most chronic disease in all of Marin County. Flooding also can unearth toxics under the ground - in addition to the superfund site there are other suspected dumping sites in Marin City. Many houses are tilting or otherwise damaged because of the high water table and flooding - for example some houses have broken away from their driveways, many community members are suffering with constant mold and mildew. A few times flooding has gotten so bad that all of 101 South has been blocked turning the freeway into a parking lot throughout most of Marin and Sonoma counties.
When it floods, there is potential for grave harm to Marin City residents and 101 commuters alike. There is also great opportunity for win-win solutions that enable Marin City residents and others in the county and beyond to live, work and visit our community. .
2. What is missing in your community in terms of reducing flood risk and reducing the negative effects from sea level rise?
There is insufficient investment, cross-sector and inter-juristictional cooperation, and prioritization to address these problems. There is insufficient political power and prioritization of Marin City’s infrastructure and numerous other needs going unmet here in Marin City. Marin City is a relatively small unincorporated area which has to compete with other more influential areas in the county.
Marin City does not have the same income base and political connections and therefore does not have the same resources to invest in individual or community solutions that more affluent neighboring communities can pay for or access.
Virtually everyone who works on these issues fails to acknowledge that the problems that individuals and the community face in Marin City are largely driven by a history of discriminatory redlining and job discrimination which undermines the ability of families to thrive and gain access to the same opportunities that nearby neighbors can access. Marin City is one of the few enclaves of African Americans left in the bay area and is at grave risk for major displacement. To solve this problem we need a more equitable distribution of political power and resources. Marin City residents must be empowered to be the architects of our own destiny.
3. Do you think the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge has helped your community move toward a more climate resilient future?
Most definitely, yes. The opportunity for Shore Up Marin / Marin City to lead the community engagement with P+SET leading the leadership and science-based and ecological curriculum and project methodology through the RbD Challenge has been very fruitful. Working together we have combined the detailed and generational local knowledge with ecosystem and permaculture expertise, expanding the menu of options and accessibility of solutions -- and dramatically increasing community involvement and ownership of these efforts. RbD has attracted greater attention to the project and has gotten a diversity of relevant agencies and experts interested in addressing local needs, many for the first time to our community. Because of RbD, the approaches that Shore Up Marin and P+SET have been developing and championing for years have coalesced into this successful pilot project and now have momentum and potential new support for timely implementation of solutions to flooding.
We appreciate that RbD chose to work with Shore Up Marin, an environmental justice and climate equity organization, and to keep working with us even when we didn’t always see eye to eye on everything. It was almost unimaginable for RbD to choose to ask the Marin City if we would like to partner with P+SET’s community-leadership permaculture approach. And after interviewing them we enthusiastically said yes.
4. Do you have concerns about how the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge might affect your community?
There are always risks inherent in collaborations and Marin City has a long history of having negative impacts imposed by outside entities. Yet Marin City also needs to work with visionary partners and investors to assure that it remains a vibrant place to live.
The biggest risk is we don’t want to get people’s hopes up and then not be able to implement the solutions. Marin City has a history of being placed on the back burner -- this demoralizes our community members and makes them reluctant to step forward and trust the good intentions of outsiders.
Another risk is that being more visible will increase the number of people looking to gentrify and displace our community.
We feel fortunate to have had a partner like P+SET which is so deeply committed to community empowerment and leadership. This has allowed a flowering of community-based capacity and momentum for solutions as the community embraces the opportunity to lead in efforts to solve flooding problems in a new way. The Permaculture + Social Equity approach has been an optimal match for a disadvantaged community like Marin City as the expanded menu of solutions provides opportunity for greater leadership, entrepreneurial opportunity, and the ability for community members to build solutions to make Marin City a more healthy and resilient community for all.
This fills critical and immediate community needs to transform active flooding trouble spots and make preventative natural infrastructure improvements.
The Marin City People’s Plan developed through the P+SET process
Includes these short-term community led natural / permaculture solutions as well as mid and long-term goals at different scales:
- Summer and one year site-specific implementation
- mid-term flooding / hazard mitigation
- long-term infrastructure improvements
- disaster preparedness capacity that must be in place in a vulnerable community like ours.
- Assessment of environmental health challenges and how they intersect with flooding/sea level rise which could spread toxins and sanitation leaks.
5. Do you have thoughts on how designers and technical experts can work to help increase our region’s climate resilience while ensuring new investments in resilient infrastructure do not lead to further displacement?
Yes: The key concern with all green infrastructure, development or community improvements in low income communities of color is the threat of displacement through the increased attractiveness and property values in the community.
We need a policy decision that we will not displace our low and low low income residents from the community.
We need well-paying jobs within the community, such as the manufacturing hubs that President Obama championed and implemented. This community was built as manufacturing hub, so we need to bring these jobs back in a modern way through Smart Manufacturing.
We need to promote home ownership, cooperative ownership of housing and community land trusts to ensure residents can stay in the community.
Retrofitting existing housing rather than knocking it down. The reality is once our community members leave an apartment for it to be knocked down and a new one built, they never return. We won’t accept a “solution” that removes members of our community and atomizes everything we have built together over generations.
No sunset clauses so people can be subtly evicted later.
Developers should not be allowed to build anything without restrictions embedded to protect residents from displacement, price gouging, flood risk, toxins, etc.
Funders and government should put restrictions on funding to protect our communities and put community members in leadership to assure these projects meet our needs.
Community ownership was systematically denied over generations. Now it is critical that solutions provide opportunities for community and individual ownership, employment, housing stability, healthful living and Marin City residents making the decisions and leading the efforts to secure and enhance our home.