San pablo Bay Commons

Solano County | Napa County | Sonoma County | Marin County 

Common Ground


Common Ground continues to work towards a stronger, safer Bay Area by designing innovative solutions that tackle the effects of climate change in San Pablo Bay. In the next design phase, the team will work with communities and key stakeholders to help imagine design approaches that address climate and seismic risks, and ensure that the solutions proposed in May of 2018 reflect community needs. This process is not only driven by a desire to mitigate the impacts of climate change and seismic events, but also by a sense of opportunity to understand seemingly disparate communities as bound together by the shared resources and common identity of San Pablo Bay.  


San Francisco Bay is typically subdivided into areas with distinct identities – South Bay, Central Bay, the Delta / Suisun Bay, and San Pablo Bay. Although the cultural identity of San Pablo Bay is the least clear, its distinguishing ecological and geomorphological features make it a compelling subregion of diverse landscape conditions. Large areas to the north retain much of their rural character. Sloughs and tidal marshes await restoration through the breaching of levees. To the south, a dense working-class industrial corridor stretches from Richmond to Vallejo. These places are not often thought of as related to each other, yet they all share San Pablo Bay as their common front door.


Current infrastructure such as Highway 37 and freight rail lines that encircle the San Pablo Bay are brittle and subject to liquefaction and increasingly frequent flooding. The same geology that defines areas of risk also delineates zones of relative safety. Common Ground is committed to investing in infrastructure that works in tandem with the  geomorphological grain of our bay. The team proposes innovative, water-based infrastructure with the capacity to equitably connect communities through a network of stable highgrounds along the Bay edge, while allowing undeveloped lowlands to adapt ecologically with sea level rise.


San Pablo Bay’s unique character and topography creates an opportunity to unite communities with not only ferries connecting promontories of stable, higher ground, but with a dense network smaller boats and landings adapted to varied ecological and community needs. San Pablo waterfronts are primed for revitalization and the historical water-transit systems could be reconnected. By enhancing mobility and understanding of shared local conditions, communities here could reorient to turn to “face” the bay.


Common Ground is comprised of landscape architects, urban designers, architects, scientists, artists, educators, economists, community organizers, academics, ecologists, and civil, hydrological, geotechnical, and structural engineers. Their common cause is an urgent sense of our collective task: they must quickly formulate an approach to sea level rise that is investigative, experimental, adaptive, socially responsible, and sustainable.


We also want to acknowledge the contributions of the stakeholders and experts who have engaged in this process through our working group. In recognizing these individuals and organizations we do not necessarily mean to imply that they endorse every aspect of our design proposal, but we want to thank them for their participation in this process and for the feedback they’ve given us over the past several months. Thanks to Dr. Wendy Eliot and Julian Meisler of the Sonoma Land Trust, Dr. Renee Spenst of Ducks Unlimited, Don Brubaker of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Nick Nguyen of the Transportation Authority of Marin, James Cameron of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Daniel Schmitz of the Napa Valley Transportation Authority, Robert Guerrero and Anthony Adams of the Solano Transportation Authority, Stephanie Hom of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Dick Fahey of Caltrans, Amy Hartman of Greenbelt Alliance, Maureen Gaffney of the Bay Trail, Ben Botkin of the SF Bay Area Water Trail, and Fraser Shilling of UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

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