Canal Emergency Preparedness Council: Averting Disaster

Surrounded by beautiful golden hills and sparkling water, San Rafael appears to be safely nestled in a protected crook of the northern San Francisco Bay. But there is a largely invisible danger that our city needs to address. Global sea level rise threatens a large area of San Rafael as much of our waterfront is unprotected and difficult to access in case of emergency. The good news is that community organizations, residents, and business owners are already working together to create plans for emergency preparedness.

What are the Risks?

Flooding poses several very real risks to San Rafael’s people and property:

  • 25% of San Rafael’s population lives within the 100-year flood zone in East San Rafael (approximately 15,000 people live in the Canal, Spinnaker/Bay Point Neighborhoods.) In a major flood, these neighborhoods would suffer great loss without adequate preparation. Homes, automobiles, and business inventories would be flooded. A toxic stew of household chemicals, sewage, gasoline, oils, and fluids could be released into the flood waters.
  • Businesses providing 66% of San Rafael’s sales tax revenue would be disrupted
  • An elementary school, Al Boro Center, grocery stores, the County Health and Wellness Center and a fire station could be flooded.
  • Access to East San Rafael could be cut off (Bellam Boulevard and Francisco Boulevard East could be flooded and unusable).
  • Our immigrant community — the people Marin County depends on to provide services ranging from health care, construction, food and beverage, maintenance and repair — could be forced out of their homes and lose their transportation (automobiles) to jobs.

Working Together Against Flooding, Earthquakes and Sea Level Rise

The Multicultural Center of Marin (MCM) has convened a new group dedicated to helping the the Canal community become better prepared for natural emergencies. The Canal Emergency Preparedness Committee (CEPC) is comprised of local leaders and business owners, plus city officials. Regular members include Douglas Mundo (Director of MCM), Maite Duran (Alcohol Justice), Quinn Gardner (City of San Rafael, Emergency Manager), Milton Davis (Davis Sign Co.), Erick Winkler (Red Cross), Maggie Lang (CERT), and Jeff Rhoads (Resilient Shore).

The expectation of all participants is to share skills, knowledge, and expertise to identify what’s best for local families and communities in the event of a disaster. Their vision is threefold:

  • To foster an authentic community engagement process that incorporates social justice
  • To create realistic, actionable plans that will be executed in a timely manner
  • To collaborate with the City of San Rafael and others to solve problems and find opportunities that benefit all people equitably

The CEPC aims to foster an authentic community engagement process that results in concrete solutions. The group meets 10 times a year, and the next meeting will occur in February. Meetings are open to anyone who is interested in participating, so please check Multicultural Center of Marin’s website for exact date. Although the CEPC is still in its inception, they have already achieved several of their immediate goals.

  • CEPC members collaborated on a draft emergency response plan, which will be refined and finalized this year.
  • In 2018, the San Rafael Fire Department and Alcohol Justice youth and adult training program joined together to provided bilingual emergency preparedness training for community members. Quinn Gardener provided leadership for the effort. She joined the Fire Department as its new Emergency Preparedness Coordinator in 2018.
  • In 2018, the Red Cross completed a smoke and carbon monoxide detector installation program in the Canal Neighborhood in cooperation with the CEPC.
  • During 2018 National Night Out, the CEPC provided resources and information about emergency preparedness to the East San Rafael community.


2016 FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map showing the Central and East San Rafael Valley. Downtown San Rafael is in the upper left corner and the Junction of US 101 and I-580 is in the center. The bay is on the right side. The light blue area would become flooded in a “100 year” storm (1% probability in any year) with the water depth dependent on elevation. A flood would happen during the simultaneous occurrence of a king tide and major storm with rain for several days. This kind of atmospheric river storm caused the great Redwood Empire 1964 flood. At its peak, the Eel River discharged as much water into the Pacific as the average flow of the Mississippi River. Without adaptation and flood risk reduction measures, the blue area will eventually be inundated by the bay.

Emergency Preparedness Planning for the Future

Short Term Objectives:

  • Address immediate life safety concerns including fire safety (smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, family emergency preparedness plans)
  • Improve emergency preparedness response within the community
  • Improve emergency notification to residences and businesses. Informing people of predictable events including impending floods hours before they occur will allow orderly actions to move people and property out of harm’s way.
  • Identify escape routes and safe places to go (for example high ground to move automobiles and people to – the former land fill site including Target and Home Depot is the highest ground located in East San Rafael)

Longer Term Objectives:

  • Harden critical community facilities, including Al Boro Center at Pickleweed Park and Bahia Vista School, so they can serve as community refuges in the event of a flood or earthquake.
  • Improve access and egress to and from East San Rafael including a pedestrian bridge over the Canal, building the missing section of Kerner Boulevard and a new interchange on I 580 that also connects Kerner Boulevard to Andersen Drive
  • Prepare and Implement a Shore Resiliency Plan for East and Central San Rafael

 What You Can Do to Help

The Emergency Preparedness Council is seeking volunteers. You can get more information or sign up here. But also, emergency preparation begins at the individual level. Protect yourself in the event of a disaster. We recommend:

We welcome your input! Please email us questions, ideas, or suggestions at

Letter from the Executive Director

2018 was an amazing year for shore resiliency and flood risk management in San Rafael and the Bay Area.  The Resilient by Design Challenge (RbD) brought many different community groups and stakeholders together to understand the challenges we face as well as possible adaptation solutions. The RbD Bionic Team’s Elevate San Rafael project gave us excellent research and illustrations showing the impacts of flooding and sea level rise over time. They also provided a range of creative solutions for us to ponder and spur us on to develop additional alternatives. Community participation was strong.

The most striking question we face as a community is whether to plan for “managed retreat” from the effects of climate change and inundation or to “hold the line” and protect existing urban areas. We may discover this isn’t an either-or choice. It may be a combination of the two with different responses in different areas.

I presented an overview of the consequences of flooding and sea level rise to the San Rafael General Plan 2040 Steering Committee in spring. The City Council considered these issues in August when they received a presentation by Bionic. Our city community development staff and the Steering Committee received the baton in December. The take-aways from the City Council and Steering Committee were the need to consider alternatives beyond phased managed retreat and also to take action quickly. The social, economic, and environmental costs are daunting when one considers the impacted area. Central and East San Rafael alone contain 66% of our economic base and approximately 20,000 people, including our most vulnerable immigrant community.

The Steering Committee consensus favored taking up adaptation to climate change as part of the General Plan update. Particular issues of concern are flooding, sea level rise, and wild land and urban fire danger. The time is upon us to deal with it. The resources available and schedule will not allow preparation of detail adaptation plans as part of the General Plan scope.

Resilient Shore will be meeting with the city community development team in February to consider how the General Plan can address these important issues and how to provide guidance for adaptation plans as a critical next step.  Resilient Shore aims to assist the city in preparing a community-based Shore Plan. We intend to seek private funding and assistance from our strategic partners to provide a local match for planning grants. The city’s General Plan receives a major review and revision every 20 years. Considering the rate of climate change, this is our best opportunity to prepare for the future. 2019 promises to build on 2018’s excellent progress.

Thank you for joining our shared quest for a safer and better city and natural environment.

We are always looking for Shore News stories and photographs. Please share with us your ideas about shore history, ecology, its cultural and natural landscapes, and personal stories about the shore. Contact Siân Killingsworth at

Jeff Rhoads
Executive Director
Resilient Shore




We’re a non-profit project dedicated to working with local people and businesses, listening to their concerns, and together creating the best-of-all-worlds flood mitigation plan that benefits everybody.



San Rafael City Council meets the first and third Mondays every month at 7 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers.


Editor: Siân Killingsworth
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Resilient Shore is a non-profit project of MarinLinkOur mailing address is:
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