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Some San Francisco Police, Fire Stations Are Flawed and Vulnerable to Flooding, Report Says

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San Francisco Fire Department building and boat docked nearby at Fireboat Station 35, with the Bay Bridge in the background on a clear day in San Francisco on June 7, 2024.  (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A fire truck parked next to a floating station on San Francisco Bay sits in the path of rising seas. Floodwaters surround a police station during a massive atmospheric river. Motorcycle cops are trapped, unable to leave for hours.

These are not scenes from a Hollywood disaster flick but a stark reality laid out in the latest San Francisco Civil Grand Jury report, finding that a fractured approach to city infrastructure and a lack of fiscal transparency leave critical public safety assets vulnerable to climate change.

The report published Thursday, “Building San Francisco: Designing, Constructing, and Maintaining City Infrastructure,” is the second within a month from the 19-person volunteer panel to address the effects of climate change. The jury discovered a need for more transparency in how San Francisco agencies, primarily the Department of Public Works, prepare the city for a far wetter world.


“Many different groups view climate change as somebody else’s problem to address,” said Will McCaa, the report’s lead author.

The jury found design issues with some recently built DPW buildings, as well as high costs and instances of flooding. McCaa said the panel wants clarity from DPW on whether flooding from storms or future sea level rise was taken into account when the buildings were built and how the department plans to factor in future climate effects.

On New Year’s Eve 2022, storms caused the area around the newly built Police Department Traffic Company and Forensic Services Division to flood. The flooding prevented police motorcycles from entering or leaving the facility, “effectively taking the station out of service for several hours on one of the Police Department’s busiest nights of the year,” the jurors wrote.

For DPW to build a station in a flood-prone area but not consider the access to the building “seems like poor planning,” McCaa said. The flooding also damaged gate motors and a new Dodge Charger police cruiser, making it “no longer reliable enough for use as a patrol car.” The jury questioned whether DPW built the facility in the right place and how the city plans to fix the issue.

The report also lists two buildings and one fire truck that would be threatened by sea level rise: the newly constructed Office of the Medical Examiner on Newhall Street; a Mission Bay facility housing the Police Department Headquarters, SFPD Southern Station, and Fire Station 4; and an engine that the department can’t legally house on a floating fire station in the Embarcadero that was meant to help with rising waters.

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These areas are at risk of flooding from the rising bay unless the city and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raise the sea wall, which will cost more than $7 billion. The Port of San Francisco and the Corps are working on a plan to adapt 7 1/2 miles of the shore to defend against future sea level rise, but their latest report is still in draft form.

With the city facing financial constraints and the capital budget nearing its borrowing cap, McCaa said the city’s degraded assets are “not properly quantified or understood,” which results in a lack of understanding of how agencies spend millions of dollars.

The jury is calling for DPW to show how it has spent taxpayer dollars and how it plans to use future funds. The jury lists several recommendations, including strengthening the Public Works Commission’s “undefined” oversight responsibilities by holding DPW “accountable for the accuracy of capital project budgeting,” timeliness, and quality of construction. City officials have 60 calendar days to respond to the jury’s findings.

DPW spokesperson Rachel Gordon said the agency is taking the jury’s report seriously and will assess them to see “where we can do better.”

“We stand by our strong track record at Public Works in delivering complex capital projects, from award-winning fire stations to playgrounds to utility facilities,” she said in a statement.

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