The Foster City Levee - Be Careful Who You Listen To
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The Foster City Levee - Be Careful Who You Listen To
When I was first elected to the City Council in 2009, we were facing a problem that would have required a significant number of property owners in Foster City to purchase flood insurance. Historically, Foster City properties were always designated as being outside of the flood zone, but in 2009, a portion of the levee in San Mateo was deemed to be below FEMA standards and as a result, a portion of San Mateo and a portion of Foster City were potentially going to be reclassified by FEMA as flood zones. That would have required flood insurance for anyone who had a mortgage from a federally backed lender. This would have affected the vast majority of property owners in Foster City.

That problem was solved with help from our Congressional representative Jackie Speier, the great work of the folks in San Mateo, and the great foresight of the folks on our City Council who became involved in the process. The San Mateo levees were raised and the issue of required flood insurance avoided.

In 2015, we learned that FEMA had changed some of its guidelines and based on those guidelines, Foster City’s levees were no longer in technical compliance and that the City’s levees could lose accreditation, resulting in the placement of all Foster City properties in the flood zone unless the height of the levees was increased. We again began working with FEMA and have been making steady progress towards bringing the City back into compliance as effectively and efficiently as possible, resulting in FEMA granting “Seclusion Mapping Designation”, which keeps Foster City properties out of the flood zone as long as sufficient progress is being made to increase the height of the levees. As we consider how best to meet FEMA’s requirements, we are also addressing the issue of expected sea level rise.  

We started out by meeting with the nearly twenty State and Federal agencies that have approval over any construction in and around the Bay. Since then we have been working with them, our staff, and consultants in looking at various design issues and associated costs and feasibility of the various design alternatives. That process has been ongoing for nearly two years now.  

The process has involved reviewing a number of different design proposals. It could be argued that some of those are more environmentally sensitive, while others more expandable and more affordable. As an additional problem, we have had to evaluate the likelihood that any specific plan would be approved by the many outside agencies, some with conflicting requirements. Ultimately, we have focused on a hybrid design (sheet pile wall with earthen backfill) and our staff has prepared a number of renderings from various locations around Foster City so that our constituents can see what we expect things to look like should we ultimately select the hybrid design which will also address sea level rise.

During this process, an anonymous individual sent out a flyer to a number of residents making clearly false and misleading statements about the height of the levees, the condition of the levees, and the feasibility of alternatives. This flyer asked everyone to attend a City Council meeting to protest what the City was trying to do. At this hearing, our staff demonstrated that all of the statements made in the flyer were basically false. During the meeting, I challenged the person who had sent the flyer out to stand up and take credit for the statement and, of course, no one did.

These efforts to belittle the City’s efforts and to distort the facts, while less anonymous, continue. I have recently received a letter from a resident who owns some of the Bayfront property in Foster City. That land is on the Bay side of the levee and is not now nor has it ever been protected by the levee. That property was also the subject of a City Council “gatekeeper” meeting several years ago where the property owner proposed to build hundreds of housing units on the east side of the levee, adjacent to the Bay. In order to ready his property for development, the property owner proposed that he would build a levee along the water’s edge, at his expense. At that meeting, the Council Chambers were filled with people opposing that project and the City Council advised that such a project would likely not be approved.

The letter I received from this property owner failed to address any of those facts and instead made a number of statements about the property and its proposed use that are clearly false. It appears that the property owner now wants the City to spend tens of millions of dollars in public funds to extend the levee system to include his property. That additional cost to include his private property would be spread to all Foster City property owners. The public should not bear this expense.

Prior to moving forward with the improvements required by FEMA, the City needs to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). That EIR was prepared and was distributed for public comment. Public comment was received from individuals and a number of the agencies with approval rights. The EIR was considered by the Planning Commission in April. The Planning Commission recommended that the City Council approve the document at the public hearing scheduled for May 8, 2017. At the Planning Commission meeting, the owner of the property on the east side of the levee never spoke.

I write this because you are likely to hear a lot from this property owner in the coming days and weeks and I want you to know that you should question what you are told as there is a history of making statements that are not true, and asking for things that regulatory agencies would never approve or would be prohibitively expensive.  

Our City is required to fully disclose everything about the project to the public and we have done so. We have explored a number of alternatives, looked at cost and design and done it all in public meetings over the course of many months. What is being requested of us by this one property owner is to expand the levee improvement project to protect his private land that is currently not protected by the levee. Should you decide to listen to those arguments I caution you to be careful not to believe everything you hear. We have shown similar claims to be false before and I am confident that it will be the same this time as well. Instead, I encourage you to come visit with us and City staff to learn the truth before you make any decisions or jump to any conclusions. Please also visit the City website at for accurate information and stay informed on the latest progress of the Levee Project. Coming up on May 8th, 2017 at 4:30 PM, the City Council will be hearing and considering comments regarding the Levee Project, including certification of the Final EIR and consideration of whether to adopt findings regarding significant environmental impacts, including a statement of overriding considerations and adoption of a Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program. The City Council will also be considering levee height and finance alternatives.

Those are my thoughts. You can always share your ideas with me by email at


Council Corner

May 03, 2017
The Foster City Levee - Be Careful Who You Listen To

City Hall - 610 Foster City Blvd.
Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 286-3200