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«A thesis submitted to the faculty of San Francisco State University In partial fulfillment of The requirements for The degree Master of Arts In ...»

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I restored six acres of wetlands and created a new, meandering stream channel. Phase II of the project raised an earthen berm on the north side of the creek and moved the creek into the new channel. The creek was diverted into its new channel in late 2002, one year earlier than planned, because city staff (i.e. Scott Holmes) were concerned about flooding (Hall 2003). In 2003-2004 a new coastal lagoon was constructed in the area west of Highway One near the mouth of the creek in conjunction with another project for Pacifica State Beach. In early 2004 additional pumps were installed at the pump stations, dramatically increasing pumping capacity, and thereby significantly reducing the threat of flooding in the low-lying area around Anza Drive.

Although the work as of spring 2004 had decreased the flood hazard in several areas, additional work is required to provide all areas with 100-year flood protection.

The next step for the Public Works Department is to reduce the slope of the creek banks between the Peralta Bridge and the Linda Mar Convalescent Home. Scott Holmes anticipates that Public Works will replace the Highway One Bridge when funding becomes available.

This brief history of the San Pedro Creek Flood Control Project identifies many of the key elements influencing the response to the flood hazard along San Pedro Creek from 1962 through early 2004. The key elements that have been involved in the lengthy process to address the flood hazard include city staff, citizens committees, residents, politicians, and the Corps, as well as state and federal regulations and policies. Chapters

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2-6 further explore the nature of the flood hazard, the lengthy delay in making significant improvements, and the influences behind the outcome of the project to date.

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Understanding why and how the San Pedro Creek Flood Control Project was developed and implemented as a response to the flood hazard along San Pedro Creek requires knowledge gained from the human ecology, political economic, and integrative approaches to natural hazards research. Natural hazards research began with Geographer Gilbert F. White’s application of a human ecology approach to evaluating federal flood control policy in the 1940s. White and other researchers gradually established a human ecology research paradigm for all natural hazards. This paradigm focuses on individual perception of and response to natural hazards. As research continued and damages related to natural hazards continued to rise, researchers developed new ideas based on political economy, arguing that political, economic, and social structures create vulnerability to hazards by imposing constraints on hazard response. More recently, an integrative approach has emerged, wherein investigators address both human ecology and political economic influences on hazard response in one integrated study. In Risa Palm’s integrative framework, the micro level utilizes work based on the human ecology approach and the macro level utilizes work based on the political economic approach, while also exploring influences at a meso level.

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levees as the primary means of federal flood control (Platt 1999). Extensive flooding, such as that along the lower Mississippi River in 1927 and the Upper Ohio River Basin in 1936, prompted the federal government to become more involved in flood control (Burton, Kates, and White 1978; Platt 1999). The Flood Control Act of 1936 allowed the federal government to fund flood control projects, provided the benefits exceeded the costs (White 1973). Federal flood control policy from this time forward focused on the construction of structural flood controls, such as dams and reservoirs (Platt 1999).

In the mid-1930s Gilbert White, a doctoral candidate in Geography at the University of Chicago, began working for the federal government under his mentor Harlan Barrows. White’s work with the National Resources Planning Board exposed him to federal flood control policies and inspired his doctoral work (White 1973; Platt 1997).

White’s doctoral dissertation Human Adjustment to Floods: A Geographical Approach to the Flood Problem in the United States (1945) provided the catalyst for research not only into the flood hazard, but also all natural hazards. In his dissertation White summarized the federal flood control policy of the time as concentrating on flood protection works, such as dams, and on flood relief, and he concluded that the federal policy of providing flood protection while also providing flood relief probably led to increasing costs for both. He argued that the federal government should strive to

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employ a broader range of adjustments, or efforts to reduce hazard risks, including land elevation, flood abatement, flood protection, emergency measures, structural changes to buildings and streets, land use restrictions, public relief, and insurance. White also proposed that the choice of adjustments to floods was affected by various physical and economic factors, not necessarily just flooding.

White’s work reflected the human ecology perspective of his mentor Harlan Barrows, who first promoted the theory of geography as human ecology in the early 1920s. Barrows proposed that the role of geography was to understand “the relationships between natural environments and the distribution and activities of man” (Barrows 1923, 3). Barrows wanted to move geography away from environmental determinism and toward evaluating how humans adjust to their natural environment.





Human ecology shaped the central principles of natural hazards research, as developed by White and his collaborators. One central principle was that a natural hazard exists when humans interact, or have the potential to interact, with an extreme natural event, such as a flood (White 1974). In his disseration White noted that “floods are ‘acts of God,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man” (White 1945, 2).

By the 1950s over $5 billion had been spent by the federal government on flood control (White 1973, 197), and public opposition to flood control structures began to grow due to the associated economic costs and environmental impacts (Platt 1999). In 1956 White and his collaborators began work on a study evaluating the changes that had taken place on floodplains since the Flood Control Act of 1936 (White 1973). The

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study confirmed some of White’s earlier hypotheses and suggestions. Rather than decreasing, both spending and losses due to flooding had increased (White 1973). The study concluded that federal flood policy produced a social environment that encouraged growth on floodplains by underestimating flood hazards and providing relief for people who choose to locate on a floodplain (White et al. 1958). White and his colleagues suggested that the federal government educate individuals on the flood hazard and their choices of adjustments. In addition, when building protection works, the government should attempt to stop floodplain encroachment in part by using land use restrictions (White et al. 1958).

In the early 1960s, White and his colleagues moved away from studying the economics of flood control to further explore individual choice of adjustments and hazard perception (Whyte 1986). Collaborating with White in his new focus were his University of Chicago doctoral students Ian Burton and Robert W. Kates, who demonstrated that adjustments to a flood hazard are dependent upon a wide range of factors, including perception of the hazard and the available adjustments. Burton found that an agriculturalist’s choice of adjustment to the flood hazard could depend upon many variables, including social and economic constraints, farm sizes, slope of adjoining land, land use, and flood frequency. Burton also identified differences in hazard perception between agricultural and urban areas, and between public and private entities (Burton 1962).

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discovered that individuals within the same community could have vastly different perceptions of the flood hazard resulting in different perceptions of available adjustments. He found that individuals often simplified a situation to better understand it, which can impact an individual’s perception of a flood hazard and perhaps lead them to disregard beneficial adjustments. Kates also discovered compelling evidence linking perceptions to adjustment on a certainty-uncertainty scale; individuals who perceived flooding as more certain, were more likely to take action to counter the flood, and vice versa. To understand an individual’s perception of the flood hazard, Kates promoted the theory of bounded rationality, which assumes that humans are limited by their experience and avoid uncertainties when making decisions (Kates 1962). For example, a person who recently experienced a flood will estimate the frequency and magnitude of the flood hazard more accurately than a person who has not experienced a flood recently. In the 1970s Paul Slovic, Howard Kunreuther, and Gilbert White (1974) provided further evidence supporting bounded rationality as a suitable theory for understanding hazard perception and choice of adjustment to natural hazards.

In another study, White (1964) examined which adjustments floodplain property managers chose under which conditions. Given the numerous possibilities for adjustments, White suggested that flood protection and loss bearing had been the primary choices due to “perception of choice, flood hazard, technology, and economic efficiency,” as well as a manager’s experience with floods (White 1964, 109). White

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concluded that public policy should be modified to apply the broader range of adjustments seen at the private, individual level to the federal and state levels.

Research into the flood hazard gradually broadened to address all natural hazards. In 1970 Kates provided an initial model of human adjustment to natural hazards, which maintained the principles of human ecology. His general systems model highlighted the interaction required between humans and nature to produce a natural hazard (Kates 1994). The model also showed a hazard event generating feedback, or further adjustments, which modifies the interaction between humans and nature, and therefore modifies the natural hazard (Kates 1994).

White and other researchers sought to broaden the understanding of natural hazards and further direct public policy by evaluating individual hazard response to different natural hazards around the world. Their study concluded that in coping with natural hazards technological (i.e. structural) solutions should not be the only means used, the perceptions and adjustments of individuals need to be taken into account, and the information learned about natural hazards needs to be shared among nations (White 1974).

In 1978, Burton, Kates, and White published The Environment as Hazard as an overall summary of natural hazards research up to that time. Damages due to natural hazards continued to increase worldwide, and this trend was projected to continue, although deaths were expected to decrease. Cited as among the possible causes of the increasing damages were population growth in hazardous areas, increases in material

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wealth, and adjustments that increase vulnerability to hazards. Although their research had focused primarily on individual response and choice of adjustments, Burton, Kates, and White reemphasized the importance of encouraging parties at the individual, community, and national levels to explore as many different types of adjustments as possible as a means to decrease the hazard risks and enhance the resilience to an extreme event (Burton, Kates, and White 1978).

In their research Burton, Kates, and White discovered an ordered process to individual response. If an individual becomes aware of a hazard risk, he/she decides whether or not to act to adjust to that risk. Then if an individual chooses to act, he/she decides how to modify the intensity of the hazard event or its impacts. However, if the level of hazard risk becomes unacceptable to an individual, he/she changes his/her relationship to the hazard, sometimes by relocating away from the hazard risk.

Although not researched to the same degree as individual action, Burton, Kates, and White noted that collective action appeared to be more complex than individual action, but to reflect the same ordering in responses to a hazard risk (Burton, Kates, and White 1978). They also found that a response to a particular natural hazard was determined not only by the perception of the hazard, but also by the knowledge of the possible adjustments, which was usually incomplete (Burton, Kates, and White 1978).

Gilbert White’s hazard research slowly influenced federal flood control policy.

The national flood insurance program he suggested in his dissertation (White 1945), and again as a member of the Task Force on Federal Flood Control Policy, was finally

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created in 1968 with the establishment of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) (Platt 1999). NFIP expanded the involvement of the government in flood control away from a reliance solely on federal government to include state and local governments, who gained the responsibility of managing structures on floodplains (Platt 1999).

However, not until after the 1973 Flood Disaster Protection Act amended NFIP, requiring people borrowing money from a federal lender to purchase flood insurance, did state and local governments begin to follow the guidelines established by NFIP (Platt 1999). Other non-structural solutions emerged, so that by the 1990s a broader array of flood control solutions were being utilized, including floodproofing structures on floodplains or buying them out (Association of State Floodplain Managers 2000;

Interagency Floodplain Management Review Committee 1994). By the late 1990s the objectives for floodplains had broadened across all levels of government into a strategy of floodplain management seeking to minimize flood losses and protect the natural environment (Association of State Floodplain Managers 2000; Kusler 1989).



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