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Story Publication logo April 23, 2021

In Their Own Words: East Palo Alto Residents on the Coming Rise in Sea Level

Map of projected Bay Area sea level rise in 2100

Local governments along the San Francisco Bay Area coastline are confronting the reality of sea...


This series is part of the Pulitzer Center's nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative.

Rising seas due to climate change will not affect everyone equally.

In the Bay Area, the city of East Palo Alto is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise: It's surrounded by water on three sides; it's low-lying; and it sits beside the southern part of the bay, where tides are highest.

Critical infrastructure like the Dumbarton Bridge and Highway 101 lie within or next to East Palo Alto, and a rising tide on the city's shoreline will disrupt life for many in the Bay Area.

But to those whose homes line the city's streets, who frequent its neighborhood stores and parks, whose neighbors are family and friends, the prospect of sea level rise is far more frightening.

Below, three residents share their thoughts about protecting the people and places they hold dear as the world continues to warm.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Filiberto Zaragoza, 18, senior at Menlo-Atherton High School

When I first heard of climate change, I wasn't sure how to take it. I was still young and just thinking, “Oh, the world is fine and everything.” But learning about it made me question, what are people really doing to help out?

Image courtesy of KQED.

I’ve lived in East Palo Alto all my life. We live right by the bay, surrounded by water. My number one biggest fear is coming back here in the future to see only parts of my city still left, having neighborhoods I've been through now underwater or flooded.

But I am hopeful for change. I am a core member at Youth United for Community Action, where we fight for housing, environmental justice and restorative justice. I know that in the future, as things might get worse, YUCA will still be here in East Palo Alto protecting the city.

Ulises Barbosa, 34, works in construction

Image courtesy of KQED.

When I first heard about climate change, it was bittersweet. I had mixed emotions. I was interested in learning more about the topic, but I also realized that in an unconscious way we were damaging our planet. And that made me feel very sad and powerless, because I didn’t know what to do.

Those of us who live here in East Palo Alto are afraid because we know that we’ve already been affected, and that if we don’t get to work, we’ll continue to be affected. We’d like to learn more about climate change. Right now, most of my friends and I have been taking an environmental awareness class, where they talk a lot about climate change.

We live along the seashore. Climate change can affect the sea level enough that it could cover much of East Palo Alto, practically covering our homes.

I hope it’s not just us, but also the rest of our community, politicians and people around the world who unite to counteract this problem. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to do our part here, bit by bit, every day.

Cristina Becerra, 16, junior at Palo Alto High School

I feel really sad but hopeful, and a sense of urgency — like we have to do this now. I feel I have to tell as many people as possible about what's going on and how they can help. I always talk to my dad about how we should go solar, and I really want to plant trees.

Image courtesy of KQED.

My greatest fear is that if nothing is done and the time comes and all these houses flood, a bunch of people have nowhere to go, or have to live with water on the ground. It just won't be safe.

And having to worry about paying rent and fixing your house, what are they supposed to do? Where are all those people going to go?

My hope is that some changes are made. Small-scale changes like just East Palo Alto itself, the entire city going solar. That would really motivate other cities: “Oh, look at what they're doing. We should do that, too.”

I hope East Palo Alto is able to take preventive measures, building levees or just making sure that every home, especially those near the areas usually flooded, is prepared.


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Environment and Climate Change


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Connected Coastlines

Connected Coastlines

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