City loses disaster preparedness grant

City loses disaster preparedness grant

Michele Ellson
100 Resilient Cities

A New York-based foundation has rescinded a major grant it awarded to Alameda in December, marking a setback in the city’s disaster preparedness efforts.

The city announced Tuesday that the Rockefeller Foundation had withdrawn a promised “resilience” grant – a move so unexpected that some questioned whether the announcement could be an April Fool’s Day joke. But a representative for the foundation confirmed Wednesday that the award had been withdrawn.

At the time it was awarded, a city staffer said the grant award could total $1 million over two years; it was also to include technical assistance for implementation.

Alameda Fire Chief Michael D’Orazi learned Friday that the city had lost the grant from 100 Resilient Cities, a nonprofit created by Rockefeller, in an e-mail saying the city’s strategy for bouncing back from a disaster is “incompatible” with the nonprofit’s.

“After our many discussions over the past weeks … it is clear to us that Alameda’s strategy is incompatible with 100RC’s vision for our network of cities,” said the e-mail, from 100 Resilient Cities Managing Director Michael Berkowitz.

In a statement, the foundation said talks broke down over the role a new chief resilience officer to be funded by the grant would play in the wake of a disaster.

It said the program “is specifically designed to ensure cities take a broad definition of resilience, including the ability to respond to a wide array of shocks and stresses from violent crime to health pandemics to persistent poverty” and that the officer, who would coordinate across city departments as well as with the public and private sectors, is “crucial” for achieving that goal.

“The importance of such a silo-busting role is why 100RC committed to fund the (officer) for each member city for two years,” the statement, which was not attributed to a specific person, said.

It wasn’t clear what the city hoped a new resilience czar would do; a city official couldn’t immediately be reached for additional comment Wednesday.

In their announcement, city leaders expressed their disappointment at losing the grant – but said the city will be better prepared for the next disaster even without it. The announcement claimed the grant was designed primarily for large cities; in an earlier release, the city said it was open to cities with 50,000 or more residents.

“The application helped us focus on the need to create a resilience plan to go hand-in-hand with our disaster preparedness planning,” D’Orazi was quoted as saying in the release. “This setback will not deter our commitment to community resilience planning. We will collaboratively build a resilience strategy that makes sense for Alameda.”

Alameda’s city officials learned in December that the Island was one of the first 33 cities to be selected for the grant and assistance; other Bay Area cities that received it included Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. At the time, City Manager John Russo said the grant would fund, among other things, a new resilience czar who would create and execute a plan to get the city back on its feet after locals and public safety officials mopped up the initial after-effects of an earthquake or tsunami – both serious risks for the Island – or other disaster.

The city is preparing to construct a new, $3 million emergency operations center in the fall and is working on a financing plan for a $5 million mid-Island fire station; its recently approved legislative agenda will have the city’s lobbyists seeking state and federal funding for a new tsunami preparedness plan.

“At some point (a disaster) will happen, and the city was not ready for it. The city still isn’t honestly ready for it. These are the steps that are necessary to be ready for it,” Russo said in December, when the grant was awarded.


Submitted by call me "Mr. Sk... (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

Who knows what our brainiacs in City Hall proposed for this position. Did they just try to treat it as a way to pay for some old crony in the police or fire department that they wanted to push aside without firing ? Does anybody remember when the City created the earthquake czar position several years back ? I think they put in some old fart who got in trouble as a cop, and had no quals for the position he was given. Well look at much better prepared we are now for an earthquake. At least we have that big fence protecting folks from the catastrophic collapse of the historic high school (a historically stupid move, IMHO). Me thinks the "big thinkers" at City Hall got a bit arrogant and stubborn and it bit them in the butt. I would like to hear more of what happened and how our leaders blew a million bucks.

Submitted by D (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

Sounds like the grant would require this czar to have too much power over the city. Probably a good thing this fell through.

Submitted by BMac (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

This makes the Rockefeller people look idiotic. The time for evaluating the position and plan is BEFORE you award the grant. It sounds like they wanted to use the money to put in a friendly dictator to run roughshod over local governance. Democracy can lead to waste and slow bureaucracy, but it is still preferable to the unicorn of benevolent dictatorship.

Submitted by Top (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

Trying to put a positive spin on this only makes us look worse.

Submitted by knealy on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

Can someone explain how we are at risk for a tsunami? The two major faults in our area are the San Andreas and the Hayward. The San Andreas is on the other side of San Francisco and any tsunami would presumably head towards San Francisco and the Golden Gate. Being squeezed by the Golden Gate gap it would dissipate as it spreads throughout the bay. The Hayward is in the hills to our east. Presumably the force would be moving water away from Alameda and towards San Francisco if there were to be any.

We are certainly in danger of earthquake, but I question our danger from tsunamis.

Submitted by Tom Schweich (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

We are probably not in direct danger of a tsunami from plate motion in either the San Andreas or Hayward faults, since they are strike-slip faults. However, an earthquake on the San Andreas or Hayward faults could trigger a large submarine landslide just offshore of California, which could generate a tsunami that enters the Golden Gate and potentially causes damage in Alameda. Other sources of tsunamis placing Alameda at risk might be a submarine landslide in Hawai'i or subduction zone earthquakes in Japan or the Aleutian Islands. Fun fact: A prehistoric sub-aqueous landslide in Lake Tahoe, probably triggered by an earthquake, is thought to have been about 30 feet in height.

Submitted by Tom Schweich (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

One thing that occurs to me is that reading between the lines in this article and the Rockefeller Foundation's web site, they have some specific ideas about how their money is to be used. Since it is their money, it is also their privilege. Spending the Foundation's money in exactly the way they envision may not be entirely in Alameda's interest. Still I'm sorry to see that Alameda will not be working with San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley on this regional resiliency project.

Submitted by Jim W (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

Also identified as a major tsunami threat would be a major quake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone ( These quakes happen about every 300 years, devastating the Northwest. The last was 1700 AD. It would impact California coastal communities - quite severely if the quake includes the southern end of the fault. Since there is a trench leading from the Golden Gate towards Alameda-Oakland, some folks have suggested that Alameda might suffer a serious tsunami if Cascadia triggers. we'd have about 20 minutes warning.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

I see that the uhaul rental have moved to the belt line lot off grand and Clement.

The lot between Buena vista and grand is now fully cleared to build a fire person's edifice away from the high ground of city hall. Wish the city would use the old library for the EOC instead if a museum for pinball machines!!! It is fully eq reinforced and owned by our bankrupt city!! And on higher ground and next to most city offices which will be needed in an emergency situation. Oh well so much for practicalities.

Submitted by RD (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

It appears that fear has once again not worked well for city management.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

The Rockefeller Foundation may not have found comments like these compatible with their values:

“Having the EOC near other municipal buildings is not ideal because city staff assigned to EOC functions need to be focused on the tasks at hand and not disrupted by other duties or requirements of their employment,” D’Orazi said in response to e-mailed questions from a reporter. “In other words, they won't have the proximity to their offices (and) staff, which could be a distraction.”

He said municipal buildings are “often” a target of demonstrations and other disobedience, which would “not be conducive to efficient operations” when the emergency center is activated.

Submitted by oldtimer (not verified) on Thu, Apr 3, 2014

"Resilience Strategy" is fairyland doublespeak for marshall law.