Local Government Public Workshop on Sea Level Rise

Mandy Sackett
December 21, 2020
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The Coastal Commission’s Special Meeting featured a public hearing and joint workshop with the League of Cities, California State Association of Counties, local government officials to discuss sea level rise and implementation of the Joint Statement on Adaptation Planning, which was adopted by the Coastal Commission in November 2020.

Coastal Commissioners and local government representatives took rejoiced during workshop in the progress towards productive sea level rise adaptation planning and cooperation accomplished with the Joint Statement. Commissioners and local governments made suggestions for actions to move forward the commitments made in the Joint Statement. These included the need for a better public communication and education campaign, financing mechanisms, demonstration projects, regional coordination (i.e., formation of JPAs, special districts) and collaboration with regional sediment groups. Suggestions from the workshop will be compiled into a 2021 work plan.

It is heartening to see local governments working cooperatively with the California Coastal Commission to coordinate a statewide approach for sea level rise adaptation. The Joint Statement includes an acknowledgement of basic sea level rise planning needs such as the use of best available science, policies on disclosure and assumption of risks related to sea level rise hazards, policies to ensure that new development is appropriately sited and need for a phased approach. While these are important, they are not nearly enough given the urgency of sea level rise and the devastation it will bring.

Moving forward, local governments should adopt a firm commitment to avoid hard armoring – which will only exacerbate erosion and drown our beaches and public trust resources. Local governments must also proactively plan to relocate away from the immediate shoreline and work to preserve natural shoreline processes with living shoreline projects.

If we are to save our natural coastline, sandy beaches, rocky intertidal zones, precious remaining wetlands and comply with the Governor’s call for the conservation of 30% of state lands and waters by 2030, we must be prepared to commit to moving away from the immediate shoreline and allow our coast to migrate inland. If our only response to sea level rise is to armor the coast, we will lose what makes California so unique, majestic and prosperous.

California’s low-income communities may be disproportionately impacted by sea level rise and groundwater rise. Environmental justice communities are more likely to be burdened by the potentially toxic effects of groundwater rise. Additionally, if space is not created for the coast to migrate inland as sea levels rise, we will lose a vital low or no cost outdoor open space that many communities rely on to escape urban and inland heat and enjoy the outdoors. Many urban communities throughout the state are seriously void of open space for recreation – a key quality of life variable and thus rely on visits to the coast.

Local governments and coastal communities must consider their actions and impacts on all Californians as their planning and permitting decisions will impact public trust resources. In developing plans and local coastal program updates, more consideration needs to be made for visitors, those of us not fortunate enough to own a beach front or blufftop home. Local governments should consult with environmental justice communities and tribal leaders to ensure their adaptation plans are just and equitable. All Californians should be heard.