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California Just Proposed to Slash the Sea Level Rise Budget

The Newsom Administration released a budget proposal last week that cuts half a billion dollars from the State's coastal resilience 2023-2024 budget. Even in the context of a $22.5 billion state deficit where financial support for programs have to get scaled back, the proposal to eliminate almost 50% of the State's existing coastal resilience budget is extremely aggressive relative to other proposed cuts (including those to other climate-related issues).

Surfrider is dismayed by the proposal because it walks the State back from supporting sea level rise planning, which is extremely cost effective over time. We also take a special kind of umbrage with last week's announcement because it was made as coastal cities were still reeling from the effect of large storms that illustrate how sea level rise will chip away at the California coast. As people were scooping water out of their garages with buckets in Capitola, sitting in foreign apartments in evacuated parts of Santa Barbara, and cleaning what is probably thousands of pounds of trash off Ventura beaches; the Administration's proposal essentially defunded plans to address the increasing coastal flooding threat along our thousand miles of coastline.

The damage that coastal towns are experiencing has everything to do with sea level rise. Climate change is bringing bigger storms (in the form of atmospheric rivers) to California that are combining with the higher water levels characteristic of sea level rise. As the ocean swells, intense storm surge pushes water more fiercely into communities. California is not expected to fill up like a bathtub due to sea level rise, instead our coastline will get clawed at repeatedly in storm events like the one we are still experiencing. In a nutshell, we can expect a lot more of January's storms as sea level rise accelerates over the next two decades.

If the state took the need to plan for sea level rise seriously one of the first steps it would take is to fund coastal resilience, so the cuts signify that the Administration is willing to let coastal flooding emergencies happen over and over again. Failing to plan for sea level rise will come at an obviously high cost to our quality of life as well as our public beaches, wetlands, and coastal access points — so many of which are sitting between a rising ocean and fortified development. A report by the Legislative Analyst's Office also outlines the more than $20 billion of property that will be at risk or underwater by 2050 without planning.

The Administration's proposed cuts reduce approximately $605 million of funding for local governments to do their own sea level rise planning; as well as dozens of San Francisco Wetland Projects like the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, which is planned to transform an industrial pond into the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West CoastThe cuts affect the Wildlife Conservation Board's program to protect threatened species from climate change and the Coastal Conservancy's array of habitat and community resilience projects.

The budget proposal is NOT final and the Legislature will make negotiations over the next few months that could restore the budget. Join us in asking for a full restoration of the coastal resilience budget so that communities are not left to tread water alone as sea levels rise. We will be circulating a petition soon - stay tuned!

photo by Nash Howe @nash.howe