January’s coastal storms gave Californians an idea of how sea level rise will chip away at our coastline. Increasingly intense storm surge, coupled with physically higher tides, will chip away at our roads, homes, coastal facilities — and rising tides will drown our beaches if no action is taken. Senate Bill 272 will mandate Local Coastal Program Updates in ten years to ensure that all coastal cities plan for sea level rise. By planning ahead, California coastal towns can preserve the coastline for the public and avoid the other inevitable option: disaster response that wipes out our beaches and leaves California forever fortifying and repairing vulnerable and damaged property.
The Local Coastal Program (LCP) Update process is the planning avenue that local governments use to plan for sea level rise. Despite the state mobilizing millions of dollars since 2018 to incentivize local governments to complete these plans, only seven areas actually have up-to-date LCPs: San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Pacific Grove, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego County and Solana Beach. This means that when all other cities consider things like zoning and the permitting of new development along the coast, they are relying on policy and planning documents that were created before the dramatic impact that sea level rise will have in coastal towns was understood.
SB 272 would mandate that all coastal California areas have LCPS (sea level rise plans) and are therefore required to make coastal decisions that acknowledge how sea level rise will affect a given area. Such a science-based planning process allows for transparent decision making along the coast that results in much more equitable outcomes than the alternative emergency response style of management. This is because our governments tends to create emergencies as scenarios where infrastructure is threatened; not public land or equitable access to it.
The mandate is necessary because local governments are facing extreme political pressure not to complete LCPs. Unfortunately, sea level rise causes ‘coastal squeeze,’ or the narrowing of land between the rising ocean and immobile coastal development. Decisions we make around a disappearing asset are controversial, because tradeoffs and concessions are needed amongst different groups. Surfrider’s position in the management of California’s coastal land has always been that the state should prioritize the interests of the millions of people who visit the beach, as well as the animals and plants that co-exist with this ecosystem.
Because sea level rise makes this mandate harder than ever, we encourage the State to take a strong and proactive position towards equitable sea level rise planning. SB 272 is a strong step in that direction.