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Wall It or Work With It?:  Responses to Sea Level Rise in California

January 26 2011 | Legal,
by Angela

The Problem

Approximately 10.2% of California's Pacific Coast is armored by sea walls or hard structures to fight against sea level rise. In some areas, like Carlsbad, it is estimated that over 50% of the shoreline is armored.

Right now, the California Coastal Commission is being faced with controversies over emergency sea wall permits to protect existing structures in Pismo Beach, Broad Beach in Malibu and Carlsbad in Northern San Diego County, to name a few. These "emergency permits" are intended to last merely 18 months but can go unaddressed for over a decade, leaving a major structure affecting the California coastline to persist with out California Enviornmental Quality Act ("CEQA") or Coastal Act review.

The Wrong Solution: Sea Walls

Sea walls are expensive, can intensify wave activity and block the beaches from getting new sand. Eventually, they cause the beach to disappear - this is the worst solution from the perspective of Surfrider Foundation.

California state law technically requires homeowners to eventually obtain a Coastal Development Permit from either their local government, if the local government has a certified Local Coastal Program ("LCP"). All California LCPs require technical or geologic reports to support the proposed coastal armoring project. If no approved LCP exists, the Coastal Commission has jurisdiction over the permitting, which must conform with Public Resources Code sections 30235, 30253, 30610, and 30611.



The Right Solution: Going with the Flow in Managed Retreat

At Surfer's Point in Ventura, there is a novel project being put into play that could serve as a model for threatened coastal areas up and down the coast. The $4.5-million project in Ventura is the result of years of stakeholder input and coordination amongst state officials to accomplish the proactive and reasoned approach to sea level rise.

Rising ocean levels and increased erosion are compelling officials in Ventura to move facilities inland, in an effort that we hope will serve as an example for many of California's coastal communities. At this noted surf spot in Ventura, construction crews are replacing a 120-space parking lot and a weathered bike path with sand and cobblestones. By pushing the parking lot 65 feet inland, the project is expected to give the wave-ravaged point at least 50 more years of life, according to experts.

As Paul Jenkins of the Ventura County Surfrider Foundation Chapter put it, "There's the old-school mentality that when nature threatens you, you fight back...this idea of retreating and moving back was really quite a radical proposition." Other localities and state officials, including in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Goleta beach in Santa Barbara, are wisely looking to Ventura as a model for future shoreline management.

Of course, managed retreat is somewhat easier for state officials to accomplish if the land in question is a public park. If the threatened coastal area includes a private residence or other private structure, there could be Fifth Amendment Takings issues implicated if state suggests the removal of private property.

Then again, if nothing is done, the property may fall into the Pacific, as has been seen before.
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