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10 • 01 • 2019

Save Santa Cruz Beaches and Waves from Sea Level Rise

Pleasure Point surf break saved from a proposed Shoreline Protection Exception Area!

Santa Cruz County, which includes the Opal Cliffs community adjacent to Pleasure Point surf break, is in the process of updating its local coastal program (LCP) for sea level rise adapation and it includes a number of policies that would  overly rely on shoreline armoring, effectively drowning already narrow beaches and the waves by fixing the back of the beach/bluffs. Most notably, the County is proposing a Shoreline Protection Exception Area that would allow all new development to rely on seawalls, contrary to state law and Coastal Act provisions which have prohibited new development from relying on shoreline armoring since 1977.

The draft LCP update was approved by the board of supervisors and went to the Coastal Commission's October 2022 meeting for certification. However, staff recommended denial based on inconsistencies with state law and the Commission voted to deny the County's plan! This signaled a strong message that the Commission will hold its ground when it comes to protecting our coast from rising seas and developer interests. 

Throughout the County's draft process, Surfrider's Santa Cruz chapter had made a number of recommendations which were not incorporated into the update. Those include:

1. Remove the Seawall Exception Area from the proposed LCP update. The County's update currently includes a Seawall Exception Area along Pleasure Point and Opal Cliffs. This proposed policy is an unprecedented attack on the Coastal Act's provisions that ensure new development and major remodels may not rely on seawalls. This is a crucial law that ensures that as our coast erodes and sea levels rise, our beaches and waves can migrate inland. Otherwise, if we fix the back of the beach, our beaches and waves will drown as the high tides meets the seawall over time.

2. The update should define existing development and redevelopment as described in accordance with the Coastal Commission’s definition - existing structures are those built before January 1, 1977. To that end, new development and redevelopment must not be allowed to rely on existing shoreline armoring. To define it otherwise will unlawfully perpetuate our reliance on shoreline armoring, effectively drowning our waves and beaches as sea levels rise. We have to set ourselves up for smart, multi-benefit long-term adaptation solutions that will protect access, important habitats and recreational opportunities.

3. Where shoreline armoring is unavoidable and legal, the update should implement sand mitigation fees for existing pre- Coastal Act development as well, to fund and benefit public access and recreation. Most importantly, we recommend that the fees directly apply to properties in the Pajaro dunes and Rio Del Mar area, where the most sand stands to be lost—far more so than the mudstone coast of Opal Cliffs.

4. The Shoreline management plan must include evaluation of managed retreat and relocation of structures, and identification of funding mechanisms in order to facilitate the process, much in line with the recommendations of the LAO Sea Level Rise report.

5. The update must also require that soft armoring and living shoreline adaptation solutions be evaluated.  We insist on the implementation living shorelines such as dune restoration where feasible, and the use of opportunistic sand, including the beneficial reuse of sediment.

Now that the County's plan has been denied, Surfrider will be pushing for a new draft that more fairly balances protection of our ocean, waves and beaches from seawalls and private interests and a more robust public input process to capture the needs of the community and visitors. 

Coast & Climate