Mary Matella, 2022. “Sea level rise planning for resilient coastal infrastructure in California’s coastal zone“, Shore & Beach, 90(2), 52-64.
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Sea level rise planning for resilient coastal infrastructure in California’s coastal zone
Mary Matella, Ph.D.
California Coastal Commission, 455 Market Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California 94105
Climate change is here. Impacts already demonstrate the interconnected nature and rippling effect of extreme events in wildfires, droughts, floods, and erosion — from coastal to inland areas. Coastal California is especially at risk to impacts of sea level rise, with the potential to displace over 100,000 people and put billions in property value at risk by 2050. Sea level rise in concert with large storms can far exceed damages wrought by other natural disasters in California history, and damage will occur more frequently and extensively in the same coastal areas. The California Coastal Commission, in partnership with local governments, can address the vulnerabilities of communities to climate impacts, including sea level rise, through the land use policies and zoning ordinances that comprise their Local Coastal Programs (LCPs). As infrastructure often guides and directs land use development, so can infrastructure adaptation lead communities in preparing for the impacts of sea level rise. The Coastal Commission’s 2021 guidance, titled “Critical Infrastructure at Risk: Sea Level Rise Planning Guidance for California’s Coastal Zone,” offers a blueprint of policies for adapting transportation and water infrastructure to sea level rise in the coastal zone. This paper will describe key messages of the new guidance and present case studies of land use plans that demonstrate how some California communities are already creating a pathway for sea level rise adaptation. LCPs in San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Pacific Grove, and Morro Bay exemplify a few of the many ways communities can plan to make transportation and water infrastructure more resilient to sea level rise using phased adaptation, nature-based projects, and asset relocation. There is no one single solution for all communities, but every community can benefit from implementing better requirements for risk assessment, risk reduction, and risk communication through their land use policies and regulations. By better communicating about the risks and restrictions on shoreline properties, local governments can educate stakeholders about sea level rise hazards and encourage public participation in adaptation planning that creates more resilient critical infrastructure.