BY KATE CAGLE
Development plans near Santa Monica beaches will soon have to take climate change and the long-term impact of sea level rise into account.
For the first time in nearly 25 years, staff members are updating the city’s Land Use Plan, or LUP, which creates guidelines for land use and development near the coast. The plan covers the city’s Coastal Zone: areas west of Fourth Street, north of Pico Boulevard and west of Lincoln Boulevard, south of Pico Boulevard.
The LUP will anticipate sea level rise in stages, according to Elizabeth Bar-El, a senior planner involved in the ordinance. Proposed policies could prohibit sea walls, encourage natural adaptation strategies like sand dunes, require disclosure of the risk of sea-level rise with property sales, and rolling easements.
“It can get into questions of restrictions on property or on rebuilding or on new building depending on whether that seems justified by the actual sea level rise,” Bar-El said at the Nov. 22 City Council meeting where council members weighed-in on the plans.
The city operates under an LUP approved back in 1992, years before the California Coastal Commission began requiring local cities to take climate change into account when planning projects near the beach.
The new LUP will follow state guidelines and recommendations put forth by scientists consulting on the plan.
“It’s all very new,” Bar-El said. “Everybody is figuring it out together in the climate change world. There are guidelines and we know there will be expectations from the Coastal Commission.”
Over the next 80 years, sea level could rise between two and a half feet and nine and a half feet, according to Dr. David Revell, an expert on climate change and a consultant on the LUP. In the most extreme scenario, Revell says Santa Monica’s beach could “pretty much disappear” and structures west of Pacific Coast Highway could face flooding during storms.
“There’s going to be other things that people need to be conscious of, like the Pier. That’s going to face a lot more hours of wave attack. That’s going to require more maintenance,” Revell said.
“We are looking at the shore line receding,” Bar-El said. “We’ve been gaining sand for the last two years but models are showing that trend will turn around.”
“You have to plan for the worst and prepare for that.”
While city planners and scientists work on the new LUP, Santa Monica is already taking steps to educate residents and visitors on the impact of global warming and pursue projects to mitigate its effect.
Through the end of the month, beach-goers can see the potential impact of climate change on the beach for themselves by looking though an Owl on the north side of the Pier. The virtual reality installation offers a 360-degree view of sea level rise and the impact of coastal storms on the shoreline. Images depict nearly-flooded lifeguard towers and submerged parking lots during a future major storm if global warming continues along its projected path. The installation is provided by a USC Sea Grant and utilizes models provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.
On Saturday, volunteers began the Santa Monica Beach Pilot Restoration Project, which aims to create a dune on three acres of the beach to protect wildlife and buildings from sea level rise and erosion. The city partnered with The Bay Foundation for the pilot project which will incorporate low-lying fencing and native plants, according to permit applications approved by the Coastal Commission. LUP planners will be looking at that project to see if more dunes could be a solution to protecting structures from rising sea level.
Revell supports the project because sand dunes provide a buffer during storm events. He says starting the project now will pay dividends as the dunes accumulate sand over the years and add elevation between the beach and PCH.
Staff members hope to complete a draft of the LUP in February to present to the City Council. After the City Council approves a plan, it goes to the California Coastal Commission for certification.
After the LUP is completed, staff members will work on an Implementation Plan, also known as the Coastal Zoning Ordinance. In the long run, the two plans will give Santa Monica authority to issue coastal development permits, instead of the California Coastal Commission. The CCC provided Santa Monica with grant money to fund development of the two plans and pay an Assistant Planner through Sept. 28, 2018.