State of the Beach/State Reports/CA/Erosion Response

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Erosion response is a measure of how well a state's policies and procedures limit the extent of shoreline armoring, unsafe coastal development, and costly beach nourishment projects, and conduct preemptive planning for sea level rise. Evaluation of this indicator brings attention to the states that are taking proactive roles in natural beach preservation and hazard avoidance. Through the formulation (if not already in place), implementation, and strict adherence of the specific criteria within the indicator, states can overcome two fundamental obstacles to alternative erosion response practices outlined by the Oceans Studies Board (2007):

  1. A lack of knowledge and experience among decision-makers regarding alternative options for shoreline erosion response, the relative level of erosion mitigation afforded by the alternative approaches and their expected life time, and the nature of the associated impacts and benefits.
  2. The current legal and regulatory framework itself, which discriminates against innovative solutions because of the complex and lengthy permitting process that almost always considers these options on a case-by-case basis.

For example, are statewide oceanfront construction setbacks used to site new development, and are these based on the latest erosion rates? When existing development is damaged during a storm, does a state prohibit reconstruction or provide incentives for relocation? Before permitting shoreline stabilization does a state require: that there is demonstrated need via geo-technical reports with content standards; that alternatives to armoring including managed retreat/relocation are fully explored; and that potential adverse impacts and cumulative effects are taken into account? Does the state conduct sea level rise vulnerability assessments and develop adaptation plans to mitigate impacts? If a state can answer 'yes' to most of these questions, then its rank is high. If the answers are mostly 'no' then its rank is low.

Also see the "Policies" discussion of the Shoreline Structures section of this report for more information on California's erosion response.

Possible quantitative measures for this indicator include the number of new structures located within setback areas, number of damaged structures reconstructed in identified erosion zones, number of instances where alternatives to 'hard' shore protection were employed, the number of shoreline structures permitted under 'emergency' provisions, and the number of permits for shoreline structures reviewed, approved or denied. We have found that such information is rarely available.

Policies and Guidance

Section 30253 of the California Coastal Act is the key policy that applies to new development. It requires that new development to be sited so as to:

(1) Minimize risks to life and property in areas of high geologic, flood, and fire hazard.
(2) Assure stability and structural integrity, and neither create nor contribute significantly to erosion, geologic instability, or destruction of the site or surrounding area or in any way require the construction of protective devices that would substantially alter natural land forms along bluffs and cliffs. This and other state coastal policies can be viewed on-line here.

NOAA's 2010 evaluation of California's Coastal Management Program notes:

"The California Coastal Act does not specify direction for addressing every type of hazard but says that new development shall minimize risks to life and property in areas of high geologic, flood, and fire hazard; and shall assure stability and structural integrity, and neither create nor contribute significantly to erosion, geologic instability, or destruction…or…require the construction of protective devices that would substantially alter natural landforms along bluffs and cliffs. The California Coastal Commission’s staff geologist and coastal engineer work with other Commission staff analysts in aspects of coastal hazards through LCPs, coastal development permits, partnerships, and outreach efforts to fulfill those mandates. There is a dichotomy, however, in that the Commission must always balance the requirement to allow shoreline protection to halt coastal erosion (under most circumstances) with the need to protect coastal resources and shoreline dynamics."

Setback requirements are established locally through the LCP process. As a result they vary geographically and typically are based on "safety for the life of the structure."[1]

Bluff top and shoreline set-back requirements based on coastal erosion rates are used by Local Coastal Programs (LCP) to help minimize coastal hazards. For example, the Local Coastal Programs within Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties (including eight certified LCPs) typically use a 50 year economic lifetime setback, approximately 40 to 50 feet from a designated setback point (either bluff top or point of maximum wave run-up). To determine the 50 year economic lifetime setback, the average coastal erosion rates are evaluated. However, average coastal erosion rates can be misleading, since it is entirely possibly that one storm can erode more than the yearly average. In a winter storm in 1983, a top portion of a seacliff in Santa Cruz eroded 46 feet, which is almost equal to the 50 foot setback requirement.

San Luis Obispo’s LCP requires a setback distance on any new development located adjacent to a beach or coastal bluff. The LCP requires one of two methods for setback on new development, whichever yields the greater setback. The methods include: 1) using a “stringline” between adjacent structures. Basically, the new development can be placed in line with other coastal structures. 2) using a bluff erosion rate determined by geologic engineers. This rate is used to determine a rate that will allow the life of the new structure to be 75 years. Again, the same issues listed above must be taken into consideration.

A memorandum from staff at the California Coastal Commission goes over the techniques used in California to determine the appropriate setback distances for new development. The article gives recommendations for other states to follow.

In many cases the California Coastal Commission has placed restrictions on or prohibited the use of bluff-top irrigation systems to help minimize the potential for associated bluff erosion.

The California Coastal Commission has also published "Updating the Shoreline Erosion & Protective Structures Policies of the LCP" (currently out of print and being revised) which states, in part:

"Shoreline protective structures often have negative impacts on the coastal environment. As explained in the Coastal Hazards Section, hazard-avoidance, rather than engineered protection, should be your primary goal. The individual and cumulative adverse effects of constructing shoreline protective devices on bluff faces, sandy and rocky beach areas, and on sensitive coastal resources have been well-studied.

When working on your LCP, you can plan for new development in a way that reduces the need for shoreline protection, minimizes adverse impacts of allowed protection, and facilitates alternative forms of shoreline protection that do not involve armoring. The Coastal Act places a high priority on preserving the ocean and recreation value of beaches."

California’s Sediment Management Workgroup (CSMW) was created in 1999 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California Resources Agency to facilitate regional approaches to protecting, enhancing and restoring California’s coastal beaches and watersheds through federal, state and local cooperative efforts. The CSMW oversees the California Coastal Sediment Management Plan (SMP). The SMP purposes include reducing shoreline erosion and coastal storm damages, providing for environmental restoration and increasing natural sediment supply to the coast, restoring and preserving beaches, and improving water quality along beaches. The SMP encourages alternative to shoreline protection structures, such as beach nourishment projects, sand bypassing projects and dam removal projects.

Surfer's Point Plan

A project at Surfers' Point, Ventura is precedent setting because it incorporates managed retreat and in the longer term, may include removing Matilija Dam to re-establish the natural supply of sediment to the area beaches. The first phase of the Surfers' Point project was approved by the Ventura City Council in August 2009 to relocate a decaying bike path and restore the beach near Surfers Point and the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Construction of the initial $3 million phase, paid with one-time grants, began in October 2010. The restoration effort has been hailed as a model environmental approach to stabilize and restore 1,800 feet of beach near the fairgrounds. The project relocated the bike and pedestrian trail and parking lot on the ocean side of Shoreline Drive about 65 feet inland toward the fairgrounds. Then, several tons of cobblestone were spread at water’s edge, adding to the rocky shoreline. Sand was then laid over the cobblestones to help restore the area to a more natural beach habitat and prevent future erosion. Dunes were created using 3,500 cubic yards of sand delivered to the project area from Pierpont Beach where a large accumulation was inundating beachfront homes. The dunes were then seeded with native plants. More info.

Another precedent-setting and award-winning project that incorporated beach fill and managed retreat is one completed at Pacifica State Beach, located south of San Francisco. Both the Pacifica State Beach and Surfers' Point projects, as well as a discussion of planned managed retreat at Ocean Beach, San Francisco and Goleta Beach are discussed in this article.

Managed retreat is also part of a long-term plan to address erosion at Ocean Beach in San Francisco that is being advocated by Surfrider Foundation's San Francisco Chapter. Read more about the plan. Bill McLaughlin of Surfrider Foundation's San Francisco Chapter has prepared a report A History of Coastal Erosion at Ocean Beach. This report documents both erosion and various erosion response efforts at Ocean Beach from the mid-1800s to the present. The report concludes"...the best way to solve the erosion hotspot at Sloat is through a managed retreat strategy. Managed Retreat at Sloat would be the phased pull back of infrastructure away from the ocean. With such a plan both infrastructure security and beach restoration can be attained." The Ocean Beach Master Plan can be found on the website of SPUR, formerly San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. For some interesting history that directly contributed to the erosion problems at Ocean Beach, read The Untold Story Behind the Erosion Mess South of Sloat, also by Bill McLaughlin.

California's 1998 Natural Hazard Disclosure Law appears to have improved insurance-related information dissemination problems in the state, and could serve as a model policy for other states. A study by Troy and Romm (2004) recommended that "...Congress amend the National Flood Insurance Act to require disclosure requirements and mechanisms similar to those enacted in AB 1195."

Coastal Hazards are discussed on the California Ocean Protection Council website, which is a web-based virtual library for the discovery of and access to ocean and coastal data and information from a wide variety of sources and in a range of types and formats.

The California Geological Survey, California Emergency Management Agency, and the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California have produced statewide tsunami inundation maps for California. The maps show, in a worst-case scenario, how far inland tsunami waters would travel and are used by coastal communities to coordinate emergency evacuation plans. These maps have been placed on a Google Maps interface, which allows residents to type in a street address to access a map impacting their area.

A May 2012 Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary-led study, Evaluation of Erosion Mitigation Alternatives for Southern Monterey Bay, developed a number of recommendations for future mitigation measures in this region. The study found erosion mitigation measures previously not considered feasible would be substantially more beneficial than those currently used, such as seawalls and other onshore structures. For Southern Monterey Bay, it was estimated there would be a $1.25 billion net benefit over the next century by allowing coastal erosion to continue as opposed to the traditional response of seawall construction. The most promising approaches would be cessation of sand mining, rolling easements and beach nourishment. While focused on southern Monterey Bay, this report will help clarify the benefits, costs and effectiveness of a range of erosion mitigation management measures for the entire California shoreline.

Climate Change Adaptation


California is defined by its immense coastline, diverse habitats, and incredible beaches. With over 1,100 miles of open ocean coast, it is evident why California’s coastal areas represent some of the State’s most important economic and population centers. California has also emerged as a national leader in the arena of climate change adaptation, explicitly addressing sea level rise and other climate change impacts at both the state and local levels. Numerous legislative policies and executive orders have guided the state’s adaptation efforts in recent years, and have been further augmented by countless adaptation reports, coastal erosion studies, and coastal mapping initiatives. The state has both a Climate Action Plan and State Adaptation Plan, and openly acknowledges and accepts climate change.

The Faces of Climate Change Adaptation: The Need for Proactive Protection of the Nation’s Coasts (Coastal States Organization, May 2010) states:

"California is [...] on the frontlines for experiencing, and adapting to, climate change. In December of 2009, the California Natural Resources Agency in conjunction with multiple state agencies released the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy. The Strategy summarizes the best known science on climate change impacts in seven specific sectors and provides recommendations on how to manage against those threats. The Strategy was a direct response to Governor Schwarzenegger's November 2008 Executive Order S-13-08, that specifically asked the Natural Resources Agency to identify how state agencies can respond to rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, sea level rise, and extreme natural events. The report focuses on sectors that include: public health; biodiversity and habitat; ocean and coastal resources; water management; agriculture; forestry; and transportation and energy infrastructure.

The California Climate Adaptation Strategy emphasizes that climate adaptation and mitigation must complement each other and efforts within and across sectors must be coordinated. The California Climate Adaptation Strategy was developed using the following set of guiding principles: use the best available science in identifying climate change risks and adaptation strategies; understand that data continues to be collected and that knowledge about climate change is still evolving. As such, an effective adaptation strategy is “living” and will itself be adapted to account for new science; involve all relevant stakeholders in identifying, reviewing, and refining the state’s adaptation strategy; establish and retain strong partnerships with federal, state, and local governments, tribes, private business and landowners, and non-governmental organizations to develop and implement adaptation strategy recommendations over time; give priority to adaptation strategies that initiate, foster, and enhance existing efforts that improve economic and social well-being, public safety and security, public health, environmental justice, species and habitat protection, and ecological function; when possible, give priority to adaptation strategies that modify and enhance existing policies rather than solutions that require new funding and new staffing; understand the need for adaptation policies that are effective and flexible enough for circumstances that may not yet be fully predictable; and ensure that climate change adaptation strategies are coordinated with the California Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan process when appropriate, as well as with other local, state, national, and international efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

The preliminary recommendations outlined in the adaptation strategy were developed by the California Natural Resources Agency staff, Climate Adaptation Working Groups, the California mitigation processes, and from public comment. The public comments provided substantive feedback, drawing on the expertise of many organizations and numerous individuals providing a wide variety of perspectives on effective approaches to climate adaptation. Many comments focused on the need for strong coordination and guidance, funding opportunities, and public outreach. All comments were kept on record for future consideration as updates are made to the Strategy. The Strategy outlines near-term actions that will be completed by the end of 2010 and long-term actions to be developed over time."

The California Natural Resources Agency, in coordination with other state agencies, updated the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy in 2014. The Safeguarding California Plan augments previously identified strategies in light of advances in climate science and risk management options.

In addition, Implementation Action Plans were released in 2016. Here is the Oceans and Coastal Resources and Ecosystems Sector Plan.

Climate Central has launched States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card, the first-ever quantitative assessment that summarizes the changing nature of key threats linked to climate change and the corresponding levels of preparedness for related risks in each of the 50 states. The goal of the Report Card is to help states improve preparedness by recognizing climate-change risks, building an action plan, and implementing this plan. California was one of five states that received a grade of “A.”

Despite its long history of climate change activism, dedication to adaptation, and generation of innovative, pro-active adaptation solutions, the state faces formidable obstacles in a future wrought by climate change impacts. Coastal managers, for example, are not currently required to consider future sea level rise when creating setbacks. In fact, the state operates under a system of approved local coastal programs, thus lacking state-wide mandated setbacks and a uniform approach to calculating setbacks. Many reports further note that while legislative and policy acts abound, few concrete actions regarding the implementation of actual adaptation measures actually exist. Even when effective adaptation policies are in place, many local managers continue to adopt a piece-meal approach to adaptation issues. Furthermore, only two counties, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma, have plans in place that specifically consider climate change, yet neither considers coastal impacts. Only the city of Berkeley has a plan that addresses both climate change and coastal impacts. The state as a whole also currently lacks a comprehensive statewide inventory of shoreline structures and coastal erosion rates.

Nevertheless, both the cities of Ventura and Pacifica have adopted a strategy of managed retreat, and are currently in the process of moving certain infrastructure further inland. San Francisco and the Bay Area in general has also proven extremely proactive in terms of climate change adaptation, and has benefited from a multitude of coastal studies and initiatives in recent years. Despite these positives, the state will have to work diligently in the future to ensure that densely populated areas, such as Orange County, are able to effectively adapt to climate change. Previously employed methods of shoreline armoring and hardening must thus be replaced by more environmentally and economically feasible options such as managed retreat. In order to create uniform standards, it is also first suggested that, following statewide mapping initiatives, California implement minimum state-wide setbacks that are based on regional erosion rates. The state should also implement strict regulations prohibiting the construction of shoreline armoring and close loopholes that permit the building of such structures. In the future, it will be imperative that California gradually adopt a statewide policy of managed retreat.


Climate change first appeared on California’s radar in 1988 when, under legislative mandate, the California Energy Commission issued a report on the potential impacts of climate change in California. The California Applications Program was created in the late 1990s to further research various aspects of climate change. Under the programs of the California Energy Commission, the state has continued to research the impacts of climate change, forming the state-sponsored California Climate Change Research Center. To date, the Center has produced over 100 peer-reviewed reports dedicated to climate change research and risks to California. In 2001, the Energy Commission created the state’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program in order to advance the research and development of the state’s renewable energy resources.

California solidified its commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation with the signing of Executive Order S-3-05 by Governor Schwarzenegger in June 2005. EO S-3-05 importantly established the first stringent emissions targets and created the state’s Climate Action Team (CAT). Operating under the California EPA, CAT is an assortment of various state agency members responsible for coordinating state-level climate change actions, including efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implementing the state’s Climate Adaptation Strategy. As stipulated by EO S-3-05, CAT is required to release a biennial science assessment report on climate change impacts and adaptation options for California, the first of which was released in 2006.

In 2006, with the adoption of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (A.B. 32), California embarked on yet another groundbreaking climate change initiative. In an unprecedented move, the Act established a comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to expressly curb the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Act importantly set GHG emission targets into law, with the overall goal of restoring emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and simultaneously directed the California Air Resources Board (ARB or Board) to both develop specific actions to reduce GHG emissions and prepare a comprehensive scoping plan to guide the state in reaching the 2020 goals.

Completed in 2007, ARB’s Proposed Early Actions to Mitigate Climate Change in California set forth an analysis and recommendations for "discrete early action measures to reduce global warming emissions." These actions will be further integrated into the State’s overall strategy for achieving 2020 emission reduction goals, and developed into regulatory proposals to be made enforceable by January 1, 2010.

On December 11, 2008, the California Air Resources Board approved the final Scoping Plan for implementation of A.B. 32, outlining a combination of existing, strengthened, and new policies and programs to achieve emission reduction targets. Acting as the State’s Climate Action Plan, the Scoping Plan includes measures such as expanded energy efficiency programs and higher efficiency standards, a revised Renewable Portfolio Standard, and several measures to decrease emissions from transportation. The plan also recommends a statewide cap-and-trade program covering 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that would link with the Western Climate Initiative. Rules and policies to implement the Scoping Plan will be developed and implemented by 2012, and will be updated by the ARB once every five years.

A number of cities and counties throughout the state have also addressed climate change through individual climate change plans. For a complete list, please visit

California is a Partner in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) (see brochure), a collaborative effort between seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces focused on designing and implementing a regional cap-and-trade program. Launched in 2007, the WCI initially built on existing GHG reduction efforts, both regionally and at the state level. In 2003, California, Oregon and Washington had already created the West Coast Global Warming Initiative, and in 2006, Arizona and New Mexico followed suite with the Southwest Climate Change Initiative. Under the WCI, these five states, in addition to Utah, Montana, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, are directing their respective states and provinces to develop a regional target for reducing GHG emissions, participate in a multi-state registry to track and manage GHG emissions, and develop a market-based program to reach this target.

The state of California maintains the California Climate Change website that details the science of climate change, in addition to providing information on climate change impacts and adaptation strategies. The Portal also houses the California Climate Change Center, a “virtual” research and information website operated by PIER. The California Coastal Commission (CCC) also maintains a climate change website. An especially effective outreach tool has been the website, arising from a partnership between government agencies, universities, and NGOs. The site acts as a useful resource for a variety of audiences, and aims at educating Californians on climate change solutions, energy saving techniques, and individual actions to help the state reach its GHG emission reduction goals. These websites have proven important in stimulating climate change discussion amongst the general public, and in the future, will remain integral parts of California’s overall climate change strategy.

An important document that addresses both climate change mitigation and adaptation is Climate Action Team Report to Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature (December 2010).

In addition to the above actions, California has undertaken numerous other climate change mitigation initiatives. Although outside the scope of this report, more information on these initiatives can be found by visiting


California’s coastal zone generally extends 1,000 yards inland from the mean high tide line, and in the case of significant coastal estuarine habitats or recreation areas, extends inland to the first major ridgeline or five miles from the mean high tide line, whichever is less. Three main agencies are responsible for management of the coastal zone, including the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the California Coastal Conservancy. The CCC manages development along California’s coast, except for San Francisco Bay where BCDC retains jurisdiction. The California Coastal Conservancy primary responsibilities lie in purchasing, protecting, restoring, and enhancing coastal resources, as well as providing beach access. Although coastal management responsibilities are spread over multiple institutions, local governments are primarily responsible for implementing laws and development plans in the coastal zone (through approved Local Coastal Programs). Unfortunately, most do not employ weather-,climate-,or sea level-related information in routine decision-making.

While development within the coastal zone may not proceed until a coastal development permit has been issued either by the CCC or a local government with a California Coastal Commission-certified Local Coastal Program (LCP), California does not currently have state-wide mandated setbacks. The California Coastal Act (1976), the leading authority on development and activity in the coastal zone, does, however, require local governments to adopt approved LCPs that adequately reflect the Coastal Act’s requirements. To ensure that new development is properly sited, LCPs typically define cliff- or bluff-top setbacks by estimating the site’s erosion rate, and subsequently calculating the distance that would guarantee the safety of the structure, usually for between 50 to 100 years. While this method helps avoid limitations of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, lack of standardization in determining setbacks can lead to improperly sited development, failure to rely on uniformly derived erosion rates, and discontinuity in setback policy amongst coastal locales. This approach, furthermore, severely hinders the ease to which increased sea level rise rates may be integrated into setback calculations across the state. In order to better address these issues, while simultaneously enhancing the coast’s ability to adapt to climate change impacts, it is suggested that California develop uniform, minimum state-wide setback standards, enact a policy of managed retreat, and undertake extensive mapping projects that define erosion rates along the state’s entire coastline.

Despite these shortcomings, the Coastal Act includes a number of provisions that indirectly address climate change adaptation. Section 30253 Minimization of Adverse Impacts, for example, stipulates that new development must be sufficiently cited as to "neither create nor contribute significantly to erosion…or in any way require the construction of protective devices that would substantially alter natural landforms along bluffs and cliffs." Recognizing the inherently dynamic nature of the coastal zone, the Act attempts to eliminate the need for reactionary responses to sea level rise and climate change impacts, and instead encourage more effective adaptation strategies such as sufficiently designed setbacks. The Act further mandates the Coastal Commission to “protect, conserve, restore, and enhance” the state’s coastal resources, thereby requiring the Coastal commission to consider climate change (i.e., global warming and sea level rise) through planning, regulatory, and educational activities. In order to better understand the relationship between climate change and the California Coastal Act, the California Coastal Commission has established an internal climate change task force, and is developing a planning manual for how stakeholders should address climate change within the Act. The California Coastal Commission has provided a webpage with multiple resources to help understand what efforts are being made by the state.

In recent years, climate change adaptation has become more explicitly recognized and addressed through groundbreaking legislative acts. Executive Order S-13-2008: the Climate Adaptation and Sea Level Rise Planning Directive, for example, represented the state’s first piece of legislation to specifically address climate change adaptation. Issued in November 14, 2008, EO S-13-2008 directs state agencies to plan for sea-level rise and climate impacts, while simultaneously reducing the state’s vulnerability to climate change. The EO includes key actions designed to guide California’s climate change adaptation measures, including:

  1. Initiation of California’s first statewide Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (CAS) to assess the state’s expected climate change impacts, identify California’s regions and sectors most vulnerable to climate change impacts, and finally, outline solutions that can be implemented within and across state agencies to promote resiliency.
  2. Establishment of an expert panel by the National Academy of Sciences to both report on sea-level rise impacts in California and inform State planning and development efforts. This independent panel of experts is directed to draft a Sea Level Rise Assessment Report, completed by December 1, 2010. The report will advise California’s planning for future sea-level rise and include information on sea-level rise projections, impacts on state infrastructure, and a discussion of future research needs.
  3. Issuance of interim guidance to State agencies for how to plan for sea-level rise in designated coastal and floodplain areas for both new and existing projects
  4. Initiation of studies on critical infrastructure projects and land-use policies vulnerable to sea-level rise. Business, transportation and housing agencies are further directed to develop reports assessing the vulnerability of transportation system to sea level rise, the latest of which was released in February of 2009.
  5. Consideration of sea level rise scenarios for the years 2050 and 2100 by all state agencies that are planning construction projects in areas vulnerable to sea level rise. The purpose of considering these scenarios is to assess project vulnerability and, to the extent feasible, reduce expected risks and increase resiliency to sea level rise. These scenarios should be considered by the relevant state agencies before the final Sea Level Rise Assessment Report is released.

In response to EO S-13-2008, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), working through the state’s Climate Action Team (CAT), released the State Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in December 2009. Recognizing that climate change is already affecting California, and noting that almost half a million Californians will be at risk from sea level rise along bay and coastal areas, the report is important in not only summarizing the most recent science predicting potential climate change impacts, but also recommending response strategies. Members of the Climate Adaptation Working Group identified six priority strategies in addressing climate adaptation for state agencies, three of which relate specifically to sea-level rise:

  • Strategy 3: State Agencies should prepare sea-level rise and adaptation plans – These plans are to be completed by September 2010 and regularly updated, modified, and refined based on new information.
  • Strategy 4: Support Local Planning for Addressing Sea-Level Rise Impacts – The Ocean Protection Council and other state resources agencies will coordinate public outreach programs and help in the revision of state and local plans. By 2011, all coastal jurisdictions should begin development of amended Local Coastal Programs and general plans that include climate change impacts.
  • Strategy 5: Complete a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment Every Five Years

In October 2010, the Coastal and Ocean Working Group of the California Climate Action Team (CO-CAT) finalized the State of California Sea-Level Rise Interim Guidance Document (Interim Guidance Document), which provided guidance for incorporating sea-level rise (SLR) projections into planning and decision making for projects in California. On March 11, 2011, the Ocean Protection Council adopted a Resolution stating that state agencies should follow the Interim Guidance Document as well as future guidance documents developed by the CO‐CAT.

In March 2013 Ocean Protection Council staff presented an update to the State of California Sea-Level Rise Guidance Document. This guidance update included the best current science, as summarized in the final report from the National Academy of Sciences, Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

In April 2017 a report Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea-Level Rise Science was released. A seven-member working group of the Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team provided the State with this report on the best available sea-level rise science -- including recent scientific advances on the role of polar ice loss. The report includes key findings, an analysis of the contributors that affect how much sea levels will rise along California's coast, as well as new information on the likelihood of sea level changes based on different greenhouse gas emission scenarios.

In 2012 the California Climate Adaptation Planning Guide was released. The Adaptation Planning Guide provides guidance to support regional and local communities in proactively addressing the unavoidable consequences of climate change. It was developed cooperatively by the California Natural Resources Agency, California Emergency Management Agency, with support from California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo, and with funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Energy Commission. The APG was developed under the guidance of an interagency steering committee and a technical advisory panel, and underwent an extensive review process following its release to the public as part of a conference held in April 2012 by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, Confronting Climate Change: A Focus on Local Government Impacts, Actions and Resources.

The APG provides a step-by-step process for local and regional climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy development. Usage of the APG is meant to allow for flexibility in the commitment of time, money, and effort to suit the needs of the community.

A somewhat similar document is Adapting to Sea Level Rise: A Guide for California’s Coastal Communities by Nicole Russell and Gary Griggs, University of California, Santa Cruz for the California Energy Commission, Public Interest Environmental Research Program (2012). This guidebook is intended to assist managers and planners in California’s coastal cities and counties in developing sea level rise adaptation plans for their communities. It begins with an introduction that provides background information about climate change and sea level rise and an explanation of why planners in coastal communities should begin to plan for sea level rise and the associated coastal hazards. The remaining sections walk users through the processes of performing sea level rise vulnerability assessments and risk analyses for the development of adaptation plans that can be tailored specifically to their individual communities.

The California Natural Resources Agency, in coordination with other state agencies, updated the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy in 2014. The Safeguarding California Plan augments previously identified strategies in light of advances in climate science and risk management options.

In addition, Implementation Action Plans were released in 2016. Here is the Oceans and Coastal Resources and Ecosystems Sector Plan.

As directed by EO S-3-05, California’s Climate Action Team (CAT) releases a biennial science assessment report on climate change impacts and adaptation options for the state. These reports are important in assessing and defining the role of climate change adaptation within California, and have been important in recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of California’s current adaptation strategies. The reports, furthermore, dedicate substantial acknowledgment to climate change impacts along the California coast, and have consistently reiterated the need for updated climate and sea-level rise projections (2006 Assessment Report).

The Future is Now: An Update on Climate Change Science Impacts and Response Options for California (2008), CAT’s latest assessment, includes a discussion on proposed adaptation strategies developed by the Ocean Protection Council and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. These adaptation strategies are aimed at addressing climate change impacts in coastal areas for existing development, new development and ecosystems, and include options such as rolling easements, relocating structures from high-risk areas, government purchases of vulnerable properties, seawalls and levees, planned retreat, mandatory setbacks, and use of new building materials and designs that will decrease a building’s susceptibility to flooding and storm surges. Ecosystem strategies include regional sediment management planning, beach nourishment, creation of “buffer zones” to allow for wetland migration, creation of new wetlands, and the creation of Marine Protected Areas.

While CAT’s completion of the state’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy represents a significant milestone, numerous actions, both past and present, on behalf of state agencies, local governments, universities, and NGO’s have additionally supplemented the state’s overall awareness of, and reaction to, climate change impacts. Since its formation in 2004, for example, California’s Ocean Protection Council (OPC) has provided for research on assessing vulnerability to sea level rise and other coastal/climate change impacts, and has additionally helped in modeling adaptation planning options. The OPC is also currently engaged with Oregon, Washington, and federal agencies through the Climate Change Action Coordination Team of the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health, all of which have come together to fund a National Academies study on Sea Level Rise and the West Coast that was released in June 2012. The report provides updated regional sea level rise projections for 2030, 2050, and 2100 based on the best available global sea level rise science and local conditions that influence sea level. According to the report, sea level in California could rise, on average, 6 inches by 2030, 11 inches by 2050, and 3 feet by 2100..

The OPC has also funded foundational research on climate change issues such as regionally down-scaled sea level rise estimates by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, coastal inundation and erosion mapping by the Pacific Institute and Philip Williams and Associates, and a multidisciplinary research project examining the potential impacts of ocean acidification. Most of this work has been conducted in coordination with the California Energy Commission-funded Climate Change Impacts Assessment Project, which has developed Cal-Adapt. In the future, the OPC will play an increasingly important role in guiding the efforts of state agencies responsible for ocean protection and coordinating California’s efforts to adapt to the coastal impacts of climate change.

At their March 11, 2011 meeting the OPC agenda included discussion of the Ocean Protection Council Science Advisory Team Position Statement on Climate Change and a Sea Level Rise Task Force Interim Guidance Document. The OPC was also expected to adopt a Proposed Resolution of the OPC on Sea-Level Rise.

Assembly Bill 2516, passed in 2014, directs various public agencies and private entities to provide their sea level rise plans, vulnerability assessments, scientific findings, inundation maps, and related information to the Natural Resources Agency by summer 2015. That agency would be required to produce a comprehensive sea level database by the start of 2016. More on this.

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is also an important player in the success of California’s adaptation efforts. As previously noted, the CCC’s regulatory process currently requires setbacks, review of engineering designs, establishment of wetland buffers, assumption of risk notification to property owners and prohibitions on future seawalls for new developments. Along these same lines, CCC staff is directed to consider sea level rise in most applications for projects along the coast -- either for the design of shoreline protection or for the siting of new development. In many cases, project proponents are further asked to look at the consequences of a range of sea levels in an effort to understand if and when a property may be at risk from rising sea level. In August 2015 the CCC approved a Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance document that provides an overview of the best available science on sea level rise for California and recommended methodology for addressing sea level rise in Coastal Commission planning and regulatory actions. It is intended to serve as a multi-purpose resource for a variety of audiences and includes a high level of detail on many subjects.

The CCC has additionally participated in studies on shoreline change, leading to an improved understanding of shoreline retreat and erosion, and is also currently coordinating with the California Coastal Conservancy to encourage acquisition of property in high risk areas. Furthermore, the CCC has hosted a number of climate change workshops that have focused on both climate change adaptation and mitigation, and has actively participated with the Coastal States Organization Climate Change Work Group, especially in developing the report The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change. For more information, see the report Overview of Sea Level Rise and Some Implications for Coastal California, June 1, 2001.

The California Coastal Conservancy has also backed research projects focused on incorporating sea level rise and other climate change projected impacts into modeling and project design for coastal and bay wetland restoration projects, and has been an integral part of evaluating climate change impacts on Bay Area upland habitats. Through development of the Climate Change Grant Assessment Criteria, the Conservancy has also helped take into account sea level rise in the prioritization, design, and implementation of various restoration and protection measures. On June 4, 2009, the Conservancy Board further adopted the Climate Change Policy and Project Selection Criteria. The Climate Change Policy both describes the concerns over climate change impacts on California’s coastal areas and sets forth the strategies/actions that the Conservancy will use to address climate change. The Project Selection Criteria includes three new proposed criteria to address GHG emissions and vulnerability to sea level rise and other climate change impacts. More information. The Conservancy has also funded a study (Phase 1 was completed in January 2013) of the conditions of Humboldt Bay’s shoreline and a qualitative assessment of its vulnerability to sea level rise.

2001 saw the creation of California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, one charged with spearheading climate change research and investigating, among other consequences, potential climate change impacts on coastal properties. Most recently the California State Lands Commission released A Report on Sea Level Rise Preparedness (December 2009), a comprehensive summary of the extent to which major agencies and landholders in California have considered the potential impacts of sea-level rise. According to the publication, however, survey results confirm that the Commission’s major grantees and lessees are only just beginning to address the issue of sea-level rise, and many have failed to account for sea-level rise in either planning new structures or protecting old ones.

California’s early acknowledgment and commitment to climate change mitigation and adaptation has further served to increase climate change awareness throughout state agencies. One 2006 study examined, for example, the extent to which coastal managers in California are aware of climate change impacts, and what, if anything, they are doing to prepare their communities to deal with the risks and challenges associated with global warming (Moser, 2007 – California Coastal and Ocean Magazine). Not surprisingly, results indicated that California coastal managers have some of the highest levels of awareness regarding climate change and its impacts. Yet despite this increased awareness, the study recognized that substantial improvements must be made in terms of both managers’ analytical capabilities and policy action. There is a great need, for example, for scientific data that can be both better understood by managers and more easily translated into specific policy action.

In a 2006 study, the California Climate Change Research Center found that, while California coastal managers may be well aware of climate change impacts, many do not currently use climatic information for day-to-day responsibilities, and in many instances, are not required to take future conditions into consideration when assessing development or actions in the coastal zone. Managers, for example, are required to consider historic sea-level rise when calculating setback distances, but do not presently calculate such setbacks under the assumption of an increased rate of sea-level rise. Analyzing both California’s adaptation potential and limitations, the white paper Preparing for the Impacts of Climate Change in California: Opportunities and Constraints for Adaptation, thus reiterates the need to simultaneously undertake both climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, and emphasizes the importance of expanding the knowledge of climate change impacts to decision makers and managers.

The study concludes that, with regards to implementing effective climate change adaptation strategies, the failure to consider future climate change impacts by coastal managers is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Constant training and workshops will prove an integral part of enabling managers to integrate and mainstream climate change adaptation into everyday efforts. The study also recognizes the overall insufficient ability of managers and agencies to analyze climate-relevant information, such as sea level rise projections, and translate this information into effective decision making. In summary, five specific management-related information needs were identified, including:

  1. Translation of projected sea-level rise and changes in coastal ocean and wave climate into shoreline retreat, beach erosion, and bluff retreat rates to help determine setback distances from the shoreline for several time horizons (20–25, 50, 75 years);
  2. Information about potential changes in future coastal storm frequency;
  3. More reliable forecasting of El Niño events, any changes in the frequency or severity of such events, and how these changes would affect the shoreline retreat rates;
  4. Remapping of flood zones under different sea-level rise projections, which would further affect siting and construction standard decisions in floodplains and emergency and evacuation plans. An improvement of California floodplain maps is already underway by the American Technology Council, but could be enhanced through consideration of climate change–related changes;
  5. Information about potential changes in runoff and near-shore coastal and estuarine water temperatures

No Day at the Beach: Sea Level Rise, Ecosystem Loss, and Public Access Along the California Coast (2007) by Meg Caldwell and Craig Holt Segall addresses several inter-related coastal issues and policies, including erosion, beach access and coastal armoring in the context of sea level rise. The document's conclusion states:

"Protecting coastal access and coastal resources requires developing a sea level rise policy. Climate change will fundamentally reconfigure the California coast; in turn, the Coastal Commission must be ready to plan for a rapidly changing future. Committing California to a responsible sea level rise policy will require more than rolling easement conditions, purchases, and LCP amendments. However, sensible use of rolling easements will allow vital public rights to track the coast more easily as the sea level rises. The Commission can be ready to defend those public rights from premature cancellation by limiting coastal armoring. It will not be a small project, but starting now is preferable to bearing the public costs of inaction later. Even if wholly successful, a more ecologically sensitive coastal armoring policy can only begin to help the coast to adapt to climate change and to mitigate some of its effects. It cannot, on its own, save the coast as warmer waters choke the California Current, bring stronger storms, and destroy marine life.
While the Commission explores its role in addressing climate change’s effects—from shifts in coastal fauna and flora to the armoring crisis, it can act to prevent the fortress-like coast that the combination of population growth, coastal development, and climate change would otherwise create. By urging LCP revision to discourage development in erosion-prone or ecologically important areas, implementing rolling easements, preserving access along the shore, and encouraging living shorelines design solutions, the Commission can steward the coast through the difficult years ahead."

Several publications addressing climate change and climate change adaptations in California have also been important contributors to adaptation discussions within the state. All of the following reports stress the importance of climate change, as well as the necessity of immediate action, and include:

  1. The Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on the California Coast by the California Climate Change Center
  2. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California by the California Climate Change Center
  3. California Coastal Management with a Changing Climate by the Public Policy Institute of California
  4. Preparing California for a Changing Climate by the Public Policy Institute of California.
  5. Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on the Shoreline by the BCDC April 2009
  6. Climate Change Hits Home - Adaptation strategies for the San Francisco Bay Area by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association May 2011

In March 2009 California's interagency Climate Action Team issued the first of 40 reports on impacts and adaptation, outlining what the state's residents must do to deal with the floods, erosion and other effects expected from rising sea levels. Hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars of infrastructure and property would be at risk if ocean levels rose 55 inches by the end of the century, as computer models suggest, according to the report. The group floated several progressive proposals: limit coastal development in areas at risk from sea rise; consider phased abandonment of certain areas; halt federally subsidized insurance for property likely to be inundated; and require coastal structures to be built to adapt to climate change. Along the state's 2,000-mile shoreline the effects would be acute, particularly in San Mateo and Orange counties, where more than 100,000 people would be affected, according to the 99-page state-commissioned report by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. Detailed maps of the coastline, published on the institute's website, show that residential neighborhoods in Venice and Marina del Rey could find themselves in a flood zone. Water could cover airports in San Francisco and Oakland, parts of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and large swaths of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Roads, schools, hospitals, sewage plants and power plants may have to be relocated. More than 330 hazardous waste sites are at risk from floods.

Coastal erosion mapping initiatives, updated shoreline inventories, and erosion data collection have also become a major focus of many studies and projects throughout California. Recognizing that coastal elevation data is essential for more accurate predictions of sea-level rise impacts on coastal communities, California’s Ocean Protection Council (OPC) authorized $2.75 million to NOAA for the aerial collection and processing of LiDAR elevation data and imagery along California’s coastline. The result will be a single, high resolution topographical map of California’s coastal areas, which would serve as a permanent record of California’s current coastal elevation, allowing resource managers and coastal community planners to assess and plan for impacts from sea-level rise, as well as sudden inundation from tsunamis or storm surges (see California Coastal Erosion Response to Sea-Level Rise – Analysis and Mapping).

A number of similar projects have focused on restoring local sand budgets and analyzing the effects of, and response to, localized, coastal erosion events. These studies will be important in increasing the knowledge of coastal dynamics and providing managers with the tools to respond more effectively to sea level rise and other climate change impacts. Relevant studies include:

A number of studies analyzing coastal inundation, coastal erosion, and other climate change impacts have concluded that climate change-driven sea-level rise is likely to be more severe and potential economic impacts considerably higher than previously projected. This long-term commitment to sea level rise, in conjunction with high development of much of California’s coastline, suggests that while mitigation can reduce the magnitude of sea level rise over the very long term (hundreds of years), adaptation is the only way to deal with the impacts from sea level rise over the coming decades and century. For more information, see:

Local Actions

In addition to state-wide adaptation initiatives, many coastal counties and cities are individually responding to climate change impacts. In addition to the below case studies, also review: Marin County Climate Action Plan, City of San Rafael Climate Action Plan (January 2009), and Berkeley Climate Action Plan (June 2009)(see Chapter 6 - Adapting to a Changing Climate). The County of Marin also has Collaboration: Sea-level Marin Adaptation Response Team (C-SMART), an intergovernmental/public-private partnership that is working to develop an understanding how sea level rise (SLR) may affect homes, schools, roads, public facilities, natural resources and habitat areas, when these impacts might occur, how they might change over time, and how to prepare for them.

A recently approved amendment to the Crescent City Local Coastal Program (LCP) recommends modifications to the LCP’s Land Use Plan (LUP) to address the threat of rising sea level. One of those recommended modifications would “require that all geological, geo-technical, engineering and hydrologic evaluations include in their analyses the effects of sea level rise.” The city of Redondo Beach is considering a similar amendment to its LCP. (from the California Climate Change Portal)

In December 2011, the City of Santa Cruz approved a stand-alone climate adaptation plan, which identifies the City's most significant climate change risks and vulnerabilities, and defines actions to guide "current and future decision makers in protecting our natural and built environment, our residents and visitors, our economic base, and our quality of life." A first step in the City's adaptation planning process was to assess its vulnerabilities. The City of Santa Cruz Vulnerability Study, released in January 2011, identified climate change impacts for which the community should prepare: Sea level rise; Precipitation patterns that may lead to more extreme storm events; Flooding; Drought; Ocean acidification; Cliff erosion; Salt water intrusion; Urban/wild land fires; Ambient temperature changes that may result in species migration, ecosystem endangerment, and increased risk of wildfire.

Development standards of Malibu’s Coastal Zone ordinance expressly require the consideration of sea level rise and mandate setbacks of a sufficient distance landward and elevations to a sufficient finished floor height, which will “eliminate or minimize to the maximum extent feasible hazards associated with anticipated sea level rise over the expected 100 year economic life of the structure.” As specifically stated in CITY OF MALIBU, CA, CODE, §10.4(A):

“[s]iting and design of new shoreline development and shoreline protective devices shall take into account anticipated future changes in sea level. In particular, an acceleration of the historic rate of sea level rise shall be considered and its potential impact on beach erosion, shoreline retreat, and bluff erosion rates shall be evaluated.”

The City’s LCP also requires new development on the beach or on oceanfront bluffs to be sited outside areas subject to beach or bluff erosion, inundation, or wave run-up at any time during the full projected 100 year economic life of the development. In Malibu, shoreline protective structures are strictly regulated, and “soft” protections are strongly preferred, including dune restoration, sand nourishment, and design criteria emphasizing the maximum use of the aforementioned landward setbacks and raised foundations. Subdivision requirements prohibit new lots that might require shoreline protection or bluff stabilization structures at any time during the full 100 year economic life of the development. For more information, see City of Malibu, California: Local Coastal Program Local Implementation Plan (see Chapter 10).

In February 2012 the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy for San Diego Bay was released after more than a year of development by a broad collaboration of organizations and agencies, including the Port of San Diego, San Diego County Airport Authority, five area local governments, The San Diego Foundation, and ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability USA. The strategy is one of the nation’s first regional approaches to preparing for projected sea level rise. It consists of two main components: a comprehensive vulnerability assessment that evaluates how community assets could be impacted by sea level rise, and 10 broad recommendations for building the resilience of community assets. The strategy is a foundation to guide coordinated adaptation planning among participating local jurisdictions.

Despite California’s immense coastline, only two cities are currently employing a strategy of managed retreat. As highlighted by NOAA’s Coastal Management Program, the managed retreat strategies of the cities of Ventura and Pacifica have led to more sustainable and effective coastal management. Both of these projects are discussed below. With the increased risk of sea level rise, it is hoped that more California coastal cities and counties will gradually replace traditional strategies of structural hardening with planned retreat.

Surfer’s Point, Ventura County

For years, the City of Ventura has faced on-going erosion at Surfer’s Point, a popular surfing spot, public California State Park bike path, and parking lot located adjacent to the mouth of the Ventura River. In order to prevent the future need of a seawall, and avoid subsequent destruction of the famous surf break, the Surfrider Foundation has advocated for relocation of the bike path inland since the mid 1980s. Despite their efforts, the City of Ventura chose instead to place boulders above the mean high tide line along the Point’s upper end. Unfortunately these actions only exacerbated erosion further down the coast, and continued to place the parking lot and bike path at risk. In some places, more than 60 feet of land has already been lost. To remedy the situation, the City applied for a permanent permit for a rock revetment, a request subsequently denied by the California Coastal Commission.

In order to more effectively address the issue, the California State Coastal Conservancy facilitated the formation of a collaborative working group in 1995 that included representatives from the City, County Fairgrounds, California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Commission, the Ventura Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, and other stakeholders. Yet while "managed retreat" was a favored strategy, the group disbanded a year later due to the inability to reach a consensus. Surfrider, nevertheless, continued to advocate a managed retreat strategy, and with the eventual election of the former chairman of the Ventura Chapter of Surfrider to the Ventura City Council, discussions were resumed. A second working group was created and, in 2001, reached a consensus for a managed retreat project that included:

  • Relocating the bike path and public parking lot more than 60 feet further inland.
  • Removing existing rip rap
  • Restoring the area to a more natural beach habitat
  • Continuing to provide adequate parking for beach goers and the Fairground
  • Providing for on-going beach renourishment
  • Preserving public access to the area via Shoreline Drive
  • Advocating for the removal of the Matilija Dam to increase sand supplies to the beach

By the Summer of 2005, the project’s initial planning, design process, and environmental documentation had been completed. In response to the completed plans, the City of Ventura provided an initial allocation of one million dollars of U.S. Department of Transportation's TEA-21 funds to the design and relocation of the bike path. The California Coastal Commission additionally approved a permit for a renourishment project that includes a five-year plan for opportunistic beach replenishment at Surfer's Point. The Surfer’s Point Case Study is especially interesting in that it demonstrates the power of grassroots initiatives, and highlights the importance of collaboration and compromise.

See also: and

Pacifica State Beach, San Mateo County

Like Surfer’s Point, the City of Pacifica has, for decades, battled chronic coastal flooding and beach erosion. In response to its rapidly eroding coastline, the City consistently employed a strategy of intensive shoreline armoring and stabilization. Flooding, erosion of Pacifica/Linda Mar State Beach, and disrupted steelhead trout habitat continued to nevertheless plague the City’s shoreline. While El Nino-fueled flooding in 1982 caused major damage, and led to the continued support of further hardening and creek channelization by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, many community members began to consider alternatives to structural stabilization. Arguing that shoreline armoring was both accelerating long-term erosion at Pacifica/Linda Mar State Beach and disrupting native steelhead trout habitat, surfers, conservationists, the California Coastal Conservancy, the Mayor of Pacifica, and other stakeholders championed, instead, for a strategy of shoreline restoration.

In the early 1990s the City of Pacifica, the California Coastal Conservancy, and the Pacifica Land Trust collaborated to work towards a managed retreat strategy that sought to first remove vulnerable structures along the beach, and subsequently combine "soft" stabilization techniques to enhance steelhead habitat, reduce flooding threats, and preserve the sandy beach. Around the same time, the City of Pacifica partnered with the California Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the State Water Resources Control Board to expand and enhance the tidally-influenced wetlands at the creek mouth and restore more than 1900 feet of eroding creek banks, both enhancing steelhead habitat and achieving 100-year flood protection for the nearby community.

The City continues to uphold its policy of managed retreat, and in 2002, partnered with the Pacifica Land Trust and the California Coastal Conservancy to purchase two homes and their surrounding acreage for $2.2 million. The City has, thus far, also delivered over 4,000 cubic yards of sand to rebuild dunes and restore 4 acres of beach and nearby estuary. Currently plans are underway to relocate a Taco Bell restaurant' the last remaining shoreline structure along Pacifica’s shoreline, to the opposite side of Highway 1.

San Francisco and the Bay Area

Although Ventura and Pacifica have, in specific cases, adopted a strategy of managed retreat, the San Francisco Bay region has far and wide set both the state and national standard for local coastal climate change adaptation. Since the late 1980s, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has been studying and developing policies to address sea level rise, and in the process, transforming San Francisco into one of the most proactive cities with regards to climate change.

BCDC is currently identifying the risks associated with climate over the next 100 years and developing strategies for adapting to a changing climate. The BCDC is additionally in the process of restoring over 15,000 acres of formal salt ponds in the South Bay, mapping the area’s shoreline, conducting a climate change planning project, and has recently completed the Climate Change Planning Project to develop strategies to reduce the region’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Through its Adapting to Rising Tides Program, BCDC has provided a place to find planning guidance, tools and information that have been developed, tested and refined by the Adapting to Rising Tides Program to address the specific challenges of climate change. In addition, Policies for a Rising Bay Project is a NOAA grant-funded project whereby BCDC is collaboratively evaluating BCDC’s fill policies in light of sea level rise to develop guidance for the Commission, staff and project proponents on the interpretation of these policies and policy options for potential changes that would promote shoreline resilience and Bay protection.

Issued April 7, 2009, the BCDC publication, Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on its Shoreline, identifies vulnerabilities in the Bay Area’s economic, environmental, and public health systems. Information in the Report has led to the BCDC suggesting further revisions to the San Francisco Bay Plan, which are currently still under consideration by the BCDC.

In 2006, BCDC released a series of maps depicting the lands most vulnerable to sea level rise. To improve the accuracy and precision of the maps, using funding provided by the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research Program, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) developed new sea level rise data. BCDC used the data to produce a new series of sea level rise maps showing areas vulnerable to 16 inches of sea level rise at mid-century and 55 inches at the end of the century.

BCDC, along with a consortium of leading Dutch researchers and consultants (part of the Delta Alliance) also conducted a joint study on the impact of sea level rise on the San Francisco Bay. The results of the study and adaptation measures for shoreline development were presented at a symposium on September 21, 2009.

For more information on the Bay Area’s climate change adaptation initiatives, visit:

In May 2011 the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) released a report Climate Change Hits Home - Adaptation strategies for the San Francisco Bay Area. The report surveys the likely impacts of climate change in the San Francisco Bay Area, including extreme weather and sea level rise. More than 30 strategies for local and regional agencies are recommended to begin minimizing the region’s vulnerabilities to these long-term but potentially catastrophic effects.

A paper San Francisco Waterfront Development Projects - An Adaptation Strategy by Dilip Trivedi and Susan Tonkin was prepared for presentation at the PIANC World Congress in San Francisco, CA in 2014. The paper describes work completed for two major proposed developments in the City of San Francisco – Treasure Island and Hunters Point Shipyard. The work included extensive review of climate change literature published by local, regional, state and federal agencies as well as the international community and academia. Detailed coastal flooding studies were conducted which included probabilistic analyses of extreme values to develop extreme statistics for water levels including effects of tides, surges, waves, and tsunamis. These values were subsequently combined with sea level rise estimates, and various scenarios of required coastal improvements were developed for discussions with stakeholders.


  1. Climate Action Team Biennial Report March 2009
  2. California Climate Adaptation Strategy
  3. California Coastal Commission Climate Change
  4. Living with a Rising Bay: Vulnerability and Adaptation in San Francisco Bay and on the Shoreline, BCDC, April 2009
  5. California Coastal Management with a Changing Climate – Public Policy Institute of California
  6. The Impacts of Coastal Protection Structures in California’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
  7. Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California
  8. Climate Change Resources
  9. Building California’s Climate-Related Decision Support Capacity and Fostering Social Science Contributions (DRAFT)
  10. A Summary of the Coastal Commission’s Involvement in Climate Change and Global Warming Issues for a Briefing to the Coastal Commission
  11. California Coastal Commission Climate Change and Research Considerations
  12. Is California preparing for sea-level rise? The answer is disquieting. California Coast and Ocean 22(4): 24-30 Moser, S.C. (2007).

General Reference Documents

EPA's Risk-Based Adaptation website (under the heading of Climate-Ready Estuaries) provides several resources and tools to help users identify, analyze, prioritize and reduce their climate change risks.

An informative publication is Ten Principles for Coastal Development (2007) by the Urban Land Institute.

The Coastal States Organization (CSO) has published two reports relating to climate change adaptation. The first is Coastal Community Resilience: An Evaluation of Resilience as a Potential Performance Measure of the Coastal Zone Management Act (July 2008). (No link to this could be found.) Developed by CSO staff and CSO’s Coastal Resilience Steering Committee, the document demonstrates the value of resilience to coastal management and offers concrete recommendations for enhancing resilience at the state and local level. The second document is The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs in Adaptation to Climate Change (September 2008)(PDF, 732KB). The report includes detailed results of a 2008 adaptation survey designed to obtain up to date information on the status of adaptation planning, priority information needs, and the anticipated resource needs of the coastal states, commonwealths, and territories.

In April 2009, the Heinz Center and Ceres announced the release of their Resilient Coasts - A Blueprint for Action, to outline steps to reduce risks and losses in the face of growing threats. The Heinz Center and Ceres produced the blueprint with a coalition of leading insurers, public officials, risk experts, builders, and conservation groups. The blueprint is endorsed by many groups, including The Travelers Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wharton School, and the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. The blueprint includes policy changes and common sense actions that could reduce economic losses from future storms and rising sea levels by as much as half along U.S. coastlines. The blueprint outlines specific recommendations, including: enabling planning for climate impacts by providing the necessary science and decision-making tools; requiring risk-based land use planning; designing adaptable infrastructure and building code standards to meet future risk; strengthening ecosystems as part of a risk mitigation strategy; developing flexible adaptation plans; maintaining a viable private property and casualty insurance market; and integrating climate change impacts into due diligence for investment and lending. The coalition urges the Obama administration, Congress, local leaders and the private sector to see that blueprint actions are implemented through regulation, investment, education, and other means.

In January 2010 the National Association of Counties released Building Resilient Coastal Communities: Counties and the Digital Coast which highlights many of the Digital Coast resources that counties use to address coastal flooding, habitat conservation and land use. More resources, tools and data are available through NOAA's Digital Coast website.

More recently, NOAA Coastal Management has developed a Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer as part of its Digital Coast website. Being able to visualize potential impacts from sea level rise is a powerful teaching and planning tool, and the Sea Level Rise Viewer brings this capability to coastal communities. A slider bar is used to show how various levels of sea level rise will impact coastal communities. Completed areas include Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with additional coastal counties to be added in the near future. Visuals and the accompanying data and information cover sea level rise inundation, uncertainty, flood frequency, marsh impacts, and socioeconomics.

StormSmart Coasts is a resource for coastal decision makers looking for the latest and best information on how to protect their communities from weather and climate hazards. StormSmart Legal is a new addition to the StormSmart Coasts Network that provides information about property rights, regulatory takings, and permissible government regulation in coastal areas.

In December 2012 NOAA's Climate Program Office released a report Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment. The report was produced in response to a request from the U.S. National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. It provides a synthesis of the scientific literature on global sea level rise, and a set of four scenarios of future global sea level rise. The report includes input from national experts in climate science, physical coastal processes, and coastal management.

NOAA's Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth website is organized into 10 chapters describing different elements essential for communities interested in implementing coastal and waterfront smart growth. By clicking on the individual chapters, you can get a description of each Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth Element, how this relates to the Coastal and Waterfront Issues, Tools and Techniques you can use in your community, and Case Studies of successes. Each chapter contains a navigation box allowing quick access to the information and the ability to download the content of each page. A 2012 report by NOAA and EPA on Achieving Hazard-Resilient Coastal & Waterfront Smart Growth presents ideas shared by smart growth and hazard mitigation experts related to building hazard-resilient coastal communities.

EPA has a website devoted to preparing for rising sea level and other consequences of changing climate. The premise of the Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise website is that society should take measures to make our coastal development and ecosystems less vulnerable to a rise in sea level. The papers on this site demonstrate that numerous low-cost measures, if implemented, would make the United States less vulnerable to rising sea level. A more recent EPA website is Adapting to Climate Change, but was removed by the Trump administration.

Coastal Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerabilities (USGS-NOAA, January 2013) emphasizes the need for increased coordination and planning to ensure U.S. coastal communities are resilient against the effects of climate change. The report examines and describes climate change impacts on coastal ecosystems and human economies and communities, as well as the kinds of scientific data, planning tools and resources that coastal communities and resource managers need to help them adapt to these changes. Case studies are presented for Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

In December 2012 the Lincoln Institute released Coastal States’ Climate Adaptation Initiatives: Sea Level Rise and Municipal Engagement (Working Paper). This paper explores how states and municipalities interact to address sea level rise, providing an overview of the state of practice, some reasons for different levels of action, and some of the needs of municipalities. It includes recommendations for ways states can provide adaptation support to municipalities.

Coastal Risk Reduction and Resilience: Using the Full Array of Measures, (pdf, 1.2 MB) published in September 2013, discusses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' capabilities to help reduce risks to coastal areas and improve resilience to coastal hazards through an integrated planning approach. Federal, state, local, non-governmental organization and private sector interests connected to our coastal communities possess a complementary set of authorities and capabilities for developing more integrated coastal systems. The effective implementation of an integrated approach to flood and coastal flood hazard mitigation relies on a collaborative, shared responsibility framework between Federal, state, and local agencies and the public.

The National Climate Assessment is an extensive report released through the U.S. Global Change Research Program and produced by a large team of experts with the guidance of the Federal Advisory Committee. The report is put out every few years, with the most recent one being the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the next report expected to be released in 2018-2019. It includes numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on different economic sectors and geographic regions in the U.S. An important and applicable portion of the report is the Response Strategies section, which lays out actionable ways that decision-makers ranging from the federal government to private-sector companies can take to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


  1. Surfrider Foundation 2002 State of the Beach Report, state survey response.

State of the Beach Report: California
California Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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