As sea levels rise further, state efforts to address them are stepping up, with Gov. Gavin Newsom signing the first of five ocean bills awaiting consideration on Thursday.
This bill, SB 1, officially adds rising waters to the list of issues to be addressed by the California Coastal Commission. It also creates a new entity to coordinate sea adaptation efforts among several agencies, and it establishes a mechanism to provide up to $ 100 million per year in grants to local and regional governments to prepare for larger waters. high.
Related actions on the governor’s office include a program to purchase homes threatened by rising sea levels and a bill calling for a study of a possible early warning system for coastal cliff collapses.
“SB 1 sets a marker,” said Donne Brownsey, vice chairman of the Coastal Commission. “It’s a starting point. I think we’re going to see a lot more sea level rise laws in the future. “
The commission has been dealing with rising ocean issues for more than a decade as part of its responsibility to deal with coastal risks, but the new law explicitly adds “sea level rise” to the list. main responsibilities described in the law on the coast. 1976.
“When they wrote the Coastal Act, no one was thinking of rising sea levels,” Brownsey said, noting the growing recognition of the threat.
Opponents of the measure, by pro Senate Speaker Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, include the State Real Estate Association, the Building Industry Association, the Orange County Chapter of the Association of California Cities and the towns of Newport Beach and Del Mar.
Members of these groups have complained that the Coast Commission is unnecessarily interfering with coastal development, including restrictions on dikes. The commission prefers to maintain beaches, when possible, by allowing them to migrate inland, and has rejected some dike proposals that would eventually eliminate sandy recreational areas.
A joint argument made by opponents before it was passed by the Legislature said SB 1 “would give the California Coastal Commission unlimited authority over sea level rise.”
However, Brownsey said there was no new authority given to the commission in the new law – that it simply modernized the commission’s priority list. Susan Jordan of the Coastal Protection Network said the language change should remove any doubts about the commission’s competence in the matter.
“What it does is make it clear to those who try to argue that the (commission) does not have the power to deal with sea level rise that it not only has the power, she has the responsibility, ”said Jordan, whose Profit was one of 10 environmental groups to endorse the bill. In addition, the cities of Carlsbad, Santa Barbara and Alameda supported it, as did the League of California Cities and the San Diego Association of Governments.
SB 1 does not directly allocate money for local and regional ocean-related grants. But it does provide the mechanism for distributing up to $ 100 million a year once the right funds are available, like the $ 612 million for sea level rise that was part of the $ 15 billion climate package. of dollars signed by Newsom on Thursday.
SB 1 is also increasing the grants available for environmental justice programs from $ 1.5 million to $ 2 million to address the effects of sea level rise on disadvantaged communities, as well as an allocation for this program.
The collaborative coordination component of the bill, which will be overseen by the Ocean Protection Council, will help avoid duplication of efforts and conflicting strategies employed by the Coast Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, the State Lands Commission and a host of other state, regional and local bodies. entities.
“The coordinating role of the Oceans Protection Council is essential to … provide the necessary resources and support to local, regional and even state agencies responsible for coastal planning and the implementation of resilience actions,” said Alyssa Mann of The Nature Conservancy.
The Ocean Protection Council, which provides sea level rise projections to other agencies, has set benchmarks to prepare for a rise of 6 feet by 2050 and 7 feet by 2100.
Every dollar spent on pre-disaster preparedness can prevent $ 6 in public and private losses afterwards, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But these preparations can be particularly difficult when it comes to moving homes, roads and sewage treatment plants inland. While a 2.8 mile stretch of Highway 1 in northern San Luis Obisbo County and a coastal sewage treatment plant in Morro Bay has been moved away from the ocean, such adaptation will be more difficult in the urbanized areas.
SB 83 is an attempt to address homes threatened by rising water levels. Senator Ben Allen’s bill, D-Santa Monica, establishes a program for the state to loan money to coastal towns to buy such properties from owners and rent them out while they are still safe. The rent money would then flow back into the loan program.
Dan Jacobson of Environment California called the bill a “smart and innovative idea.”
“We applaud the legislature for this kind of thinking outside the box,” he said. “These ideas provide a viable exit strategy.”
Among other sea level rise bills on the governor’s desk, AB 66, by Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, would ask the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the cliff collapse coastal areas in Del Mar and Encinitas and explore the possibility of developing an early warning system. system.
AB 63, by Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, would allow marine restoration in marine protected areas, which are now closed to such work. Restoring kelp beds, for example, can help offset some of the consequences of rising sea levels by strengthening breeding grounds and reducing ocean storm surges.
AB 72, also by Petrie-Norris, would streamline approval processes and remove other bureaucratic obstacles to sea level rise efforts.
“Time is running out as the seas continue to rise along our coast, and we cannot waste resources trying to navigate unnecessary green ribbon,” she said.
Newsom has until October 10 to sign or veto this year’s legislation.