SMa.rt Column: A Flood Perspective

The inevitable rise in sea levels in our region has led a number of groups and organizations to look for possible solutions and mitigation measures. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in previous articles, doing nothing is eroding our beaches and flooding our beach towns, all with dire physical and economic repercussions.

The state and a number of cities and groups have started organizing to tackle the threat of flooding on the coast. The State of California now has a very informative resource website (linked at the end of this article). In its climate protection and adaptation plan of May 2019, our own city prepared a first series of “Adaptive Management” goals with regard to sea level rise. She has also made a hair-raising assessment of the financial costs associated with sea level rise which is worth scrutinizing. However, it appears that many of the proposals outlined in the Santa Monica Plan of Action are stuck in inaction. Of the top five recommendations listed in the plan, in addition to the financial assessment, only one – Beach Feeding and Dune Making – has been launched under the leadership of the Bay Foundation, a non-profit group that helped create a pilot beach restoration project near the Annenberg about four years before it was included in the city’s climate protection and adaptation plan.

There appears to have been little or no action on the remaining proposals in the plan. The city’s plan points out guidelines and standards for flood protection of infrastructure and buildings, and also includes a program to strengthen the structural strength of the pier to withstand the increasing effects of waves due to rising sea levels.

To date, there have been no specific guidelines for flood control infrastructure, and the pier’s structural strengthening program appears to be AWOL. It has been two years since these proposals were made; We did not see a concrete plan to manage the endangered coastal areas as required in the plan. And maybe the hazard map schedule should also be updated to maintain its five year update schedule. The climate protection and adaptation plan is an important point. Another – related but separate – is the city’s local coastal plan, a more comprehensive plan for the coastal area that must be approved by the state’s Coastal Commission. The draft of the city’s local coastal plan contains many points that overlap with the climate plan, but are more detailed. The chapter on sea level rise contains, for example, hazard maps, hazard analyzes for new projects, guidelines for the reconstruction of the beach cycle path in the event of damage and many other detailed suggestions.

The city council approved the 2018 draft local coastal plan. Certification was expected in January 2020. Since then, the plan has disappeared behind the opaque doors of the Coastal Commission; its terms are believed to be negotiated with city officials, and its fate (and consent) is a mystery. Both the Local Coastal Plan and the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan appear to be in limbo.

While the officials linger and hesitate, Mother Nature has her own schedule and other people have started to react. Today, north of Malibu, we can see Caltrans reinforce the exposed edges of the Pacific Coast Highway east of Sycamore Canyon Cove, in an area particularly prone to swell. And near Malibu’s Westward Beach, the county installed a 600-foot-long rock structure to protect part of the beach access road that collapsed after damage from floods and surf last August. Walls made of rocks and rubble, in particular, are a paving solution that eventually leads to more destruction of sandy beaches. But these events highlight the ongoing effects of sea level rise in our region. These effects may not be visible until a dramatic event – like a road collapse – attracts attention.

Our colleague Mario Fonda-Bonardi warned in an SMa.rt article five years ago about the combined effects of sea level rise and storm surges or tsunamis:

“While a 1/8” increase per year may sound trivial now, the real blow comes when you add the typical 7 ‘tidal fluctuations plus the 7’ storm surge from periodic heavy storms (in this case, storms of such intensity as her occur) added every 50 years).

“If we combine the 100 year storm with a projected sea level rise of only 3 feet, we lose the parking lot north of the pier and the lifeguard station headquarters, part of Muscle Beach, and about half the bike path north of the pier. If we went one step further with a sea level rise of 6½ ‘plus the 100 year storm, we would lose: large buildings along the promenade (the sea castle, shutters, Casa del Mar), about half of the buildings north of the Piers, all cycle paths and toilets, and practically all parking spaces. Eventually, PCH would be shortened on Channel Road. This damage is a huge blow to the city’s tax base and its tourism industry, not to mention the temporary loss of PCH. In this scenario, it is unclear what would happen to the pier. ”Is the Coastal Commission delaying? The commission does not seem in a hurry to approve the city’s local coastal plan. But that is no reason to stop implementing the city’s own climate protection and adaptation plan, for which a lot of effort and resources have been expended. The adjustment plan is the result of a lot of solid analysis. It’s clearly written and has excellent graphics that would grace any planner’s library. It is a beautiful document and also an attractive and demanding one.

But what is needed now is the actual execution. Mark Gold, the director of the State Ocean Conservation Council and assistant secretary for Oceans and Coastal Policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, recently said:

“… The rate of sea level rise has doubled in the last 15 years and this rate will increase in the years to come. So it is time to take the threat of sea level rise extremely seriously, especially when combined with King Tides and major storms. The impact of sea level rise on coastal residents, ports, roads and highways, sewage treatment plants, airports and railways could be hundreds of billions of dollars if the sea level rises a meter or more by the end of the century: a result that has a high probability. “

In Santa Monica, as in other locations along the coast, we are running out of time and we cannot wait for a dramatic, devastating event to trigger real action. The city has a plan. It’s time to put it into action.

Daniel Jansenson, architect, building and fire protection commission

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire Safety Commission; Robert H. Taylor, architect AIA; Thane Roberts, architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, architect AIA, planning committee; Sam Tolkin, architect; Marc Verville, Chartered Accountant (inactive); Michael Jolly, AIRCRE

Santa Monica Draft Local Coastal Plan:
Santa Monica Climate Action and Adaptation Plan:
Rating of Sea Level Rise in Santa Monica:
Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot:
California State Sea Level Rise website:
Mark Gold article:

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