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OC planners, leaders brainstorm ideas to save vanishing beaches

Coastal leaders and planners from across the state gathered recently to brainstorm solutions for a shared concern: how to combat severe erosion and climate-change challenges already causing trouble and expected to worsen in years to come.

The two-day Smart Coast California Policy Summit in Newport Beach drew leaders to trade tactics as a report released recently by the United States Geological Survey made a dire prediction: By 2100, modeling done estimates that 25% to 70% of California’s 1,100 miles of coastline may become completely eroded due to sea level rise scenarios.

The vanishing of area beaches would mean a loss of recreation space, threats to infrastructure and hits to tourism revenue and a coastal economy that brings billions to the state each year, officials warned.



Steve Rosansky, executive director for the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, talked about how much is at stake if the city’s miles of water line – along the ocean and around harbor – fall victim to a rising sea.

“We have a big job ahead of us and not a lot of time to do it,” he said.

A lot has been said recently about the need for replenishing sand along the coast – long-awaited projects at both the northern and southern ends of the county recently locked in federal funding and agreements with the Army Corps of Engineers to move ahead in the next year or so. But those project won’t be enough – or even address some sections of coast – and leaders shared other plans.

Seimone Jurjis, director of community development for Newport Beach, talked about the city’s vulnerability, a place where man-made islands and seawalls were built a bit too low 100 years ago, back when sea level rise wasn’t a consideration.

Now, each time a new development or major remodel is proposed, the adjacent seawall must consider future sea level rise, he said. For example, a seawall being built today has to be 10.9 feet, but allow for additional add-ons up to 14.6 feet.

“The idea is you can extend the wall over time, depending on how sea level impacts the wall,” Jurjis said, calling it an “adaptive” process.

Another relatively new effort, at least in coastal Orange County, he said, is to raise homes on stilts – a common practice on the East Coast.

Already, a Balboa Peninsula home has been raised on 5-foot stilts and another on Balboa Island about 3 feet up, a way “property owners save their assets, save that legacy for the next generation,” he said, though some neighbors aren’t so thrilled at losing views.

Rosansky started his career as a real estate broker 40 years ago and can’t help, he said, but think what flooding, loss of beach, or collapsing hillsides means for home values.

“What motivates people to buy homes or move to a certain area?” he asked, showing a flooded residential area. “This certainly would not be an incentive.”

There’s about $5 billion dollars worth in real estate along five miles of Newport Beach coast, he offered as a quick calculation, if considering just the oceanfront properties at risk if the sea rises and destroys the homes.

“You can imagine the economic impact if we start losing those homes, not just for the owners of the property, but to the city through the loss of potential revenue,” Rosansky said.

There’s also impacts to businesses to consider. An estimated 7.3 million visitors come to the city annually, generating $27 million in bed tax and another upward $8 million from short-term lodging tax.

He showed shots of 2005 and 2010 flooding, with water several feet deep outside the Balboa Saloon bar.

“If you have a paddleboard, I think you can make it there and probably get yourself a beer – but other than that, you’re going to have a problem,” he said. “Once water gets into a place, the health department shuts it down until repairs and clean up are done. It’s a loss of revenue.”

In San Clemente, several buildings have become more vulnerable as sand has disappeared, including a marine safety headquarters, concession buildings, parking lots and restrooms, private homes and a coastal trail that runs almost along the length of the city. Three major landslides have stopped trains in recent months where tracks are beachfront between the ocean and the bluffs and put buildings in danger – the latest last month when the hillslide slipped in front of the historic Casa Romantica.  

Cecilia Gallardo Daly, the city’s community development director, updated on several studies launched to measure erosion along the city’s shoreline and consider the feasibility of a nature-based coastal resilience solution to help to keep sand in place – ideas include sand dunes, living shorelines with cobble berms or even an offshore reef system.

“No option is off the table,” she said.

A draft of those ideas will be out later this year for public review.

While its sand replenishment needs will also be helped along with San Clemente and Newport Beach by the funding secured for the long-awaited Army Corps of Engineers projects, Huntington Beach also wants to work with other agencies, such as Caltrans, to address threatened infrastructure.

Pacific Coast Highway suffered significant flooding this winter, and moving the coastal road inland is not a real option, said Ursula Luna Reynosa, the city’s community development director.

“We’re really limited,” she said, “and struggling to find out what are the best options available.”

Source: Orange County Register

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