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The Role of California State Agencies in Facilitating Local Adaptation to Sea Level Rise

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

Bedrosian Center Research Presentations

Hilda Blanco

The Bedrosian Center funds several grants for USC Price faculty research on governance issues. Preference for the awards is given to research focused on collaborative governance, relationships between governance and planning, and government accountability issues. As a condition of the grant, each principal investigator was asked to give a presentation of his or her findings. Today Hilda Blanco will present the findings from her project:

California faces significant coastal impacts from climate change, with a projected sea level rise of 55 inches by 2100, and increasing storms. Since three-quarters of California’s population live in coastal localities, current risks associated with coastal flooding are already high. A recent study estimated that over 3,000 miles of coastal roads and rails and $100B in coastal buildings would be at risk from sea level rise and storm surges. Several types of strategies have been identified to address sea level rise: protection strategies, e.g., seawalls; accommodation strategies, e.g., elevating buildings on piles; and retreat or abandonment strategies. These strategies raise different types of challenges to existing institutions.

Coastal development in California is planned and regulated by local governments and a complex set of State institutions. California has been leading the nation in climate change policy, and state agencies are encouraging local governments to plan for sea level rise. Some coastal communities are beginning to do so. This research focused on how state agencies can facilitate the efforts of local governments to implement their plans to adapt to sea level rise. In addition to reviewing the literature on California coastal management as related to climate change, I conducted 16 structured interviews of agency top management to determine: the agency response to sea level rise in their plans and programs; how they are addressing institutional challenges related to specific local options, such as seawalls, elevation of structures, new types of local ordinances, tidal marshes, maintaining public beaches. The findings from the research outline a State legislative agenda to ensure that California’s coastal communities have the tools required to adapt to sea level rise.

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