Efforts to address sea level rise could become permanent

Assembly member’s proposal to continue the state’s monitoring effects of climate change progresses through legislature.

SACRAMENTO — A portion of California’s efforts to address sea level rise and the effects of climate change could become a regular occurrence as an Assembly member’s proposal to extend use of planning tools makes its way up the legislative ladder indefinitely.

Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, introduced Assembly Bill 184 (AB 184) in January, hoping to update a 2014 law that established a statewide online database for sea level rise planning and modeling. The 2014 law came with a sunset provision to end the state’s efforts by Jan. 1, 2018.

The Assembly’s Appropriations Committee approved Berman’s proposal by a 13-4 vote on April 5; the bill cleared the lower house’s Natural Resources Committee on March 20, with nine of 10 committee members in support.

AB 184, if passed and signed into law, would eliminate the sunset provision and allow the state to continue maintaining a sea level rise database permanently.

“The database provides sea level rise planning information, which includes studies, modeling, mapping, cost-benefit analysis, vulnerability assessments, adaptation projects as well as statuses and updates of Local Coastal Programs,” Berman’s staff said in a released statement. “The database is a single, centrally located tool and is beneficial to the state, local governments, and the public by showing actions taken to address sea level rise, enabling a more effective and coordinated response.”

The Assembly Appropriations Committee estimated the state’s Natural Resources Agency, or NRA, would require $65,000 annually from the state’s General Fund or Cost of Implementation Account to keep the database operational.

Berman stated his proposal would go a long way to ensure the state had enough tools to plan for and address the effects of climate change – such as sea level rise – both today and in the future.

“Across California, our communities are threatened by sea level rise. Our homes, roads, and critical infrastructure are all vulnerable. California has been a leader in addressing the impacts of climate change and created a first of its kind sea level rise database,” Berman said. “This planning and educational tool is too valuable to end.”

Existing law already requires the NRA, in conjunction with the Ocean Protection Council, to maintain a “Planning for Sea Level Rise Database.” Information provided to the NRA from public and private entities would be posted on the online database biannually.

The NRA is also required to update its climate adaptation strategy – known as Safeguarding California Plan – every three years as of July 1.

Meanwhile the California Coastal Conservancy was authorized by 2014 legislation to award grants to nonprofit organizations and public agencies to address the effects – both real and potential – of climate change on coastal resources.

State law also required public trust lands with gross revenues exceeding $250,000 to prepare a plan to address sea level rise.

Local governments within a coastal zone were also directed to prepare a Local Coastal Program under the 2014 law. The program must include assurances of “maximum public access to the coast and public recreation areas.”

The Assembly’s legislative staff analyzed AB 184 three times through mid-April. An analysis by legislative staff of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee identified the Planning for Sea Level Rise Database as an educational tool.

“The database is an educational tool that is beneficial to the state, local governments, and the public by showing actions taken to address sea level rise, enabling a more effective and coordinated response,” the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s legislative analysis stated. “To be an effective tool, the database must be current and is required to be updated biannually.”

Climate change and sea level rise are already being addressed by several public agencies within the state. In August 2015 the California Coastal Commission adopted a Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance document, which, according to the Assembly’s legislative staff, “provides an overview of best available science on sea level rise for California and recommends steps for addressing sea level rise in [the commission’s] planning and regulatory actions.”

The most recent legislative analysis of AB 184 identified sea level rise as one of California’s substantive climate risks.

“Climate risks in California include sea level rise, changes in precipitation that increase the risk of both drought and flooding, and increases in temperatures that can affect air quality and habitat,” the Assembly’s legislative staff stated in an April 13 analysis. “According to Ocean Protection Council, climate change has already caused 8 inches of sea level rise at the San Francisco tidal gauge and scientists project an additional 3 to 5.5 feet or more of rising sea levels by 2100, within the lifetime of children born today.

Assembly Bill 2516, which was signed into law in 2014, established the Planning for Sea Level Rise Database.

Parimal M. Rohit photo

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