Over the last few weeks, a vocal swath of San Diego has been quite polarized about large and small investors perhaps changing the nature of local communities thru the ongoing rental of homes principally in our coastal neighborhoods for profit. News reports have shown ‘for’ and ‘against’ waging this debate on the overall feel and makeup of Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, and elsewhere. This certainly is a debate worth having.
I have friends and family who have traveled from other parts and rented beachfront homes in order to enjoy San Diego’s weather and healthy atmosphere. Good for them and likely they didn’t pause to consider neighborhood dynamics when a vacation website offered the warmth and sands of San Diego to the weather weary.
Sorry to say, this debate, along with today’s pressing dynamics ignore an insidious and far more pressing fact: Mission Beach, Coastal Pacific/Imperial/Ocean Beach, Oceanside, Fiesta Island, the Convention Center area, and even Mission Valley are under direct, dire attack by the sea. Yes, these whole areas are under threat of being lost all together to the sea.
The Federal Government years ago developed comprehensive research-backed projections in which many of these areas will suffer inundation by the sea. So the question unfortunately should not about the presence of short and long term rentals down the street; but rather, will there even be a street and what, if anything, to do about it now!
Some facts to support this concern:
- The San Diego Convention Center, which is the subject of major expansion requests, now must pump water from the lower level of its parking facility at all times as the Bay presses into the structure.
- According to Patrick Barnard of the USGS, “most California beaches eroded ‘beyond historical extremes,’ the study warned that this could become the new normal.”
- The San Diego Region enjoys the hard work of the Climate Collaborative, which is in the process of building out or developing programs, and actions due to sea level rise and climate change. Programs such as oyster bed planting, port vulnerability assessments, zoning change recommendations, and the development of a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Study are in process.
The overall subject of climate change impact has of late taken an even more haunting nature. President Trump has instructed various government agencies to actually remove climate change monitoring systems, ongoing studies, and information repositories from access or distribution to the public. Trump even tweeted a few years back: “”The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” More specifically on January 25, 2017, Trump instructed the EPA to remove its website’s climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research. This order has since expanded to other government agencies involved in the collection and dissemination of such information.
Fortunately for States that are directly in the path of the effects of global warming on their coasts and rivers, before the White House gave these orders, much of the existing information was already disseminated. However, Trump’s budget for the Fiscal year 2018 calls for either the elimination or deep cuts to the following involved in this research: the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (100% cut), National Ocean and Atmosphere Agency research office (52%) and satellites (16%), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Resarch & Development office (48%), Department of Energy (DOE) Energy programs and Office of Science (44%), EPA (30%, perhaps greater), and several others.
So what do we know from studies already conducted before the government blocked access to and collection of this information? 22.9 Million US residents live within 0 to 6 meters of high tide. This group is in the immediate path of sea level rise. A number as high as five times this will be impacted should sea levels reach higher.
The NOAA study considered the impact of coastal inundation with models assuming a relatively uniform sea level increase.
The following table based on subsequent studies was developed by the EPA in conjunction with NOAA:
EPA: Climate Change Indicators: Sea Change (NOAA, 2016)
The EPA reported in 2016,
“After a period of approximately 2,000 years of little change (not shown here), global average sea level rose throughout the 20th century, and the rate of change has accelerated in recent years.
“When averaged over all of the world’s oceans, absolute sea level has risen at an average rate of 0.06 inches per year from 1880 to 2013 (above). Since 1993, however, average sea level has risen at a rate of 0.11 to 0.14 inches per year—roughly twice as fast as the long-term trend.”
Yes, ‘twice as fast’ was reported by the agency whose budget is being halved and may eventually be eliminated. Twice as fast means not 2050, it means 2025. Yes, it means within a decade.
Closer to Home
According to the Canadian Broadcast Company on April 18, 2011, “the arctic coast is eroding up to 8 meters a year. Arctic coastlines are on the retreat.” The EPA is projecting that the entire West coast is suffering a never-seen-before increase in erosion, sand depletion, challenges to ports, beaches, and low laying regions. Beach erosion on the West Coast was 76 percent above normal during the recent El Nino, a study by scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara and other institutions found. And according to a news release from the National Science Foundation, there conditions are termed “unprecedented.”
In a study released two weeks ago by the USGS, using a newly-developed computer model called “CoSMoS-COAST” (Coastal Storm Modeling System – Coastal One-line Assimilated Simulation Tool) scientists predict that with limited human intervention, 31 to 67 percent of Southern California beaches may become completely eroded (up to existing coastal infrastructure or sea-cliffs) by the year 2100 under scenarios of sea-level rise of one to two meters.
The study’s lead author, Sean Vitousek, stated that erosion of Southern California beaches is not just a matter of the region losing its identity and tourism dollars, but of exposing critical infrastructure, businesses and homes to damage.
Often such studies seem compelling, a curiosity even, but their impact is not considered in terms of our neighborhood, this place. Unfortunately, we can no longer take these studies as something remote or impacting others. Below is a quick summary of the known projected impact on a few beach areas here in San Diego:
- Ocean Beach
- Mission Beach and Pacific Beach
- La Jolla
Ocean Beach suffers from twin water inundation issues. On January 18, 2017, homes and business west of Bacon Street were flooded due to the storm drains being overwhelmed in a heavy storm. The water had nowhere to go. In January 2016, storms coupled with heavy winds brought the ocean over the traditional high tide and into parking garages, businesses, and low-level homes on Bacon Street and all parts below Newport and to the west.
According to flood maps provided by Climate Central, Risk Finder, Click-a-City function (http://www.climatecentral.org/news/study-reveals-acceleration-of-sea-level-rise-20055), the following is the projected land loss when the sea rises by a 2 to 6 feet from today’s levels. Consider losing Dog Beach, the neighborhood from Newport to Peninsula in the next 10 years.
Mission Beach and Pacific Beach
The jewel of San Diego is the waterfront fun on both sides of Mission Blvd. in Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. The following are Climate Central’s projections for this area given the same level of sea rise:
As you can see, all of Mission Beach will cease to exist, Pacific Beach Tennis Club, Mission Bay Golf Club, parts of Crown Point, most of Mission Bay, and even I-5 will be threatened.
La Jolla is not merely fine restaurants and galleries. It is also home to several beaches and waterfront housing. The following are Climate Central’s projections for sea level impact in La Jolla:
This means the loss of La Jolla Cove, Wind N’Sea, and the entire La Jolla Shores neighborhood.
Downtown San Diego
Perhaps most costly, sea level rise will impact downtown San Diego more than any other area of the City. Shelter Island, the airport, the Midway area, harbor drive including the Convention Center, Petco Park, and the lower Gaslamp district will be underwater. The following are Climate Central’s projections for sea level impact in this area:
Indeed much of Pacific Highway will be in the Pacific. I-5 will become waterfront property and parts of Point Loma will be an island. With hundreds of millions being invested in the waterfront over the next few years (airport expansion, convention center expansion, Navy complex re-do, etc), should we also consider building above high-tide sea walls along the waterfront right away or, moving these key facilities in land?
What to Do?
The first thing we must do is face this observed fact in a public and open fashion: sea level is rising much faster than previously projected. How fast? “In point of fact, observed sea level rise is already above IPCC projections and strongly hints at acceleration while at the same time it appears the mass balance of continental ice envisioned by the IPCC is overly optimistic”, said Stefan Rahmstorf, a physics professor at Potsdam University in Germany. Rahmsdorf went on to write, :”“The new sea level data confirm once again just how unusual the age of modern global warming, due to our greenhouse gas emissions, is,” Rahmstorf said. “They also demonstrate that one of the most dangerous impacts of global warming, namely rising seas, is well underway.”
So shouldn’t we anticipate worsening scenarios and prepare? For example, there has been a tremendous increase in coastal flooding in the last decade, which can be seen by clicking the San Diego button in this Climate Central map:
Solutions such as new zoning rules, aggressive beach replenishment, sea walls, assistance with the movement of people and infrastructure can and should begin now.
What we must not do is turn a blind eye to the inevitable. If parts of the west coast are seeing 8 meters a year lost, surely we can see San Diego lose a foot or two. Our community, our local government, and our federal government must grasp this threat and begin to tackle it with careful but focused steps. We must aim at limiting the impact of this looming disaster rather than ignoring it, or worse – insisting it isn’t an issue in the first place.