The county’s sea-level rise adaptation response team will move ahead with its second phase of preparation, including creating community plans for Stinson Beach and the eastern shore of Tomales Bay—both identified as high-priority areas in regard to rising seas.
Yet first, the Board of Supervisors had to accept two documents developed by the team—officially called Collaboration: Sea Level Marin Adaptation Response Team, or C-SMART—including a vulnerability assessment for coastal towns and a corresponding adaptation report. The supervisors unanimously voted to accept the documents, though Supervisor Kathrin Sears expressed a general concern.
“What about strategic retreat?” she asked. “Everything in here has related to fortifying or saving or enhancing or doing something to recreate or make better what already exists. There are a lot of ways to deal with threats, and one is to let them happen.”
County planning manager Jack Liebster responded that retreat is one of the alternatives the team would consider in the development of new adaptation strategies.
He also underscored the difficulty of making investments and plans in the short term while factoring in the possibility that they may have to be abandoned in the fast approaching future.
“I’ve said before that this is sort of like planning as psychology,” Mr. Liebster said. “Nevertheless, we want to help the communities address these issues. It’s what we owe them.”
The C-SMART vulnerability report, first presented to supervisors in 2015, identified the threat of sea-level rise for different assets—parcels, buildings, transportation, utilities, working lands, natural resources, recreation, emergency services, and historic and archaeological resources—and for the specific communities of Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Bolinas, Inverness, the East Shore, Point Reyes Station and Dillon Beach.
It found that around 1,300 parcels, 1,000 buildings, 20 miles of roads, 1,800 acres of wetlands and numerous other assets could be exposed to sea-level rise and storms by 2100.
The adaptation report, first brought before supervisors last August, discussed protecting those assets through building elevation, floodproofing and nature-based strategies in the near to medium term. For the long-term, solutions like elevating and armoring roads as well as developing new wastewater treatment systems were fleshed out.
Grant funding from the Ocean Protection Council and California Coastal Commission—matched by Marin County staff time—supported the development of those documents. For the upcoming fiscal year, the C-SMART program has funding through the community development agency, though the county will have to reassess the budget for fiscal year 2018-2019.
Based on input gathered through public workshops and online surveys, as well as from the team’s steering committee comprised of Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and Supervisor Sears, the county’s staff developed a work program for C-SMART, which the full board approved unanimously last Tuesday.
(Launched in 2015, the county staff’s educational board game, called Game of Floods, in which players have to come up with adaptation strategies for “Marin Island” in year 2050, continues to gain recognition nationally as an innovative public planning tool.)
Part of the work plan involves creating community plans for adapting to coastal hazards—called PATCH—for Stinson Beach and the East Shore. For Stinson, the team highlighted the necessity of feasibility studies that would assess the economic feasibility, environmental impacts, social impacts, regulatory constraints and effectiveness of the variety of adaptation strategies presented in the adaptation report.
In particular, staff are moving forward on a grant application for a feasibility study that will explore implementing “nature-based green infrastructure,” such as man-made dunes, at Stinson Beach.
The East Shore plan includes different steps. The staff report states that over 150 buildings are exposed to the rising waters of Tomales Bay, including local businesses that support the tourist economy as well as waterfront homes whose owners are concerned by escalating FEMA flood insurance costs.
“Property owners have stated that their homes’ bulkheads serve as armoring to protect Shoreline Highway,” the report states. It adds that Caltrans has agreed to participate in community discussions on road adaptations to maintain the continued use of the highway.
The proposed work plan highlights the staff’s desire to serve as the conveners in bringing community members together with Caltrans to identify next steps, including positioning the community for grants to both develop adaptation alternatives for the highway and to elevate homes.
Mary Halley, president of the East Shore Planning Group, spoke at the hearing to express gratitude and support for the proposal.
Other aspects of the work plan include a proposed evaluation of land use, zoning and legal considerations of adaptation strategies, as well as capital improvement guidance for roadway repair and maintenance that considers sea-level rise. Both of these tasks would be undertaken in collaboration with Marin’s bayside adaptation program, Bay Waterfront Adaptation Vulnerability Evaluation, or BayWAVE.
Residents looking to get more hands-on experience with the issues facing the Marin coastline and the difficult decisions facing county planners can request a “Game of Floods” kit to be mailed to you. The game can also be downloaded at marincounty.org/depts/CD. Click on “Planning,” then “Long Range Planning Initiatives,” then “Sea Level Rise,” then “C-SMART Publications.”