Sea level rise preparation plan puts Pacifica property owners on edge

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The Fairway Park West neighborhood in Pacifica has been the place Jeff Guillet and his family have called home for nearly a decade, but he’s concerned his property and its value could soon be at risk with the passage of a new coastal plan.

The City of Pacifica is working on updating the Local Coastal Program plan or LCP, which includes preparing for sea level rise over the next 50 to 100 years. It involves making tough decisions to prepare for the worst case scenario. Guillet claims his entire neighborhood is located in a hazard zone, made up of any land west of Highway 1 in Pacifica.

“My home is a third of a mile from the beach, 40 feet above sea level,” Guillet said. “There is no way that I’m going to be affected by sea level rise in the next 100 years.”

While the city has looked at maintaining ocean barriers and replenishing beaches with sand, it’s one controversial proposal that would negatively affect Guillet’s property that has him outraged. The proposal is called managed retreat, which means moving homes and businesses located in the hazard zone to allow nature to do what it wants and maintain the beach.

“We were shocked,” Guillet said. “I just feel angry that this is being done to me by my city that should be protecting me.”

In addition to property values, Guillet is concerned about insurance and also said if managed retreat were to ever be mandated by the city, Pacifica could then restrict renovations and prevent homeowners from pulling permits. With word spreading throughout the community, it has left not just homeowners but business owners on edge.

“I don’t get it,” business owner Cheryl Yoes said. “It’s allowing erosion to happen without trying to do something about it to save the homes and businesses.”

Yoes and her husband own Dial Glass and Window Company. They just renovated and are frustrated that Pacifica even considered managed retreat. She fears it will push people away right now for a problem that may happen decades later.

“I’ve lived here my entire life and the sea level couldn’t have risen more than an inch or two,” Yoes said. “There’s no way.”

That view has dozens of homes and businesses displaying bright, yellow signs talking down managed retreat with worry that even the city’s long-term plan could have short-term consequences.

Pacifica received a grant to assess and consider several strategies to deal with climate change and ocean rise in the future. While what happens is not certain, the city looked at numerous options and is set to approve the sea-level rise adaptation plan this December. Pacifica has received more than 100 comment letters from people concerned with the plan.

“Since no one has a crystal ball about what the future holds related to climate change and sea level rise, the important  component of this plan is its adaptability,” Pacifica City Manager Kevin Woodhouse explained. “If we implement strategies but in future decades they don’t seem to be protective, we’re going to need to reevaluate at that time.”

Woodhouse said the strategies being considered and implemented right now are armoring the coast with sea walls and boulders or adding sand to beaches to prevent coastal erosion. However, within the draft policies it does mentioned managed retreat as a potentially “cost effective” and “long-term solution” but also pointing out the effects in the near-term could be “severe.”

“To be absolutely clear, managed retreat is not recommended in the draft policies,” Woodhouse said. “We’re actively working on these other protective measures.”

Right now, millions of dollars is being spent to armor the coast and prevent erosion that could affect homes and businesses. However, homeowner Suzanne Drake who lives on Beach Boulevard feet from the beach is skeptical and said the truth is buried in the paperwork of the draft policies.

“I’m just going through it and right in there it says retreat,” Drake said. “I think it’s a shame.”

She’s concerned that eventually if managed retreat is implemented that she and her family will be flooded out or forced from their home.

The final draft does mention that managed retreat of existing development and infrastructure may be required. To understand why managed retreat will have to be considered by 60 plus coastal cities, 2 Investigates went to the California Coastal Commission. Scientist Carey Batha explained the Pacific Ocean has risen about eight inches over the last century but with more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it’s important coastal cities prepare for a major increase in sea levels.

“By the end of this century, we could be looking at three feet of sea level rise or we could be looking at seven feet of sea level rise,” Batha said. “I would hope that we could see sea level rise as the common enemy here that what we’re really trying to do is work together against a common challenge.”

Additionally, Batha said managed retreat preserves California’s beaches for future generations.

“If we do proactive planning that anticipates what future hazard conditions could look like on the coast and implement a solution now, that could be way cheaper than dealing with the ramifications of a “do nothing” approach,” Batha said.

Still, as Pacifica pushes forward with its plan, homeowner Jeff Guillet has been sparked to lead a campaign against the city’s adaptation plan and already has a petition of more than 250 signatures. A group has since been formed and they are looking at taking legal action.

“I want to see managed retreat removed from the city plan for Pacifica, completely,” Guillet said.