Santa Barbara’s waterfront faces severe erosion from rising sea levels
Santa Barbara’s waterfront faces severe erosion from rising sea levels. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s shoreline, beaches and bluffs face serious levels of erosion over the next 80 years.

The City Council on Tuesday discussed the potential impacts as part of a larger effort to prepare for sea level rise. The city in 2018 started on its Draft Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment.

“In the coming decades the rate of sea-level rise is expected to accelerate greatly,” said Melissa Hetrick, city project planner. 

According to estimates by the Ocean Protection Council, the city should plan for three scenarios: 0.8 feet by 2030, 2.5 feet by 2060, and 6.6 feet by 2100. 

The projections consider impacts to the shoreline, sandy beaches, bluff erosion, coastal flooding and storm waves.

Coastal bluff erosion rates could increase by 40 percent with 2.5 feet of sea-level rise; that rate would affect properties in the bluff-top residential neighborhoods, infrastructure at Shoreline Park, and portions of Shoreline Drive. 

Sea-level rise is also expected to cause erosion along East Beach, Leadbetter Beach and Cabrillo Boulevard by Stearns Wharf. Tidal inundation could extend along much of Cabrillo Boulevard north to Highway 101, the report states.

If no action is taken, it is likely that significant storm wave damage to the wharf would occur by 2.5 feet of sea-level rise, the assessment states. 

At the harbor, an estimated 6.6 feet of sea-level rise would make the harbor unusable without reconstruction. The harbor is currently exposed to flooding from high waves during extreme coastal storms.

The effects of 2.5 feet of sea-level rise could impede most harbor functions, as high tides would exceed marina guide pile heights, and storm waves could significantly impact the harbor.

More than 6.6 feet of sea-level rise would jeopardize the El Estero Water Resource Center, the Charles E. Meyer Desalination Plant and many city streets. In total, 1,250 parcels could be at risk due to increased levels of coastal flooding and erosion with 6.6 feet of sea-level rise if no action is taken to mitigate these increased hazards.

“This information is overwhelming,” Hetrick said. “An adaption plan for the city is really just the beginning. We are not going to be able to answer all the questions now. It is really going to be a process.”

City Councilman Michael Jordan said planning for sea-level rise would be the greatest challenge the city faces in his lifetime. 

“Clearly if six feet of sea level rise occurs, Cabrillo Boulevard will be underwater,” Jordan said. “These will be some of the toughest choices the city has ever seen.” 

The draft Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan will be released in February and present possible adaptation strategies the city can take to address the impacts associated with sea-level rise.

ADU Ordinance Extended

The Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to extend its emergency accessory dwelling unit ordinance to December 2020 to comply with new state mandates. The city in December passed an urgency ordinance through Jan. 31. 

Extending the emergency ordinance will allow the city staff time to draft rules that protect these areas, while still trying to comply with the state law. Even though the extension is until December, city planner Renee Brooke said they expect to have a draft ordinance by May. 

The new state law, AB 881, allows for the construction of multiple accessory dwelling units in multi-unit developments, lowers setback requirements, prohibits replacement parking requirements, streamlines the ADU application process by reducing the review period from 120 days to 60 days, and allows for both ADUs and junior ADUs to exist on the same residential single-unit lot.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.