A beach backing the bluffs along Shoreline Drive in Santa Barbara.
By 2100, without any intervention, sea level rise is expected to consume the beaches backed by bluffs along Shoreline Drive in Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The City of Santa Barbara is moving ahead on its plan to prepare for sea level rise.

Sea level rise is expected to accelerate rapidly during the next eight decades.

According to projection maps, Santa Barbara is expecting 0.8 feet of sea level rise by 2030, 2.5 feet by 2060 and 6.6 feet by 2100.

With 2.5 feet of sea level rise, bluff erosion rates could increase 40% and affect private properties along Shoreline Drive, according to city officials. About 80% of the beaches backed by bluffs would be lost with 2.5 feet of sea level rise. By the year 2100, all of the bluff-backed beaches would be lost, according to Melissa Hetrick, a project planner for the City of Santa Barbara. 

Also by 2100, sea level rise would cause more frequent flooding downtown and occasionally reach Highway 101.

Sea level rise can take many forms, including tidal inundation, flooding, shoreline erosion and bluff erosion. 

The city in 2021 completed a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan that identifies 42 actions the city should take to reduce the impact of sea level rise, and eight that it should take immediately. 

Those include establishment of a Shoreline Monitoring Program, redesign the Laguna Tide Gate, optimize and expand beach nourishment, study triggers for closing Stearns Wharf during storms, raise harbor breakwater, groins and walkways, relocate and/or floodproof major sewer and utility lines south of Cabrillo Boulevard, update the Hazard Mitigation Program, and raise harbor marinas and pier.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting was mostly technical, with a focus on the council accepting grant applications, and members congratulating themselves for the work they are doing that they said was leading the state.

California Coastal Commission member Meagan Harmon said the staff were visionaries for their efforts to take on sea level rise. 

“The Coastal Commission staff really spoke about how your work is second to none in the state of California,” Harmon said. “Not just regionally, but across the state. The way that you and our stakeholders on the committee have really engaged in seeing what’s to come and being really visionary, and figuring out how we are going to adapt so that our city can be resilient and survive what we know is going to come.”

In the end, the council voted 7-0 to accept $2.1 million in grant funding from the California Coastal Commission Round 7 Local Coastal Program (LCP) Grant Program and to execute a memorandum of understanding with the Beach Erosion Authority for Clean Oceans and Nourishment (BEACON) to undertake the Regional Coastal Adaptation Monitoring Program.

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