Two visitors take the boardwalk through endangered habitats towards Mori Point. Photo Credit: nps.gov
What Exactly Does Managed Retreat Mean?
In short, the term "managed retreat" means relocating or abandonment of development in the face of extreme weather risks. It allows an area not previously exposed to flooding to become flooded by removing coastal protection.
Is it good for the environment?
Not here in Pacifica! Pacifica is part of the very limited range of the beautiful and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake. Not maintaining the sea wall will directly effect its already diminished habitat. This snake shares its habitat with its favorite prey, the California Red-Legged Frog. The CRLF is threatened, sensitive to salinity, and just happens to be our state amphibian. There currently aren't any studies on how managed retreat will impact these living creatures or whether it is safe to relocate them.
Hasn't managed retreat in our area been well studied?
Only by the California Coastal Commission and ESA (Environmental Science Associates). Incidentally, the California Coastal Commission funded ESA's study. There are NO studies on the effect of managed retreat on local species (such as those mentioned above), on local real estate, or on Pacifica citizens. The ESA study grouped areas strictly by engineering costs. Some areas that have never experienced flooding and may not be at risk--such as Fairway Park--have all been lumped together. In fact, there's been a severe lack of transparency in even informing the folks that will be most deeply effected (see Mayor Keener's underhanded letter to the Coastal Commission). While we respect the attempt to plan for the future, making assumptions 100 or more years into the future and then trying to rush these plans through without notifying citizens or doing proper--and unbiased--studies is dubious to say the least.
ESA's Sea-Level Rise Adaption Plan uses examples of wave run-up and overtopping north of the pier (area in red) as a reason that the entire sub-area (bordered in black) should be a managed retreat area. Fairway Park West is in green.
Does managed retreat work?
Managed retreat is a complex matter, involving the Coastal Commission, City Council, the local community, and home and landowners in that community. It's also important to understand that land is a finite resource, and once the ocean claims it, we may never get it back. Because of this, many managed retreat projects can get locked up in litigation and either don't make it to fruition or can take many years before implementation even begins. There are very few cases of successful managed retreat, most of which were relocation of a single building and all of which were exceptionally expensive. Relocating the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse cost a whopping $11.8 million back in 1999. The Surfer's Point Managed Retreat Project in Ventura moved a parking lot and bike trail and cost over $7 million.
But isn't managed retreat supposed to be the cheapest option?!
That's doubtful. There is no funding plan in place for managed retreat in our area. Again, ESA's study only included engineering costs. The study fails to include the cost of litigation, decreasing home values plus the resulting decrease in tax revenue, and flood insurance. And if relocation becomes necessary, that won't come cheap either (as in the examples above).
Are there any other options?
There are. Other options include coastal buffers (such as sea walls, dikes, revetments) and beach nourishment, both of which are feasible for many areas of Pacifica.