SHAPING OUR FUTURE: Adaptation Planning for Pacifica’s Local Coastal Plan


Pacifica’s current Local Coastal Plan was adopted in 1980 and is long outdated.  For our beloved City to survive into the future we must now plan for sea level rise. With a grant awarded by the California Coastal Commission,the City contracted with Environmental Science Associates to identify our vulnerabilities and propose adaptations to sea level rise. ESA is an engineering firm with experience in coastal issues throughout California.

Join Pacifica residents on Saturday, August 11, at noon at the Crespi Community Center for the public review of proposed adaptations and their associated costs. Now is the time for Pacifica to pick short-term and long-term solutions to sea level rise.



Areas of vulnerability where erosion or flooding can impact wastewater infrastructure, homes, businesses and roads were researched and then discussed in early meetings and can be viewed on the City website (see linksat the end of this article).



The Army Corps of Engineers identifies three categories of adaptations:defend/protect, accommodate and managed retreat. Within each category several strategies are possible and apply differently to different sections of town given Pacifica’s varied geographySee specifics at the City website.


To date most attendees at city meetings held for the public to review and comment on the adaptation plans have attacked the adaptation strategy of managed retreat which SAMCAR (San Mateo County Association of Realtors) claims will lower property values. In fact sea level rise itself will lower property valuesPeople whose homes are most at risk are rightfully concerned about their investment in their homes. With sea level rise, eventually many coastal properties will be inundated or threatened with erosion despite armoring with seawalls and rock revetments, which historically have failed. 

Everyone in town shouldbe concerned also about our wastewater infrastructure and beaches. The sewer system was designed to take advantage of gravity and run downhill toward the ocean. The risk of pipes breaking and sewage spills will impact us all and increases with the rising tides and forceful storms to come. Armoring can only protect homes and sewers temporarily and may destroy our beaches. We need to also be concerned about the prospect of continual City expenditures for coastal armoring. 


Luckily, the current projections of the rate of sea level rise give us time to maintain and improve engineered structures that currently protect our infrastructure and properties while we research and plan for longer term solutions to keep our sewers functioning and our beaches intact. In contrast to rejecting managed retreat as an option, beginning to plan now to manage our retreat is the most responsible way to ensure our future health and safety. We can save Pacifica from enormous future heartache and pain.


Since the last ice age 10,000 years ago the sea has been advancing and the land retreating. The ocean is now 300 feet higher and the coast 25 miles further inland.  With global warming (recognized by 97% of scientists and governments around the world) the process of coastal erosion is speeding up. El Nino events washed away beach houses at Sharp Park 35 years ago and forced the emergency removal of homes and apartments along Esplanade more recently. The City has already expended considerable resources on armoring and demolition of private structures whose owners have gone bankrupt fighting the relentless ocean.Future storm events are predicted to be increasingly severe.  


WHAT TO DO NOW: August 11 meeting

The documents to be presented on August 11 will offer suggested adaptation strategies and evaluate the costs of the various planning possibilities. If we are willing to consider our options and costs realistically we can make choices that work withpotential change rather than against it and save ourselves enormous heartbreak and expense. The costs today may be extreme, but they will only get worse as time goes by. At some time in the future residents of more than 4,000 miles of Unites States coastline will be competing for public financing, and Pacificans will be asked to vote for a local bond to safeguard our infrastructure. 


How we respond and plan now will define tomorrow’s Pacifica.  Indulging our very human tendency to avoid change and difficult decisions will not save our lovely town.  We need to act with foresight and courage to confront the painful realities and consequences of global warming.  Whatever political decisions we make now will shape our future. We need the political will to be visionary. We can both reduce our risks now and plan ahead to prepare for change.



Please attend and speak up for the future of Pacifica at the noon meeting August 11 at the Crespi Community Center. Current documents are available for review on the City website. You can submit written comments to the City by August 29.



General info on the City’s website


Selected hazard and infrastructure maps