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The Rebuilding Question

By Datta Khalsa, Broker

Having grown up on the Central Coast, I remember having to visit my relatives in Ohio and Maine to get the full experience of Fall and Winter, and I learned what a real Summer feels like from my earliest trips to the Southwest. But with the increasing effects of global warming in recent years, it is being suggested that we do now in fact have 4 distinct seasons in the Bay Area, namely Drought, Fire, Flood…and Spring.

The impact of our most recent storms was so bad it prompted the first-ever Presidential visit this week to Santa Cruz County, as the Federal Government weighs whether to grant FEMA assistance to our battered region. This decision will greatly affect the range of options available to the local government as well as property owners who either didn’t have insurance or whose damages were outside the coverages provided due to “acts of God.”

As the focus turns to rebuilding, it will be interesting to see how things play out this time around, particularly along our bluffs and beaches, where the California Coastal Commission reigns supreme. Increasingly, owners of oceanfront property are running into the commission’s emerging policy of Managed Retreat, which in essence is a strategy of removing seawalls, roads, homes and other structures gradually over the years in the face of rising sea levels.

For example, it has become common practice that the owner is granted an emergency repair permit to mitigate the immediate destruction and address the threat of additional damage to their property. This lets them install rip-rap and other protective measures in the face of the storm—at costs running into the hundreds of thousands—only to be notified a few years later that they are being required to remove the rip-rap because an emergency repair permit is only a temporary authorization.

Instead, they are required to submit an application for a permanent seawall under full-scale Coastal Development Permit, or CDP. This is a process that takes multiple years and a stiff fee structure that includes Sand Mitigation Fees, which essentially charge the applicant based on how much land it is calculated that the proposed wall will prevent from being washed back into the ocean. The total can easily run $500,000 or more, and the kicker is that it only buys you 20 years—so essentially you are leasing your land back from the Coastal Commission and will be required to pay another round of fees when your 20 years is up.

I am also curious what will be decided with our roadways, such as the section of West Cliff which has been washed away. Up and down the coast through the years, multiple segments of Highway 1 have been rebuilt as they have been knocked out under the justification that Highway 1 is an essential travel corridor. However, in the case of West Cliff with nearby streets providing alternate routes, it seems likely that the damaged section may be permanently closed, which will impact the long-term traffic patterns for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

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