California Town Embraces Retreat to Address Sea Level Rise Threat

“Resiliency” and “retreat” are two popular buzzwords regarding sea level rise and real estate. Resiliency is making the changes necessary to prevent sea level rise flooding as long as possible so people can continue to live near the coast. Retreat is recognizing that either the cost is too high or it’s impossible to engineer your way out of the flooding, so everyone has to move back away from the coastline.

Currently, resiliency is the solution most coastal cities and towns are using to address sea level rise. Governments and property owners are spending billions of dollars to elevate property and critical infrastructure, such as pipes and roads. They’re also building and/or raising sea walls and installing pumps.

Retreat is far less popular. From the Florida Keys to the Pacific Coast, property owners are fighting plans that would force them to move away from coastal areas that are subject to sea level rise-driven flooding or at great risk of flooding in the near future.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Marina, California, a small town with 23,000 residents north of Monterey, is actively embracing retreat as a solution to its sea level rise woes. The town is considering plans that have proven unpopular in most coastal locations, including requiring sellers to disclose sea level rise information to buyers, moving infrastructure away from at-risk areas, and discussing relocation with the operators of a private beach resort.

To ensure that the town doesn’t have to make the same difficult decisions over-developed towns are being forced to make regarding resiliency or retreat, Marina officials are actively steering real estate developers toward inland locations away from the eroding shoreline.

David Revell, a coastal scientist and sea level rise consultant, told the Times, “Marina is such a good test case. Here we have the precedent of a community that understands that … there has to be enough lead time to get things out of the way — before it’s in the way.” Revell added that Marina’s pro-active approach “is a really powerful message to the rest of California.”

Residents seem to generally approve of the town’s approach to dealing with sea level rise. The town’s draft plan is almost finished.

Real estate buyers in coastal areas need to consider whether a city or town intends to rely on resiliency or retreat to address sea level rise flooding. Resiliency can lead to higher taxes and the possibility that a property of interest will be impacted by the construction of sea walls, pump stations and other infrastructure. Retreat could limit the amount of time a property can be owned and enjoyed. Both approaches could also impact property value.

Author: Larry Richardson

Larry Richardson relies on his journalism, real estate, photography and videography experience and education to create SeaLevelRiseRealEstate.com and annual editions of "7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions for Buyers, Sellers, Owners & Real Estate Agents." Richardson, an inactive but licensed real estate agent in Florida with a dozen years of experience, also owns StepByStepChef.com, which features YouTube videos with over 10 million views