Sea level rise proposal will be updated; 

City to provide info to coastal commission on future development plans


With its local coastal development program last updated in 1989, Arcata has been working to incorporate sea level rise into its future development standards and will provide an update on its efforts next week at the California Coastal Commission’s meeting in Del Norte County.

“Over the next couple of months we’re going to putting together the document, and then we’re going to start public meetings to get the public up to speed on what the new regulations will be in the coastal areas,” Arcata Community Development Department Director Larry Oetker said.

Coastal programs for each local government in the state are unique, but are uniform in that they lay the ground rules for future development and protection of coastal resources and must follow the laws of the California Coastal Act, according to the commission.

Local government programs must obtain the approval of the commission before they can be implemented.

With the coastal commission now pushing for sea level rise and other climate change issues to be addressed in the programs as governments update them, it has awarded a series of grants to help them implement and draft these policies.

In May, Arcata signed contacts for its $54,000 worth of grant funding.

“The grant was great,” Oetker said. “We probably would not have moved forward if the coastal commission had not made funding available. The city is already invested several hundred thousand dollars thus far. And an additional $100,000 is committed to this project. When we were not successful in 2011, we just can’t keep putting money into something that isn’t going to work.” 

Oetker said Arcata has a good working relationship with the commission, but the city’s last effort in 2011 to update its program was not as successful. The local coastal program is split into two sections: one spells out the development standards, and the other contains the implementation plan. In its 2011 update, Arcata wanted to combine its coastal program and its General Plan into one document, as well as combine the implementation plan with the city’s zoning code in what would be called a “two-book approach,” Oetker said.

The commission did not support Arcata’s plan, wanting the city to submit the documents separately. Arcata chose to withdraw its plan instead, which eventually expired.

“The coastal commission said they would like a four-book approach,” Oetker said.

Jennifer Kalt, the director of local environmental and research program Humboldt Baykeeper, said the organization opposed Arcata’s two-book approach.

“We look to Arcata to lead the way, like with the plastic bag ban,” she said. “It was a shock to me when the city of Arcata was fighting the coastal commission ... They weren’t objecting the coastal commission’s recommendations. They were saying, ‘What we’re doing is better than what the Coastal Act requires.’” Oetker said the city is now on board with separating the documents into a “four-book” approach.

“I think the bottom line is that we had some differences with the coastal commission, but at this point we have an excellent working relationship with them,” he said. “When we do submit our plan, we think it will go through without too many difficulties.”

Kalt said the current plan is on the right track, but that changes could still occur. 

“I’m interested to see how they’ll address the sea level rise and low impact development,” she said. 

The commission’s Sept. 10 meeting will also include a presentation on the Humboldt Bay Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning Project by sea level rise adaptation planner Aldaron Laird.

After giving a similar presentation last year, Laird said he was asked to return a year later.

“Most of the dikes on Humboldt Bay are going to be overtopped with about 2 feet of sea level rise,” he said. “Between now and 2050, unless they’re raised up in elevation, they’re going to start breaching.” 

The sea level rise project is divided into two phases with several different local governments, including Arcata, and state agencies contributing.

Oetker said the first phase of the project, which creates a model of how sea level rise would impact Humboldt Bay, is near completion.

“We have all the maps, we just haven’t dotted the final I’s on the report,” he said. “Then the next step for the city is we’re going to be identifying the critical facilities.”

The second phase will identify adaptation plans for areas along the bay, especially concerning crucial facilities. Laird said Arcata is in a better position than others.

“If you look at what part of Arcata is in the coastal zone, most of it is agricultural or natural resource land,” he said. “Obviously, the wastewater treatment plant is at risk. But a lot of Arcata is outside the coastal zone. In Eureka, there is much more retail and commercial and residential area that is at risk.”

With the worst-case sea level rise scenario predicting water to reach Samoa Boulevard by 2100, Oetker said the updated coastal program will address how the city will react.

“That could potentially have a dramatic impact on the property owners and the residents in that area,” he said. “We have a long time to plan for this. We are going to be looking at specific strategies on whether we’re going to retreat if the sea level rises or whether we would adapt.”

Right now the city is doing both, having recently received a grant from the state Coastal Conservancy to build a living shoreline off of the wastewater treatment plant that would protect the facility and portions of the marsh from sea level rise impacts.

“The city also purchased a piece of property inland to relocate our Public Works Department corporation yard,” Oetker said. “It’ll be a year or two years before we can fully relocate.”


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