News reports tend to focus on America's southeast, especially Florida, mainly from Miami and points south. This one is a story of the beach colony at Del Mar, California. It concerns Herb and Janet Montgomery and their $3+million beach house.
The Montgomerys and their neighbours are upset that their municipality's sea level rise plan includes an option - retreat from the sea.
But considering a strategy that allows for the eventual removal of threatened structures, even as a last resort, would be tantamount to financial ruin for him and other property owners in the small, wealthy coastal city.
“It won’t work for Del Mar,” Montgomery said.
The mere mention of the strategy known as “planned retreat” in the city’s planning documents will “put a cloud of doubt over the future” and cause property values to plummet, he said last week. Beachfont homes in Del Mar typically list for more than $5 million, and a new blufftop mansion on Stratford Court sold for $21.5 million last year.
Current owners would be reluctant to invest in improving and maintaining their homes, Mongomery said, and banks would be unlikely to loan money to buy or improve homes that the city has acknowledged could be removed or destroyed.
Many of the city’s residents have fought long and hard against including planned retreat as part of their strategy. They say seawalls, sand retention and beach replenishment are better ways to preserve their coastal homes, and that their property values would plummet if they acknowledge that someday their property could be inundated by the sea.
However, the California Coastal Commission requires all coastal cities to have a sea-rise adaptation plan, and to include planned retreat as part of their strategy.
Failure to comply could result in the Coastal Commission refusing to certify the city’s plan, thus robbing Del Mar of the authority to approve permits for developments such as seawalls, homes, businesses, roads and other structures. Instead, that authority would fall to the Coastal Commission.Socialism - For the Rich.
“We may see five feet of sea-level rise earlier than previously thought,” states a letter dated April 16 to Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden from Coastal Commission program manager Garbriel Buhr.
The California Ocean Protection Council adopted statewide guidance in March that recommends planning for a 7.1-foot sea-level rise by 2100 for the Del Mar area, the letter states. Seas could rise as much as 10 feet by 2100 if the polar ice sheets melt significantly. And by most accounts, the water will continue to rise for centuries.
Typically, the retreat strategy is used with other planning techniques such as identifying high-risk areas, regulating types of structures, and instituting buy-back programs or financial aid for relocation.
The State as Indemnitor
Montgomery said cities around the world have found ways to hold back the sea.
“Look at Holland,” he said. “They have been below sea level almost forever, and they are dealing with it.”
Montgomery said if the state forces the city to include a retreat policy, “They better come along with a big heavy bucket of money. People should be remunerated for the investments they made.”This is going to become one of the great challenges of climate change and not just in swank coastal communities. Sea level rise, sustained and cyclical floods and droughts, severe storm events of increasing frequency, duration and severity. the broken hydrologic cycle and disruptions to fresh water supply. That's a pretty tall shopping list for governments in this era of "everyday low taxes." State and municipal governments are often tapped out from decades of catering to miserly residents. Those governments will have to struggle just to replace and maintain essential public infrastructure.
There is going to be no free lunch. The money to do that doesn't exist. Ordinary folks, living well back from the sea, probably aren't going to be okay with the idea of picking up this sort of tab.
And somebody needs to tell Herb Montgomery that Holland has faced reality and is retreating from the rising sea.
Whether it's Del Mar, California, or the Florida Keys or the Jersey Shore or beachfront homes in the Maritimes or Vancouver's toney West Point Grey there are a lot of affluent people who are going to have to realize not all investments pay off.