C.A.A.P. Recap; Long Beach hosts panel featuring planner, architect, and environmental scientist to discuss preparation for rising sea-levels

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Dr. Jerry Schubel, President and CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific, discusses climate change and its local impacts — near Marina Pacifica, Long Beach, CA

Author: Joe Brizzolara / January 21, 2018

With gathering storm clouds outside, stakeholders and environmental activists gathered in a ballroom at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel near the Marina Pacifica to discuss rising sea-levels which, unabated, are threatening the livability of large sections of the city. The event, held this past Monday by the city of Long Beach, was focused on preparing for rising sea-levels and is part of the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (C.A.A.P.).

According to data that was presented, the sea-level in Long Beach is anticipated to rise eleven inches by 2030. By 2050, it will be almost two feet. And by 2100, sea-level could be anywhere from three to five and a half feet higher than what it is today. This is if nothing is done to address the problem. Coastal neighborhoods such as Belmont Shores, Naples, Belmont Park, and the Peninsula will be especially hit hard. The lower Westside is also expected to be heavily impacted.

Jerry Schubel, an environmental scientist and president of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, was not being coy about how he thinks residents in vulnerable areas close to the coast should consider preparing for rising sea-levels within the coming decades.

“Over the next couple of decades you need to be thinking about moving,” said Schubel, “and that’s not a very pleasant thought.”

Jeff Jeannette, an architect who services coastal communities, while echoing Schubel’s sentiment about inevitable sea-level rise, offered short term solutions for homeowners in vulnerable areas to deal with flooding events.

“The tides are coming, there’s no way to prevent that,” said Jeannette. “We can only, at this point, do quick mitigation considerations.”

“Climate change is real. It is not some fictions of our imaginations,” said Linda Tatum, director of Long Beach Developmental Services. She pointed to research compiled by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health which found that climate change is already affecting our health.

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Sea-level rise is largely due to an increase in CO2 emissions, explained Schubel. CO2 equals a hotter atmosphere which results in the melting of ice caps and warming up of ocean waters, causing waters to expand. Both result in higher sea-levels.

“Because of the large level of CO2 already in the atmosphere, sea-level rise is baked in. We’ve committed ourselves and our descendants to living in a warmer world with a higher sea-level,” said Schubel. “Now the amount that sea-level will rise will be determined by how rapidly and how much greenhouse gas we reduce in the atmosphere. CO2. And the only way to really do that is to reduce CO2 emissions.”

In the U.S., CO2 makes up the largest percentage of gases which trap heat in the atmosphere, known as ‘greenhouse gases’.

While Schubel acknowledged that a city can only do so much to combat CO2 emissions— “we’re going to have the same atmosphere as China, Indonesia, and India”—one of C.A.A.P.’s objectives is to create a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city.

So far, the city has developed an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our largest [contributor to] greenhouse gas emissions in the city of Long Beach is the transportation sector,” said Long Beach City Planner Alison Spindler, the event moderator.

Of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the transportation sector, passenger vehicles and freight trucks make up the largest component at 36 percent. Emissions from freight trucks is a huge environmental concern, hotly debated last year in regards to a proposed expansion of the 710 which ultimately failed. Along with contributing to greenhouse effect, emissions from this vital cargo artery have also had damaging health effects on communities that live alongside it, according to community members and experts that have studied the area.

Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissioners approved a plan late last year to get to zero emissions by 2035, though many details (like covering the huge costs of new, cleaner trucks) have yet to be worked out.

Mayor Robert Garcia, in his most recent State of the City Address, touted Long Beach’s commitment to investment in more environmentally friendly transportation infrastructure, evidenced by 16 miles in new bike lanes.

“Let’s recommit to expanding bike lanes, creating dedicated bus ways, expanding sidewalks for pedestrians and looking for new ways to retake public space for people,” Garcia said.

Sand Erosion

Sea-level rise causes sand erosion which is already impacting the Peninsula. City spokesman Kevin Lee told the Long Beach Post that the city spends $550,000 a year to move 165,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish the Peninsula’s cost.

One way to counteract sand erosion is a “toe jetty,” according to Schubel.

“A toe jetty is a short jetty and you put it down to intercept that sand so that it doesn’t go all the way down and you have to truck it back,” explained Schubel. “If we did that it would keep much of the sand in place and it would improve the quality of life of many of the residents”

Plans to alter the city’s breakwaters, a perennial issue in Long Beach, include options which would add new protections for the Peninsula’s coastline. The project is currently undergoing environmental review after officials rolled out six alternatives developed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last fall.   

“With proper planning and a willingness to be open to a variety of solutions,” Schubel said. “I think residents in these areas can live quite comfortably on the Peninsula or in Naples for several decades as long as your willing to experience occasional flooding.”

A proposed pool complex in Belmont Shore, replacing the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, is moving forward following a lawsuit brought by community group Citizens About Responsible Planning which alleged, among other criticisms, that the city’s environmental impact report for the project did not adequately address rising sea-levels. The judge ruled in favor of the city, finding that no state environmental rules had been violated. Sand replenishment is one of the tactics being proposed by the city to ensure the pool is not affected by sea-level rise.

Spindler responded to audience questions about the pool complex at the event saying that, while it may be affected by temporary flooding events, the project has been designed for these conditions with structural safeguards such as a deep foundational pile and a plinth around the perimeter.

“Worst case conditions,” Spindler summarized, “It would [still] be unlikely that the ocean would even reach that facility.”


Jeannette presented several structural alterations that can make a house better able to weather the storm of occasional flooding.

These included elevating a house by installing steel beams underneath and slowly jacking it up above the Base Flood Elevation, or B.F.E. A structure’s B.F.E. is the height that floodwater is anticipated to rise to during a flood. Another option is flood vents, which are installed around the perimeter of a house and allow water to flow through the under-floor areas.

Two solutions were also offered—thought Jeannette acknowledged neither are feasible in Naples or the Peninsula—which included putting a house on stilts (“not easily done” because of earthquakes) and creating a mound, known as ‘dirt berms’, around a house (not feasible due to space).

Jeanette estimates that costs for elevating a house could range between $50,000 and $75,000, depending on the makeup of the house. Physical damages done to the house as a result of elevation, which may require patching and repainting, will produce additional costs.

“Over the next 15 years,” said Jeanette in a follow-up email, “We need to watch the tides and sea levels closely but [I] don’t believe people need to be moving away too soon.  The city is being very proactive in their efforts to mitigate rising tides and if homeowners are willing to raise their homes and take other action soon, they’ll be prepared. Sea Level Rise is real, preparing early is the best line of defense.”

West Side

Along with coastal areas on the eastside of Long Beach like the Peninsula and Naples, Long Beach’s Westside South is most vulnerable to flooding.

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Working in favor of the Westside is its proximity to the port which, according to Spindler, “already has an adaptation plan that could help mitigate [increased sea-levels]”.

Unlike the multi-million dollar properties that populate the Belmont shore area, Long Beach’s West Side is home to largely working-class communities. During the event’s Q&A portion, one attendee asked what plans are being made to aid low-income peoples affected by climate change.

Spindler mentioned several programs geared towards low-income residents that are being considered. These include an old car buy back program run by the South Coast Air Quality Management District which could be expanded with matching funds from the city; cooling down centers during periods of extreme heat; and planting trees, which are more scare in low-income communities.

Shubel added, “Trees are wonderful. They reduce the heat island effect. They remove carbon dioxide from the air (they clean the air). My question is, why are we cutting down so many of our big beautiful trees in Long Beach?”

Closing Thoughts:

Unknown attendee (whispered): you could live on a boat… [sincerity of comment is unverified]

Jeff Jeannette: The worst thing we can do is just sit and stay idle and wait for the flood to come. Everybody’s running to Home Depot, nothing’s there, and then we’re in a world of hurt. The idea of this whole thing is to think proactively.

Alison Spindler: This issue is accelerating. The data and maps here today are just to give us a starting point… this is just the process where we begin to identify what are the mitigations, what are the adaptations. Whether it’s changes to our regulations. Whether it’s changes to our codes or different kinds of incentives for residents and businesses. It’s gonna take a little bit of everything.   

Jerry Schubel: In the most recent data, it could be 7 to 10 feet by 2100… [Even] a few extra inches makes a huge difference. We might have to look at accelerating [the city’s current sea-level predictions]…

Long Beach is a remarkable city. I like to think of it as the little city that could. We’re small enough to be manageable, you don’t get caught up in all the bureaucracy. We oughta develop a model for how a Southern California coastal city can thrive in the face of a rising sea.

*In attendance: Roberto Uranga, City Councilmember (District 7), California Coastal Commission, South Coast Representative  

Next Climate Action and Adaptation Plan event:

Open House #2
Saturday, January 26, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library
5870 Atlantic Ave.
RSVP Link: https://caapopenhouse-2.eventbrite.com

For additional information: http://www.lbds.info/climateactionlb/