Westside Neighborhoods Stand to be Impacted by Climate Change

A visualization of what the Santa Monica shoreline may look like with future levels of sea level rise. Photo: Courtesy University of Southern California.

UN report says damages from climate change may occur within the next two decades.

By Sam Catanzaro

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report that warns we have just 12 years to implement changes to the global energy infrastructure to keep the impacts of global warming at moderate levels. The Westside, with many neighborhoods at or below sea level, may begin to experience the effects of climate change in 25 years to some measures. 


“There is no documented historic precedent,” the IPCC said in their report   “Some of the most affected areas are small islands, megacities, coastal regions and high mountain ranges.”

The Venice Canals, which sit right at sea level, may be one of the first areas in Los Angeles to see the impacts of climate change. According to the Califonia Coastal Commission in a report released prior to the IPCC announcement, the area around the Venice Canals may see flooding within the next 25 to 50 years. The IPCC report suggests that this flooding could come sooner, rather than later, due to a combination of higher sea levels and more intense rainfall, if carbon emissions are not reduced within the next twelve years.

“Scientists have been warning us for years that we can expect to see more extreme weather with climate change. The heat waves, wildfires, and heavy rainfall events of recent months all over the world underscore these warnings,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC.

The Venice Canals drain into the Marina del Rey through a series of tide-gates. At high tide, the sea level rises above these gates, so the canals can only be drained at low-tide but this may be impacted by climate change. 

“Because the groundwater is expected to rise along with sea levels, there may be less storage capacity in the canals,”  said Aaron Holloway, a Coastal and Water Resources Engineer at Moffatt & Nichols, “In a big rainfall event, the canals may not be big enough to hold it, and because the tides will be higher, will not have time to drain before we get the next big rainfall event.”

According to a new study by the United Nations, areas like the Venice Canals may experience the impacts of climate change sooner than expected. Photo: Sam Catanzaro.

Santa Monica Beach, one of the most popular beaches in the world, also stands to be impacted by rising sea levels.

The Santa Monica City Council took steps this week to address the impacts of climate change when at their regular meeting on Tuesday, October 9, unanimously approved the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Land Use Plan at last night’s meeting – the first update to the plan since its adoption in 1992.

According to the City, the update is an important step toward aligning the LCP with current City policies related to mobility, sustainability and adaptation to sea level rise, as required by Coastal Commission guidelines.

“We have been working for more than two years with Coastal Commission staff to ensure that our updated LCP Land Use Plan will support a coastal development permit process that aligns with our sustainability and mobility goals,” said David Martin, Director of Planning and Community Development. “In addition, our planning process utilized the Coastal Commission’s guidelines and the latest sea level rise science and modeling to develop policies to prepare Santa Monica for the advent of sea level rise. The Land Use Plan outlines policies for hazard zone properties as well as a roadmap for adaptation to make our City more resilient as measurable sea level rise occurs.”

The Land Use Plan consists of seven policy areas that address State Coastal Act requirements. Two of the most important policy areas address access to the beach and sea-level rise. The access policies ensure beach visitors have many options to access the coast, including management of shared parking resources and a comfortable pedestrian and active transportation environment. The sea level policies will prepare Santa Monica to plan strategically to protect beach infrastructure and coastal assets. Sections of the California coast are already experiencing destruction from wave run-up and storms. While Santa Monica has not yet experienced effects of sea level rise, adopting these policies now makes Santa Monica one of the first Southern California cities to begin this preparation.

The LCP Land Use Plan adoption follows two years of outreach and analysis. Residents may remember the OWL visualization tool on the Pier in late 2016 depicting the impacts of sea level rise. Community feedback from the OWL as well as from public meetings and other outreach tools informed the Final Draft LUP adopted by Council.

According to the IPCC report, if human-caused global warming can is reduced to .9 degrees Fahrenheit there will be substantially fewer downpours and substantially less sea-level rise.

To read the full report, visit http://ipcc.ch/report/sr15/