The Summer of the Post-It

The end of my summer was a whirlwind. I spend most of it writing my report, “Beyond the Vulnerability Study: Moving from Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning to Implementation in the San Francisco Bay Area.” In researching, I learned an incredible amount about sea level rise adaptation at the local level. I read all the cutting-edge papers and was able to partake in several webinars on the subject.

This paper was a process-thinking exercise for me. I spent several weeks mulling over dozens of post-it notes, trying to understand how adaptation options fit together and can be implemented. I analyzed planning, regulatory, market-based, and engineering tools. I, however, focused much of my attention on the regulatory and market-based tools as there is extensive literature and experience with planning and engineering tools.

Attempting to understand the hierarchy of sea level rise adaptation options

The funny part of about regulatory and market-based tools is that they are derived from tools that local governments have been using for decades. They include tools such as: zoning ordinances, building codes, floodplain regulations, special assessments, bonds, and easements.

Breaking down examples into sea level rise adaptation tool categories

A significant barrier to sea level rise adaptation implementation, cited by local governments, is lack of staff time, resources, and know-how. However, I would propose that local governments already have the resources and knowledge to implement these regulatory and market-based tools. In many cases, they are already using them for other issues: blight, redevelopment, hazard mitigation, erosion, housing, etc.

The unintended start of the post-it process exercise

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Local governments need to reframe the tools they’ve used for decades and view them through the lens of sea level rise. This won’t necessarily be easy. The coordination challenge is alive and well (see Mark Lubell’s The Governance Gap) not only at the regional level but within local governments. Cities and counties will need to rethink their tried and true departmental roles and responsibilities and integrate sea level rise adaptation across departments in a coordinated manner that best suits their interests. Siloing efforts off among departments will only lead to redundancy.

This research gave me hope that adapting to sea level rise is possible in California. We need to recognize that we have many of the skills, tools, and resources already. With improved coordination, and legality and equity accounted for, California may just get ahead of the rising tide.

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