Correction: The City of Santa Cruz was awarded $50,000 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for research, not $90,000, as was originally printed. This story was updated on Jan. 18 to reflect this change.
Last month, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously passed its Climate Change Adaptation Plan (CCAP) to address climate change. The plan is part of the five-year update to the city’s Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP), which will help diminish dangers associated with climate change in Santa Cruz.
The CCAP will be used as a guideline for the city to plan for increased flooding, droughts, coastal storms, wildfires and eventual sea level rising due to global warming.
The city council said at least some impacts of climate change — like the increase in severe droughts and flooding, seen in the recent Capitola flooding — are already unavoidable. It is in the city’s best interest to “develop resiliency to impacts,” according to the City Council Agenda Report on the Draft Climate Adaptation Plan and Vulnerability Study from Oct. 4 of last year.
The CCAP, authored by public works project manager Cathlin Atchison, was based on research done by Gary Griggs, UC Santa Cruz Institute of Marine Sciences director, as well as Brent Haddad, founder and director of the Center for Integrated Water Research and environmental studies professor. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funded their 18 months of research with a $50,000 grant.
Dubbed the City of Santa Cruz City Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, the research was completed and presented in January 2011. That assessment was used to create the CCAP, and will be used as an update to the city’s LHMP. This year the LHMP update will be reviewed by FEMA.
The CCAP will also be used as a part of Santa Cruz’s General Plan for 2030. Griggs said climate change issues and mitigation plans are starting to pop up in other coastal cities as the issue of climate change becomes more immediate and less contested.
“Climate change has become very politicized,” Griggs said. “It’s not a scientific question, but it is definitely a political issue. All carbon dioxide molecules trap heat — they don’t have political affiliations.”
Griggs said the majority of scientists agree climate change is happening, and humans have had a big impact on it.
“Unless we do something, or begin to do something, the consequences are going to be significant,” Griggs said. “This winter already people have begun talking about the climate change, no rain, sunny weather. There are huge implications.”
However, certain variables make predicting the risks of climate change difficult.
“Even when the potential threats are reasonably well understood, the somewhat distant timeframes involved in many climate change impacts can make it hard to formulate, approve and implement policies that affect activities taking place at the present … We can hope for the best, but should be preparing for the worst,” reads the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.
The city, however, wants to “take advantage of potential opportunities to protect our residents, infrastructure and economic well-being,” according to the CCAP.
“We have been working on this for several years,” said Ryan Coonerty, Santa Cruz City Council member. “The impacts of climate change are far-reaching and affect everything from our sewage system, our water system, our emergency response, our flood control. Starting to prepare in each area is incredibly important.”
The plan, however, has had varying degrees of support from the public.
“In general, the public is supportive of measures to protect our city and build resiliency into our programs and services,” said Robert Solick, public works principal management analyst and Emergency Operations Center manager.
But the public had some difficulties distinguishing between the city’s pre-existing Climate Action Plan, which is meant to address lowering Santa Cruz’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the new Climate Adaptation Plan. Some members of the public feel too much focus on adaptation planning may take away from lowering greenhouse gas emissions, Solick said.
The public may also be held responsible in the future for some funding of the CCAP if FEMA cannot or will not provide all of the financial support to sufficiently cover costs. However, Solick said the federal government, which is currently reviewing the plan, would hopefully provide the funding.
The United States is still around 85 percent dependent on fossil fuels, and it is now widely accepted by the state of California sea levels will rise around 16 inches by 2050, Griggs said. He said it is now necessary to address adaptation to these sorts of changes, in addition to fighting against their increased severity due to greenhouse gas emissions.
“We know the climate is changing,” Griggs said. “We need to start planning instead of saying, ‘I’m going to see how high the water gets before stacking sandbags and evacuating my house.’ We’re all going to retire someday, and we need to put money away. We plan every day, so we need to plan for this too, instead of looking back 20 years from now and wondering why we didn’t.”