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Historic Sea Level Rise Bill Passes Senate
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On Thursday, Sept. 2, the California State Senate passed Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins’ SB 1, the Sea Level Rise Mitigation and Adaptation Act of 2021, which would provide tools and resources for communities to address this imminent climate change reality.

“Climate change and sea level rise threaten to alter the landscape of California forever and severely impact our regional economies. Without vital investment and a change in our planning policy, the damage to California’s coastline will be irreparable. California stands to lose coastal wetlands, iconic monuments, and could see devastation to our groundwater and fresh water supplies,” said Senator Atkins. “Now is the time for action, and I chose to focus this year on sea level rise because we are already seeing the very real impacts in my district and throughout the state. We must do all we can to ensure that California’s signature treasure, its coast, is preserved for generations to come.”

Sea level rise is one of the biggest threats to California’s 1,100 miles of coastline – the Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts that California’s sea levels will rise seven feet by the year 2100 – and jeopardizes the future of the state’s resources, from roadways to drinking water. According to the UC San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, even subtle changes in sea-level will worsen flooding, leave some coastal areas permanently submerged, foul freshwater sources near the coast, and make it impossible to provide adequate drainage to some neighborhoods. SB 1 represents a much-needed investment in climate resilience, and is one of the boldest actions any state government has taken on the issue of sea level rise.

SB 1 passed the Senate on a 33-2 bipartisan vote and now await gubernatorial action. The bill directs the California Coastal Commission to account for sea level rise in its planning, policies, and activities. SB 1 also establishes the California Sea Level Rise State and Regional Support Collaborative, a cross-government group tasked with educating the public and advising local, regional, and state governments on feasible sea level rise mitigation efforts, and specifies that $100 million per year would be allocated to this effort. Supporters of SB 1 laud the bill for its efforts to address environmental justice, by expanding funding to assist disadvantaged communities along the coast that are vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise.

SB 1 would work in tandem with the more than $31 million dollars for sea level rise grants and planning efforts included in the 2021-22 state budget, funding that Pro Tem Atkins advocated for strongly.

Among the legislators who helped ensure SB 1’s success are principal coauthors, Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), and coauthors Senators Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), and Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

“The California Coast is 1,100 miles of breathtaking beauty, a critical engine of our economy and home to nearly 70 percent of all Californians. But our coastal communities are under extreme threat from sea level rise, and we must act now to safeguard California against this impending climate disaster,” said Assemblymember Petrie-Norris. “SB 1 is the first comprehensive effort to confront sea level rise head on with coordinated, statewide preparation efforts to protect our coast from the ravages of sea level rise.”

The legislation has garnered a wide swath of support from environmental advocates, organizations, and local municipalities, including the California Coastal Commission, California Coastkeeper Alliance, East Bay Municipal Utility District, League of California Cities, Surfrider Foundation, City of Carlsbad, and The Nature Conservancy.