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Dual Climate and Mitigation Plans Get Santa Cruz, Calif., into Action

Projections for the future and outreach to today’s vulnerable residents are part of the plans.

Santa Cruz, Calif.’s Climate Adaptation Plan looks at storm surge long-term and offers estimates of what the coastline could look like in 2030, 2060 and again in 2100. But combined with the accompanying Hazard Mitigation Plan, it plants the seeds for preparing for the possibilities of a turbulent California.

The city updated its Climate Adaptation Plan from the original version developed in 2011 and this time included a sea-level rise vulnerability assessment that incorporated a social vulnerability aspect, looking at who was vulnerable at different time horizons, mapping those areas. It gives city officials a good idea of who will be vulnerable and when.

But even better, the mitigation plan, with the knowledge from the climate plan, begins to address preparation by building a rapport with those vulnerable individuals by reaching out to them and attempting to keep them engaged in what the hazards are and will be and how to best mitigate those.

“We’re really trying to initiate a conversation about these kinds of impacts that haven’t been talked about in the past,” said Tiffany Wise-West, sustainability and climate action manager for the city.

He said the city conducted a nine-month, 50-event outreach campaign in the vulnerable areas. Mostly, those areas encompass residents who are considered vulnerable because of poverty, or who speak English as a second language, and these are primarily lower-lying areas susceptible to flooding.

All of the outreach is done in both English and Spanish and encourages those residents to understand their vulnerabilities and where they are in terms of possible hazards, prepare for any of the eventualities, whether it be flood or wildland fire, and to help by reducing emissions.

The plan is a living document and there is much to improve, including adding a monitoring triggers threshold program. “We need to be adaptable to changing conditions and hazards like regulatory issues and events,” Wise-West said.

The climate plan is narrower in its focus, concentrating on future vulnerabilities. The mitigation plan encompasses climate change and other areas and states goals, such as ranking hazards, looking at vulnerable parts of the infrastructure and developing funding sources for hardening the infrastructure.

“There’s a global approach to this mitigation strategy where climate adaptation dovetails with mitigation,” said Paul Horvat, emergency services manager for the city.

While the mitigation plan has goals and strategies, the climate plan is just getting started in developing specific goals. It’s difficult to project to 2100 or even 2030 as there are so many variables involved.

“We projected about five-feet, six inches of sea-level rise for 2030,” Wise-West said. “But after we completed the assessment, the Ocean Protection Council came out with revisions that said there could be 10 feet of sea-level rise. We can say we know the spatial extent of where the impacts are going to occur. If we’re on the 2100 trajectory of 10 feet, those impacts will be felt sooner.”

And the plans will continue to change. “We discover new things through disasters that have occurred,” Horvat added. “In 2017 we had huge rainstorms and realized we had an aging water supply system that received quite a bit of damage through the storms.” These acknowledgments come to the fore and are given priority when updating the plans.

“Not only are we learning from past experience, but science changes and for sea-level rise, we have a good handle on the spatial extent of our exposure and vulnerabilities, but it is really a matter of the timing,” Wise-West said.