West Coast
Waves slam West Cliff Drive near Woodrow Avenue in January. (TR Dreszer)

CA - Input wanted on 50-year vision for West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ > Santa Cruz city leaders on Tuesday kicked off an outreach effort for a 50-year vision for West Cliff and coastal adaptation strategies.

The Santa Cruz City Council directed city staff in May to start work on the 50-year vision. During a city council study session Tuesday, city staff and consultants described how climate change is accelerating erosion on West Cliff and how the city might protect the coast and adapt to the changing environment.

City leaders and climate consultant firm Farallon Strategies have partnered to help craft the plan. “It’s not often that jurisdictions are thinking 50 years out,” said Michael McCormick, president of Farallon Strategies. “It creates some really unique opportunities.”

The 50-year vision will build on a West Cliff Management and Adaptation Plan published in 2021.

The plan hinges on a strategy called adaptation pathways, also known as adaptive management. Rather than relying on a single timeline of when and how the city will respond to coastal climate change, adaptive pathways include a range of options for when and how the city can respond.

The approach takes into account the uncertainty of how processes like sea-level rise and coastal erosion will unfold over the coming decades, McCormick said.

“It’s easy to make decisions when we have a lot of knowns in front of us, when we have good data,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There will need to be decision-making frameworks that are grounded in the unknowns as well.”

No vote was taken at Tuesday’s city council study session. Mayor Fred Keeley and Councilmembers Sandy Brown and Scott Newsome were absent.

  • A city survey about attitudes towards natural disasters and climate change is open until Sept. 15.
  • Farallon Strategies recently published “A Resilient West Cliff, Accessible to All Roadmap” that describes some potential visions for West Cliff.
  • As the plan develops, city staff plan to reach out to residents during council meetings and a community meeting at the end of September, said Tiffany Wise-West, sustainability and climate action manager for the City of Santa Cruz.
  • City staff plan to present the plan for adoption by the city council in January. The plan is expected to align with new versions of the city’s Local Coastal Program and Local Hazard Mitigation Plan under development.

Short-term fixes are still in the works for January storm damage on West Cliff Drive. This fall, city leaders plan to complete four infill projects in cliffs adjacent to West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz Public Works Director Nathan Nguyen said at Tuesday’s meeting. A new culvert on Bethany Curve is slated to start construction in spring 2024, he said.

Those short-term fixes should be just the beginning of the city’s response to the winter storms, said David Revell, a coastal scientist and consultant involved with past city adaptation efforts, in an interview.

“In so many disasters, there’s always this sense of ‘we will rebuild’,” Revell said. “But rebuilding in the same place doing the same thing is not going to get us to a better place down the road.”

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