West Coast
PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA King Tides brought high water to the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Center.

CA - Newsom's Climate Budget Would Slash Funds that Protect Coast

Gov. Gavin Newsom's proposed budget would cut funding for coastal resilience projects almost in half, eliminating more than half a billion dollars of state funds this year that would help protect the coast against rising seas and climate change.

The cuts are part of Newsom's proposed $6 billion in reductions to California's climate change programs in response to a projected $22.5 billion statewide deficit.

California's coastal resilience programs provide funding for local governments to prepare coastal plans and pay for some projects that protect beaches, homes and infrastructure at risk from rising sea levels. Greenhouse gases are responsible for warming the planet, which melts ice and causes sea levels to rise, which is projected to have a disproportionate impact on Humboldt County.

Newsom's proposal would budget $734 million for coastal resilience, a cut of 43 percent or $561 million compared to 2021 and 2022, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Some lawmakers told CalMatters that they are concerned about Newsom's proposal to gut the programs that help coastal towns prepare for climate change and flooding, which already has damaged some communities.

Sen. Josh Becker, who chairs the Senate's budget subcommittee, called the cuts "highly concerning," especially because they are excessive compared to the cuts applied to other state programs.

"Most programs received 10 percent cuts," Becker, a Democrat from San Mateo, said in an interview. "I'm very concerned about it, given the timing that we are experiencing these floods. My county is among the most endangered in the state for sea level rise."

Becker said he hopes to restore some of the money, possibly by finding federal funds to backfill some programs.

"These are dramatic cuts to something we agreed upon, and I'm going to try to get it back," he said.

Newsom's budget, released Jan. 10,  is not final, with revisions due in May.

Experts say there's a lot at stake if sea level rise and coastal projects are not addressed now. Last month the state Department of Transportation, Caltrans, released a draft management plan estimating that it needs nearly $15 billion over the next ten years to protect bridges and roads from sea level rise.

A 2020 report by the Legislative Analyst's Office projects more than $20 billion worth of California property will be at risk or underwater by 2050 without planning and funding. "Waiting too long to initiate adaptation efforts likely will make responding effectively more difficult and costly.... The next decade represents a crucial time period for taking action to prepare for" sea level rise," the report says.

Much of the funding on the chopping block is in the form of grants to local governments to fund projects and planning. Among the proposed cuts is $64 million for cities to prepare extensive management plans to prepare for sea level rise.

Chris Helmer, director of environmental and natural resources for the city of Imperial Beach, said "if  the state cuts adaptation projects, that would be a concern."

The city received about $200,000 to prepare a draft sea level rise plan, he said. It also has a grant pending with the Ocean Protection Council for another project to protect the city from encroaching seas.

"If there's no money, that's a major concern for us," Helmer said.  This winter's storm exacerbated already massive flooding issues, he said. Waves broke on city streets, sand was driven well past the beach and rocks were thrown through residents' windows. The cleanup took two months.

Up the coast in Ventura, the storms also undermined beachfront infrastructure and proved the value of a  project at Surfers' Point, partially funded by a $1.6 million state grant, that relocated a parking lot and bike path away from the water and protected the beach with a "living shoreline."

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