According to Santa Barbara’s recently unveiled Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan, the city will eventually have to decide if it should reconstruct, redesign, or remove Stearns Wharf. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

While the rest of us have been distracted by the triple threat of a global pandemic, a crashing economy, and an upcoming presidential election, Santa Barbara city staff have been quietly formulating the beginnings of a roadmap to address the most insidious menace of all ― sea-level rise. This Tuesday, staff made a draft version of the Sea-Level Rise Adaptation Plan available for public review through September 30. Find it at, and submit comments to A public question-and-answer webinar will also be held.

The plan is largely based on projections from a 2018 statewide analysis of potential sea-level rise scenarios ― near-term (2020-2030): 0-0.8 feet; mid-term (2030-2060): 0.8-2.5 feet; and long-term (2060-2100): 2.5-6.6 feet. Its first recommendation is developing a Shoreline Monitoring Program in coordination with regional, state, and federal agencies, the results of which will help inform how the city prioritizes protecting its six miles of coast. Without any interventions, staff estimated sea-level rise could cost Santa Barbara more than $4 billion in direct economic and property damage by the end of the century.

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Over the next 10 years, the plan suggests raising or modifying the harbor’s breakwater, rock groin, sandspit, and sidewalks, as well as renovating marinas and piers in phases to raise marina piles; adding sand and building dunes at East Beach, Leadbetter Beach, and Arroyo Burro Beach; relocating or flood-proofing major infrastructure south of Cabrillo Boulevard; and redesigning the Laguna Creek tide gate and pump system, among other things.

In the longer term, several major decisions will have to be made, the draft plan says, including whether to allow rock revetments and slope stabilization along the Mesa bluffs to protect Shoreline Drive, or plan for rerouting the entire road and associated infrastructure. Also to be determined is whether to pursue large-scale flood-protection measures for low-lying areas, such as shoreline protection devices or levees along the city’s waterfront, and levees or floodwalls along lower portions of major creeks. 

The city will eventually have to decide if it should reconstruct, redesign, or remove Stearns Wharf, as well. 

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