Sacramento Report: A Life Raft for Cities Dealing With Sea-Level Rise

Government

Sacramento Report: A Life Raft for Cities Dealing With Sea-Level Rise

A pair of bills written by San Diego lawmakers meant to address rising seas are still moving through the Legislature. Plus: There’s good news and bad news for the 2018 law requiring publicly traded companies to have women on their boards.

Boulder walls — called rip rap or revetments — along beach homes in Oceanside are used to protect properties from waves and high tides. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A pair of bills written by San Diego lawmakers meant to address rising seas are still moving through the Legislature. (Both bills were at least partly inspired by a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which signaled to the state in 2019 that it needed to support local economies as they prepare for coastal catastrophe.)

Assemblyman Chris Ward’s proposal to create 12 so-called regional climate networks, responsible for assessing and planning for all the pains the changing climate will bring, passed the Assembly 64-4 on June 2. It’s now in the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance.

In December, as Assembly members were creating their bill packages, Ward said several of them realized there was a lot of legislation trying tackle the climate problem. AB 897’s authors are all coastal representatives — in addition to Ward, Assemblymen Kevin Mullin and Bill Quirk represent the Bay Area, and Assemblyman Steve Bennett represents Santa Barbara — but the legislation is meant to represent broader interests.

“All of us are coastal districts but we recognized that we need to do something with statewide significance (for) inland areas, which are more vulnerable to wildfire dangers, and the Central Valley, at risk of drought,” Ward said.

While California is nationally known for proactively planning for climate disasters like rising seas, extreme heat waves and wildfires, much of the actual nitty-gritty planning for such catastrophes falls on the backs of local governments. Cities are required by a 2015 law to prepare for climate impacts that we scientifically don’t have all the answers to just yet.

But cities are largely on the hook for covering the costs of those studies, unless they’re lucky enough to get grants or other funds.

“It’s all on our dime,” said Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker. “And we have to go fight for money.”

Del Mar is experiencing worsening erosion of its coastal cliffside, from more intense rains and rising seas, that not only threatens beachgoers below, but private beach homes and a very expensive railway connection between San Diego and Los Angeles (which may turn into a very expensive tunnel, moving the tracks away from the beach). Both Del Mar and Oceanside regularly dish out dollars to add sand to their shrinking beaches, in part, some believe, because property owners build sea walls to protect the cliff or property from waves, which means no room for the beach to grow.

But sand is constantly on the move; it doesn’t really stay put especially with changing tides, currents and weather. So, for instance, Oceanside may pay to put sand on its beach, but that sand may actually wind up somewhere else.

“Anytime somebody puts sand at Cardiff (State Beach), Encinitas or Solana Beach, all that sand ends up in Del Mar,” Druker said.

Climate change is expected to cost California $100 billion in damages by midcentury, accounting for drought, mega-floods and coastal erosion to name a few, according to the state’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment — a big, scientific and economic overview of the problem.

“Local governments ought to be part of a regional conversation to make sure climate adaptations align,” Ward said.

Druker said a regional climate network “makes sense” as long as it’s not duplicitous of efforts to tackle specific climate problems.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ SB 1, meanwhile, is focused solely on preparing for sea-level rise. It passed the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee this week. Attached to the law, which creates a new state entity under the Ocean Protection Council tasked with advising and tracking local governments on handling sea-level rise, is an annual $100 million in grants to help local governments pay for all that planning.

The bill may result in more direction to cities over when they’ll have to pick up and move away from the crumbling coastline — known as “managed retreat” in policy speak. Oceanside is banking on staving off that planning for another few decades, as long as the scientific predictions for the speed and severity of sea-level rise hold up.

On the other hand, the California Coastal Commission has by and large told Del Mar it has to plan for it, according to the Del Mar Times. But the city basically refused to do so.

The Coastal Commission supports Atkins’ bill, as does the League of California Cities, Surfrider Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and the American Planning Association, among others. The Association of California Cities-Orange County and the city of Newport Beach oppose the measure.

Women-on-Boards Law Is Working, But Challenges Are Moving Forward

Two things are simultaneously true of SB 826, a law passed in 2018 requiring publicly traded California companies to include at least one woman on their boards of directors. The first is that legal challenges seeking to invalidate the law are moving forward. The second is that the law is unquestionably working.

This week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brought back from the dead a lawsuit challenging the requirements after a federal judge initially tossed the case. The court didn’t weigh the merits of the suit but decided the retired investor who sued over the law had standing to bring the case. Meanwhile, a separate challenge to the law filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch is on track for a trial later this year in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

“But even if one or both prevail in court, leading experts say there will be no turning back,” FairWarning reported earlier this year. “In early December, Nasdaq announced that, with approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, it will require 3,000-plus firms listed on its exchange to have at least one woman or member of an underrepresented minority on their boards, within two years — or explain why not. Days later, BlackRock Inc., the huge multinational investment management firm, announced it would vote against directors who fail to increase gender and ethnic diversity on their boards.”

Judicial Watch also filed a lawsuit against AB 979, passed by the Legislature in 2020, enacting similar requirements for board directors from underrepresented communities.

Meanwhile, SB 826 is having its desired impact.

The latest report from the secretary of state, released in March, show more companies are in compliance with the law compared with last year. A recent progress report from the California Partners Project says women now hold 26.5 percent of California’s public company board seats, up from 15 percent when the law went into effect. The proportion of California boards with all male members has plunged from 30 percent in 2018 to less than 3 percent, according to the report.

And the numbers might be even better than the secretary of state’s report shows. That’s because it only tabulates companies that filed the required disclosure forms.

For example, the first San Diego company on the list is Acadia Pharmaceuticals, which didn’t file the required disclosure statement in 2020. But that company lists not one but two women on its board of directors, which means it’s not in compliance with the law in the sense that it didn’t file the requisite paperwork, but it is complying with the underlying goal of including women on its board.

In fact, virtually all of the San Diego County-based companies that last year didn’t have a woman listed among their board of directors has since added at least one, including several that still haven’t filed disclosures.

Golden State News

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