Coastal resilience: San Diego’s plan to fight sea level rise

Can the city of San Diego mitigate the effects of sea level rise? A developing plan aims to do just that. 

Called the Coastal Resilience Master Plan, it’s the city of San Diego’s roadmap to combat sea level rise, protect and enhance coastline habitats and support coastal access and recreation.

The plan focuses on six key areas in San Diego, including La Jolla Shores, locations “along our coasts that are well suited for nature-based solutions,” explained Julia Chase, San Diego’s chief resilience officer at a June 25 workshop in La Jolla to explain the current plan and gather resident feedback.

Nature-based solutions, Chase said, have some engineering and design components, but are modeled after nature and “provide multiple benefits to communities.”

Between now and 2050, the most recent studies point to a ten-inch sea level rise above the 2000 baseline, said Nick Sadrpour, coastal scientist with GHD, a firm providing engineering consulting to the city for the Coastal Resilience Master Plan.

Handling that rise, Sadrpour said, usually entails one of four approaches: protect (stop the impact), accommodate (react to the impacts as they occur), retreat (remove assets from the hazard zones) or a hybrid of all the above.

San Diego’s choice is generally the hybrid approach, Sadrpour said, a combination of techniques that includes tradeoffs.

“If we prioritize environmental features, we might have less precision about exact protection performance,” he said, “but maybe it’s going to have some social benefits or it’s what the community visions for an area.”

The Plan’s details for La Jolla Shores considers that the Shores, like the other identified areas in Mission Beach, Tourmaline Surf Park, Ocean Beach and Sunset Cliffs, is a “well-loved place” where parking is a premium, and there is a distinct lack of space, bounded on all sides by either water or development, Sadrpour said.

Engineers struggled to figure out how to fit a fully nature-based green solution on the beach while still providing a flood protection element for The Shores, an area defined for the Coastal Resilience plan as the length of the city-owned property from the south end of Kellogg Park to the north end of the park.

The drafted design makes use of a seatwall (as opposed to a seawall, which already exists).

The seatwall would flank the east side of the boardwalk along the entire length of the parking lot area “to provide flood protection and hopefully some increased views and elevated perspectives,” Sadrpour said.

The seatwall would create earthen dikes, or berms, for flood protections during storm events, he said, with attempts to terrace the approximately five-foot berm on the seaward side to provide areas for viewing picnicking.

There would be no modifications to the current seawall and boardwalk; Sadrpour acknowledged there is now boardwalk flooding during storm vents but adding the seatwall would compartmentalize it and prevent overflow into the park.

The city might also design different drainage effects, he added.

At the June 25 workshop, city staff worked with groups to capture feedback about the proposed plans, limiting the locations discussed to La Jolla Shores, Mission Beach and Tourmaline.

At the La Jolla Shores tables, residents expressed concern with the dimensions of the seatwall and ADA accessibility across the modifications.

La Jollan Mary Coakley Munk wondered if merely raising the existing seawall would be enough to address sea level rise. 

A hard armoring approach, like increasing the seawall, “could alleviate certain future flooding issues,” Sadrpour said, but the tradeoff could be an impact to coastal dynamics and waves on the sand.

The Coast Resilience Master Plan is an implementation action of Climate Resilient SD, “the city’s first comprehensive climate adaptation and resilience plan,” Chase said, an initiative adopted in December 2021.

San Diego received grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the California State Coastal Conservancy to develop the Coastal Resilience Master Plan; the plan’s process also involves an environmental impact report to analyze the plan’s impact on the environment; continuing community engagement through future workshops and online surveys; and integrating advice from across city departments.

Future work will require technical studies, further community engagement and more, Chase said.

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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