An Overview Of Our Solution
Who is this solution impacting?
- Population Impacted
- Continent: North America
~13,000 people in Half Moon Bay
6,445 square miles
Locally: tourism-related small businesses and services (shops, restaurants, tours, etc); agriculture (field labor, greenhouse work); fishing. Many residents commute to other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area e,g,, for high tech (biotech, software) jobs
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose
Natural resources in and around Half Moon Bay ? in particular, the ocean, beaches and adjacent bluff-tops ? support tourism, farming, fishing, the arts and multi-cultural traditions, community identity and a high quality of life for residents.
Local threats to resources
Threats to bluff-tops: accelerating erosion; invasive species; development pressure. Threats to beaches and ocean: water quality impairments (red tides, trash, etc); shoreline armoring (e.g., rip-rap) causing beach scour, loss of sediment supply.
More erosion and coastal flooding due to greater storm runoff during more intense precipitation events, as well as higher sea levels that coincide with storm event impacts (i.e., storm surge and waves). Longer term, daily tidal inundation with higher high tides due to sea level rise. Higher groundwater levels (that could be caused by higher sea levels) that exacerbate neighborhood drainage issues during and after intense rain events. Changes in precipitation patterns that affect crop irrigation needs. Salt water intrusion (that could coincide with higher sea levels) into coastal aquifers that are that used for local agriculture and drinking water. Changes in ocean conditions (acidification, rising temperatures, changing patterns) that harm marine life, particularly commercially fished species.
Level of sensitivity
Already Half Moon Bay?s bluff-tops erode due in great part to heavy rains and storm runoff, and thus the bluff-tops themselves will be highly sensitive to more intense precipitation events. Bluff erosion will also accelerate with exposure to higher high tides, and bigger and more frequent storm waves and flooding. Existing alignments of the heavily-used California Coastal Trail that runs almost the entire length of Half Moon Bay?s coastline are sensitive to erosion of bluff-tops and dunes. This type of erosion will also threaten other public access facilities (e.g., camp grounds, parking areas) that serve the many Half Moon Bay visitors and residents. Some beaches are sensitive to bigger storm surges and higher high tides that will wash away large quantities of sand. Loss of beaches and public shoreline access would have tremendous negative consequences for the local economy and residents? quality of life, and hurt the community?s identity and spirit. In one specific location, bluff erosion will eventually expose a retired county landfill which could have significant public health and environmental impacts. In areas of Half Moon Bay where homes, businesses and infrastructure are exposed to more flooding, the community?s level of sensitivity is high. These structures are have not been flood-proofed and are likely to be damaged and become temporarily and even permanently uninhabitable/unusable if exposed to storm waves and flooding. Consequences of these impacts would be tremendous for Half Moon Bay and the entire coastside. For example, flooding and damage to Highway 1 could complicate evacuations and emergency response and recovery during a storm event. And, with longer disruptions, hurt the local economy by making access to homes and local businesses much more difficult. The social and economic harm due flooding and damage in Miramar which is vibrant mix of homes and businesses would be felt throughout the Half Moon Bay community. Local agriculture is highly sensitive to changes in precipitation pattern that can affect (negatively and positively) crop irrigation needs and cause top soil erosion. Furthermore, some farms and residences draw water from local aquifers and would be sensitive to saltwater intrusion into theses sources.
Level of adaptive capacity
Where extensive open bluff-top space still exists, the community has capacity to accommodate accelerated erosion and more storm impacts (e.g., higher storm surge and waves) because the bluffs act as a buffer to neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure. Furthermore, the erosion of the bluffs will help maintain a sediment supply to replenish the sandy beaches after storm events. However, portions of the California Coastal Trail and some other public access facilities immediately adjacent to the bluff edge in these areas are sensitive to erosion. While the cost to realign public access further inland is relatively low, lack of available publicly-owned land and the need to purchase land and/or easements for this purpose may make realignment infeasible. Where beaches are backed by armored shorelines, they will have limited capacity to adapt to higher tides because they will not be naturally replenished at a rate sufficient to keep up, and they will not have space to move inland. Not only will this lead to the loss of these beaches, but without the beach to act as a buffer, adjacent development will be more exposed to waves and ?overtopping? of shoreline protection. This is true of Surfers? Beach in the north part of Half Moon Bay, a very popular (easily accessible) destination for visitors, and, as its names suggests a surfing spot that happens to be one of only a couple of beginner-friendly surfing sites on the San Mateo County coast. Unfortunately, the beach is backed by a rip-rap wall that protects a stretch of Highway 1 and is already inaccessible at highest tides.
CLT?s solution to improve Half Moon Bay?s resilience to climate change impacts involves acquiring coastal bluff-top habitat in Half Moon Bay, California (on the San Mateo County coast) and restoring, managing and protecting these areas as open space in perpetuity. A somewhat unique set of circumstances (see below) enables CLT to accomplish this approach primarily through accepting donations of property from private landholders. Background: In the early 1900?s Ocean Shore Railroad owned long stretches of coastal bluff-tops in San Mateo County (located just south of San Francisco). With plans to create a coastside resort in Half Moon Bay, the railroad subdivided the land into approximately 1,500 small lots and sold them off to would-be vacation homeowners. The venture was not successful and few homes were ever built, leaving the bluff-tops mostly undeveloped. In most cases, the properties have passed through multiple generations ? often without their knowledge. At an average size of 0.06 acres (0.024 hectares), the lots are sub-standard, meaning that a single-family home cannot be built on a lot because the minimum size allowed for this type of development is 0.12 acres (0.49 hectares). Half Moon Bay has slow growth policies to discourage expansion of development beyond the existing ?envelope? of the urban boundary. As such the open bluff-tops are zoned in such a way that they cannot be developed lot-by-lot, but rather the development has to meet minimum density and lot size (1 acre, or 0.40 hectare) requirements. In part, the confusing and legally messy patchwork of land ownerships that remains from railroad?s original land sale has stymied efforts to put together an ?approvable? development proposal. In the midst of this, CLT has been receiving a steady stream of property donations on the bluff-tops. Reasons for donating vary. Many owners are eager to be rid of an (essentially) undevelopable piece of land that is a tax burden, and to potentially receive a tax benefit from the donation. Numerous bluff-top properties have fallen into ?tax default? with the County, and owners do not want to remain out of compliance. And, a handful is motivated to donate by the opportunity to preserve the land as permanent open space habitat. Currently, CLT manages 145 properties in fee title (78.5 acres, or 31.77 hectares) and 20 conservation easements (24.1 acres, or 9.75 hectares) in the urban boundary of Half Moon Bay. These protected lands represent a relatively small portion (~10-15%) of open bluff-tops area where CLT is acquiring properties. However, because of the zoning (described previously) in this area, protection of an individual parcel often has benefits beyond its boundaries for preserving these ocean bluff-tops as permanent open space. Benefits of CLT?s solution: This strategy achieves multiple benefits for the community: ? preserving a buffer against sea level rise and storm event impacts for coastside neighborhoods and infrastructure ? reducing future risks ? e.g., loss of life and property, as well as tax-payer burden to underwrite losses ? by avoiding the placement of more residents and costly development in high hazard areas ? ensuring, at relatively low cost, the longevity of Half Moon Bay?s beaches by avoiding the creation of incentives to armor, or harden, the shoreline in the future which leads to beach narrowing and loss; ? bluffs (as they erode) serve as sediment supplies that naturally replenish the sandy beaches after storm events, thereby avoiding the need for costly renourishment projects ? preserving open space for the public to enjoy to maintain residents? high quality of life as well as the economic benefits that these areas bring to the community ? protecting and enhancing valuable habitat for raptors and other coastal bluff species; Half Moon Bay?s undeveloped bluff-tops are the primary wintering grounds for many San Francisco Bay Area raptor species.
None that CLT identified.
- Preserves natural bluff erosion processes that replenish sandy beaches - Protects and enhances valuable habitat for raptors and other coastal species
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit
- Acres of habitat enhanced and protected - Species counts (e.g., wintering raptors) - Beach width
- Removes some land from supply of available land for new residential development
- Provides a physical buffer for community (i.e. homes, businesses and infrastructure) - Preserves beaches and open space that are essential to the community?s identity , residents? quality of life, and the local economy - Protects existing and provides new, free public access and recreation opportunities for all users.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit
- Acres of open-space protected - Length of California Coastal Trail added - Maintenance of California Coastal Trail continuity (e.g., by realigning the trail where it is lost to erosion)
- Loss of potential future property tax revenues for city
- Preservation of beaches and open space that are essential to the local tourism economy - Avoids future economic risks ? e.g., property loss, as well as tax-payer burden to underwrite losses ? by avoiding the placement of more residents and costly development in high hazard areas - Avoids costly future beach nourishment projects that are often needed to maintain beaches that are adjacent to armored shorelines.
Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit
- Acres of bluff-top protected as open space - Beach width
What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?
The major challenge that CLT faces with acquiring the bluff-top parcels is financial. Almost all of the owners would happily sell their properties, but many want unrealistic prices. Furthermore, even when a property is donated, it costs CLT an average of $6,500 per property in title transfer fees, paying back-taxes on the property, legal costs to conduct due diligence, and continuing CLT operations in order to manage them ? not to mention annual property taxes going forward.
Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used
Although CLT?s solution ? protection and restoration of bluff-tops ? improves Half Moon Bay?s resilience to climate change impacts, it was not originally conceived of and implemented for this purpose. In 1997, a key property on open bluff-tops was on the verge of being developed into condominiums. This particular development would have prevented public access to the bluffs and beach by blocking off an existing street ? the only one that leads to the ocean along a 3 mile stretch of the city?s coastline. It also would have blocked views of the ocean from an established (and well-to-do) neighborhood. Community members came together around this issue and formed partnerships with established conservation organizations (e.g., Sequoia Audubon, Peninsula Open Space Trust) and agencies (e.g., parks systems at the city, county and state levels) to get the word out about the loss of public access and open space. They approached their state assembly member to pass a bill that granted $2 million to the city to purchase the land. The new community organization, HMB Open Space Trust (now CLT), also raised $100,000 from the community to secure a conservation easement for the property from the city. The momentum from, and support for, this effort were strong enough to enable CLT to continue this work of permanently protecting open space. With community support, CLT has since expanded its scope of work beyond land acquisition, to include other activities that support its mission. These efforts include habitat restoration and long-term stewardship with the help of dedicated volunteers; community outreach and education through youth programs, wildlife events (e.g guided walks and workshops) and a gallery at our main street office that features coastal art and local artists. CLT?s land acquisition and ongoing financial support have been primarily driven by more affluent members of the community with access to more resources. And, frankly, members of the community who were more vulnerable (to the challenges identified in answer to question 1) were not actively engaged in the decision-making process that led to the development of this approach to land conservation during CLT?s formation. However, CLT is reaching out to vulnerable members of the community, and taking their needs into consideration in its decision-making. For example, CLT staff and volunteers lead environmental enrichment classes on the bluff-tops for Half Moon Bay elementary students ? many of whom come from low-income, non-English-speaking homes. This Junior Land Stewards program (begun in 2011) aims to foster connections and an understanding of the importance of stewarding our public lands for current and future generations. Additionally, CLT has designed a new segment of the California Coastal Trail on bluff-top land that it owns to be fully accessible to users of all abilities. It is also worth noting that CLT?s work protects existing and provides new, free recreation opportunities for all; many local and Bay Area residents do not have enough money and time to travel far, and they would not otherwise be able to enjoy the coast and ocean. This work ? protecting open space in perpetuity ? does not have a finish line. As a land trust, CLT must fulfill its ongoing obligations to manage and protect its existing fee title properties and conservation easements. CLT has also committed to being financially and organizationally prepared to acquire more bluff top open space ? by accepting land donations and purchasing properties. CLT?s experienced staff members oversee and facilitate several, fully integrated management systems to support these efforts. These include a Stewardship Advisory Committee that meets at least monthly, volunteer monitoring teams that carry out annual monitoring; current management plans for all properties and easements; a violation tracking and follow-up program. CLT relied on a few information sources to understand the climate impacts to the resources it manages, and the implications for the community. In planning a new segment of the California Coastal Trail on bluff-top land that it owns, CLT completed site assessments that addressed the following: ecologically sensitive areas; drainage and erosion patterns; exotic and invasive vegetation; connections to both the north and south; accessibility and safety; and scenic views and unique features. CLT has not completed its own climate change vulnerability and risk assessment. However, the County of San Mateo (in which Half Moon Bay is located) recently assessed climate change vulnerabilities (available at: http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/planning/rechargesmc/docs.html), and a member of CLT?s board of directors participated in this assessment. Information about existing threats and potential climate impacts to Half Moon Bay?s resources were developed from a combination of the information from the trail site assessment, long-term monitoring data collected by CLT on its managed lands, the County?s climate assessment and mapping done with the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer, along with local knowledge about community resources.
Climate hazard of concern
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?
The proposed strategy does not reduce exposure of bluff-tops to the factors that will accelerate erosion.
How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?
Preserving the bluffs as open space will help maintain a sediment supply (as the bluffs erode) to naturally replenish the sandy beaches after storm events. Furthermore, active management of the bluffs will enhance habitat for raptors and other coastal species.
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?
This strategy buffers the established Half Moon Bay community (i.e. neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure) from erosion and other sea level rise and storm impacts. Furthermore, protecting these areas that could later be developed avoids future exposure of people and property to impacts that would occur with the placement of more residents and costly development in high hazard areas.
How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?
This strategy enables the community to limit future sensitivities to erosion by avoiding the creation of incentives to armor, or harden, the shoreline in the future to protect new development in these high risk areas. Bluffs (as they erode) will continue to serve as sediment supplies that naturally replenish the sandy beaches after storm events, thereby avoiding the need for costly renourishment projects to maintain this important community resource.
How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?
First and foremost, preserving open space for the public to enjoy helps to maintain residents? high quality of life as well as the economic benefits that coastal bluff-tops bring to the community. This approach gives the community the capacity to accommodate erosion with minimal social, economic and environmental impacts. An excellent example of this enhanced adaptive capacity is the additional space that would be available to accommodate necessary realignments of the California Coastal Trail.
Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?
Protecting open bluff-tops for multiple benefits can and is being done in areas that have not already built out to the bluff edge. However, CLT?s particular approach takes advantage of the unique circumstances along the Half Moon Bay bluff-tops ? i.e. the combination of many, very small parcels owned by numerous, different land owners, and existing land use policies that limit development of individual lots. Other Bay Area open space trusts focus on preservation of larger properties (greater than 10 acres), and they do not have the capacity or interest for tackling this type of open space preservation. Certainly, having to acquire so many very small properties to protect a single area is inelegant, but it is the situation we face in Half Moon Bay, and CLT has chosen to turn it into an opportunity to help community.