The Waters of Huntington Beach and Other Coming Surprises


Topographical map of OC partially covered with water

Fullerton's surreptitious plan to become a wealthy port city continues to play out

Years from now, future residents of Orange County may spit at the memory of those like you and me — alive today, exposed to the facts regarding global warning, but (from what they’ll be able to tell) doing nothing to stop it.

This prospect seems to have put Huntington Beach Councilmember Joe Shaw — surely the funniest Councilmember in any Orange County city — in an uncharacteristically glum mood this morning.

The problem seems to be a recent article in the LA Times  suggesting a one-foot rise in sea levels by 2050 — and a five-foot rise by the end of the century.

“Tide gauges show that the world’s oceans have risen about 7 inches in the last century, and that rate is accelerating, the report notes,” the Times notes, referring to a joint study commissioned by Washington, Oregon, and California and the Feds that noted that California is going to have the worst of it, because in addition to the effects of global warming it’s … well, already sinking.

Coastal California could see serious damage from storms within a few decades, especially in low-lying areas of Southern California and the Bay Area. San Francisco International Airport, for instance, could flood if the sea rises a little more than a foot, a mark expected to be reached in the next few decades. Erosion could cause coastal cliffs to retreat more than 100 feet by 2100, according to the report.

For an idea of what’s in store, the report says, look at what happened in the winter of 1983. That’s when a series of potent El Niño-driven storms hit California’s coast, causing more than $200 million in damage from flooding, high waves and erosion. More than 3,000 homes and businesses were damaged and 33 oceanfront homes destroyed.

And that’s the most imminent problem.  Notwithstanding my artist’s rendering of a future Huntington Bay permanently replacing most of Surf City USA, the main danger in the medium term is the coastal areas being hammered by increasingly worse storms.  This not only has a direct physical impact, but a financial one: it could become impossible to get insurance for homes and businesses in the area, already made difficult by the flood plain.

(Yes, libertarian Huntington Beach: libertarians outside of your city think that you should either not live there or absorb the risk of disaster yourselves.  No government protection for the likes of you!  Ironic, isn’t it?)

Newport Beach, next door, is described in an LA Times story from last March as being in the forefront of preparation for rising sea levels.

“The state of preparedness was close to zero in terms of looking forward to climate change and what it’s going to bring,” said Susanne Moser, a social science researcher at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, who has surveyed coastal cities and counties about planning for rising sea levels. “Since then there’s been an explosion of interest on the local level.”

In Newport Beach, the attitude change came in response to concerns about the future of its harbor, an expansive waterfront dotted with islands and sheltered from the open ocean by the densely populated Balboa Peninsula. Tens of thousands of people live in the area, much of it just a few feet above sea level.

After a sea level rise of just over a foot, a 2008 city-commissioned study said, an extreme high tide would result in widespread flooding on Balboa Peninsula and “near-complete flooding of Balboa Island.”

With that in mind, Newport Beach officials are focusing on low-lying Balboa Island, a tightly packed neighborhood of homes and beach cottages where locals zoom through the streets on golf carts and navigate the harbor in electric boats. A narrow sand spit that was dredged into an island a century ago, Balboa Island now houses nearly 2,000 homes, which are considered to be at the greatest risk of flooding in the city.

“Just a foot” — not so mild-seeming now, is it?  It’s admirable that Shaw is trying to move Huntington Beach in the direction of preparedness — and we hope that his fellow Council Members take the hint from their Beach neighbor that it’s time to make plans.  It may be a struggle; back in the initial days of the movement to preserve Bolsa Chica, when my father was involved in city politics, I recall him telling a story of a Councilman’s reaction to concerns over preparation for a “100-year flood” in the basin.  His comment, honest-to-God (if memory serves), is that Huntington Beach didn’t have to worry about a 100-year flood, because it hadn’t had one of those in over 100 years.

Orange Juice Blog wants to help, of course: one possibility to consider is for the two Beach cities to join forces — and invade and conquer Costa Mesa to take advantage of that city’s high ground.  (Surely there are enough defense contractors around to figure out how to make it work!)

(Thanks to a Facebook friend who provided links to the above LAT stories, whose privacy I’ll respect unless permitted to do otherwise.)

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)