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Why We Didn’t Buy Near the Sea When We Moved to California

Homes along the cliffs of Pacifica are hanging on to time. Some have already been condemned or removed.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

When my wife and I were looking for a home to buy after moving from Minnesota to California just over one year ago, we considered spending more than we wanted to on a home with an ocean view or in a beach community here in Orange County. Most of those homes were far beyond our budget or willingness to spend — especially as we were downsizing as we get closer to entering our “third half of life” — but there were two things that always gave us pause when considering investing quite close to the ocean:

  1. We’d spend A LOT to get a small home in an area packed with people (and cars on the street) and knew that it would feel horrible.
  2. Sea-level rise is going to inundate California coastline and flood many of the areas we’d considered!

So we bought in to an inland development. We’re 14 minutes from Doheny State Beach and 20 minutes from either San Clemente or Laguna Beach, so it’s easy to get our ocean “fix” anytime we want to do so and we do so often. Plus I ensured that we built our new home in a seismically (and wildfire) stable area in order to minimize our risks living in this geologically and dry state.

But sea-level rise is going to be a doozy of a problem for a long time, regardless if you believe in climate change or not (which is probably another post I’ll do at some point).

California Against the Sea

The Los Angeles Times published California Against the Sea this past Sunday and it is a sobering article to say the least, especially these paragraphs in the opening:

THE CALIFORNIA COAST GREW AND PROSPERED during a remarkable moment in history when the sea was at its tamest.

But the mighty Pacific, unbeknownst to all, was nearing its final years of a calm but unusual cycle that had lulled dreaming settlers into a false sense of endless summer.

Elsewhere, Miami has been drowning, Louisiana shrinking, North Carolina’s beaches disappearing like a time lapse with no ending. While other regions grappled with destructive waves and rising seas, the West Coast for decades was spared by a rare confluence of favorable winds and cooler water. This “sea level rise suppression,” as scientists call it, went largely undetected. Blinded from the consequences of a warming planet, Californians kept building right to the water’s edge.

But lines in the sand are meant to shift. In the last 100 years, the sea rose less than 9 inches in California. By the end of this century, the surge could be greater than 9 feet.

Holy cow…9 feet! New research released earlier this year by U.S. Geological Survey scientists showed that:

More than half a million Californians and $150 billion in property are at risk of flooding along the coast by 2100 — equivalent to 6% of the state’s GDP, the study found, and on par with Hurricane Katrina and some of the world’s costliest disasters. The number of people exposed is three times greater than previous models that considered only sea level rise.

Sea Level Rise Viewer

Do you live in California or have friends and family you are concerned about? You might want to use a tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is pretty sobering if you are like me — someone looking in an area to buy and then realizing it’s 8 feet above sea level and likely to be under water by 2100 — you might want to look elsewhere!

This was a tool I used often so check it out:  [ Go to the Sea Level Rise Viewer ]

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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