Combatting Sea-Level Rise in Southern California: How Local Governments Can Seize Adaptation Opportunities While Minimizing Legal Risk

63 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2013 Last revised: 21 May 2013

Megan M. Herzog

UCLA School of Law

Sean B. Hecht

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Date Written: April 19, 2013

Abstract

As the primary coastal land use decisionmakers in Southern California, local governments will make choices that will shape the region’s resilience to sea-level rise. To implement adaptation plans effectively, local governments must understand the ways law enhances their adaptive capacity by providing them with the necessary legal authority to take actions to adapt to changing sea-level conditions. Additionally, local governments must appreciate legal risks — that is, potential legal limitations on adaptation tools, as well as potential liability to private parties for harms related to the adverse effects both of adaptation actions and sea-level rise itself. This article identifies how local governments can harness legal doctrines to support aggressive, innovative strategies to achieve successful sea-level rise adaptation outcomes for Southern California while minimizing legal risk. We broadly outline likely sea-level rise impacts in Southern California, and evaluate the risks and opportunities of potential protection, accommodation, and retreat adaptation strategies that local governments could deploy. We focus primarily on four categories of legal issues that may be implicated as Southern California localities plan for the impacts of sea-level rise: 1) the California Coastal Act, 2) the public trust doctrine, 3) the constitutional takings doctrine, and 4) the California Environmental Quality Act. We divide our analysis of these legal doctrines into their potential interactions with both private development and critical municipal infrastructure like roads, power plants, and ports. Overall, we demonstrate how Southern California local governments can harness their existing regulatory authority to support aggressive sea-level rise adaptation strategies and, through proactive planning and smart decisionmaking, mitigate potential legal liabilities.

Keywords: climate change, impact of rising sea-levels, the California Coastal Act, California Environmental Quality Act

Suggested Citation

Herzog, Megan M. and Hecht, Sean B., Combatting Sea-Level Rise in Southern California: How Local Governments Can Seize Adaptation Opportunities While Minimizing Legal Risk (April 19, 2013). 19 Hastings West Northwest J. Envtl. L. & Pol’y 463 (2013); UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 13-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2254069

Megan M. Herzog

UCLA School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

Sean B. Hecht (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

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