California is pushing a novel approach to dealing with beachfront houses threatened by rising seas: Buy and rent them out until they’re eventually demolished.
The goal is finding a less explosive way to implement the volatile idea of managed retreat or removing homes threatened by waves. Many Golden State lawmakers and regulators back that idea over armoring California’s iconic coastline with sea walls that experts say accelerate beach erosion.
But managed retreat is a phrase politicians try to avoid because it angers beachfront homeowners.
“You have areas that are already experiencing flooding, that the sea is starting to to rise,” state Sen. Ben Allen (D) said yesterday at a hearing of the state Assembly Natural Resources Committee. “We’re finding, of course, that buying out local residents, relocating them, it’s been very controversial and, in some instances, cost prohibitive.”
Allen is advancing S.B. 83, which would create a revolving loan fund for buying vulnerable homes. The fund would provide low-interest loans to beach cities, which then would offer dollars to homeowners. No one would be forced to sell.
The Assembly Natural Resources Committee approved the bill and sent it to the chamber’s Appropriations Committee. If it passes that hurdle, it goes to an Assembly floor vote. It then would go back to the state Senate to approve any changes, and afterward to Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The bill’s idea is one the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation, the California Coastal Commission and others have talked about for years. This is the furthest legislation on it has moved.
The measure doesn’t identify a source for the money, and funds would have to be allocated. Beachfront homes in California are valued at several million dollars on the low end. The bill centers on the idea that local governments could rent homes out for enough money to repay the loans.
But to recoup the investment of buying a $4 million home, for example, a coastal city would need to fetch about $550 a day in rent, every day, for 20 years. That calculation excludes any financing costs.
Some California beachfront homes — in Solana Beach, Laguna Beach, and Malibu — currently are listed on Airbnb to rent for $1,000 a day or more. Others are listed for under $500 a day.
“I am wary of where we are going to get the funds for this,” state Sen. Devon Mathis (R) said at the hearing. “We all know coastal properties are quite expensive.”
Allen is considering amendments that would tell the state’s Ocean Protection Council, in determining which properties are eligible for the program, to look at whether the property could generate enough revenue to repay the loan.
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D) suggested the state should look at the program for other homes threatened by climate impacts.
“I have a cabin that burned down recently in a wildfire,” she said, “and I don’t think I should rebuild. … It would be great if no one rebuilt, and the government bought my land I just took it out. So I think we should be thinking about … other areas like our wildfire-prone areas.”
The committee also advanced other bills including S.B. 586, which would tell the Air Resources Board to develop a strategy to get the state’s cement sector to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, but not later than the end of 2045.