City of Santa Cruz Climate Action Program

Alessandra Score
Posted on: 10/13/2021 - Updated on: 12/03/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The City of Santa Cruz has been a leader in climate change action for nearly three decades. The first formal plan that identified climate change as a major threat to the city was the Local Hazards Mitigation Plan 2007–2012, including recommendations to make the city more resilient to climate change.  The city has since released an updated hazards mitigation plan and a climate adaptation plan.


The coastal community of Santa Cruz has been a leader in disaster planning and recovery over the last three decades. Efforts have been underway to address climate change over the years, including mitigation and adaptation planning for sea level rise, drought, flooding, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. In 2007, the city established a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan 2007–2012 (LHMP) funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Planning Fund. The LHMP identified climate change as a threat to the city, including floods, drought, coastal erosion, and wildfires, and identified mitigation and adaptation options. In addition, the city is using an adaptation pathways approach to prepare for and respond to climate change. The City of  Santa Cruz also joined ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, signed the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, and incorporates climate change into several plans.


The city partnered with the University of Santa Cruz to identify potential climate-related risks and complete a vulnerability assessment. The vulnerability assessment identified sea level rise, changes in precipitation patterns, more extreme storm events, flooding, drought, ocean acidification, cliff erosion, saltwater intrusion, urban and wildland wildfires, and changes in air temperatures leading to species migration as priorities. The main recommendations from the vulnerability assessment included:

  1. Partnering with NOAA or installing permanent gages to document sea level change;
  2. Monitoring impacts to city pump stations along the San Lorenzo River;
  3. Assessing the existing status of cliff protection including evaluation of protected and unprotected areas;
  4. Monitoring the depth penetration of the caves beneath Lighthouse Point;
  5. Resolving uncertainties regarding the capacity of the levees along the San Lorenzo River to contain 100-year floods;
  6. Working collaboratively to reduce boundary-region wildfire risk;
  7. Preparing for increased north-coast stream intake clogging risks by establishing procedures, promoting unclogging, and restoration;
  8. Preparing for increased risk to water transmission pipelines due to weakened or collapsing hillsides;
  9. Reducing the risk of fire in the Loch Lomond watershed through fire prevention activities; and
  10. Considering climate change in redevelopment agency projects.

These recommendations were incorporated into the city’s first climate change action plan in 2011 with the aim of adapting to climate change while maintaining the community’s environmental, social, and economic health.

Outcomes and Conclusions

In 2018, the city adopted an updated version of the LHMP and a Climate Adaptation Plan for 2018–2023. The adaptation plan includes a sea level rise vulnerability assessment, climate projections for 2030, 2060, and 2100, and a social vulnerability assessment, and it documents progress made since the 2011 plan and identifies new adaptation strategies. Related projects completed or underway include the:

  • City of Santa Cruz Beach Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategy
  • City of Santa Cruz Beaches: Urban Climate Adaptation Policy Implication and Response Strategy Evaluation Technical Report
  • West Cliff Drive Shoreline Management Plan
  • Resilient Coast Santa Cruz

Some of the highest priority adaptation strategies for the city include:

  • Increasing public awareness in areas with social vulnerabilities that coincide with hazard zones;
  • Identifying priority areas for managed retreat to retain public access and sufficient beach area for recreational use;

Monitoring and protecting wastewater facility from groundwater infiltration;

  • Improving water supply reliability;
  • Protecting, redesigning, or relocating coastal water infrastructure; and
  • Establishing and/or maintaining cooperative fire agreements.

The climate adaptation plan provides a framework for the City of Santa Cruz. It is intended to be adaptable and expandable as the understanding of climate science evolves, community vulnerabilities change, and new adaptation technologies are developed to inform current and future decisions. An adaptation pathways approach is being used by the City of Santa Cruz wherein management options are associated with desired outcomes and triggers to identify potential adjustments that can be made if needed. This approach helps balance concerns about uncertainty in terms of climate projections and sociopolitical changes over time in climate adaptation planning. For example, adaptation pathways were identified for the protection, conservation, and restoration of the city’s beaches in the Beaches Climate Adaptation Policy Response Strategy Technical Report. Adaptation pathways for the West Cliff pocket beaches include (1) using beach nourishment in the near-term at select beaches, (2) upgrading stormwater infrastructure, (3) maintaining or repairing shoreline armoring to protect infrastructure and/or retain sand within priority beaches, and (4) implementing a managed retreat strategy. The city may implement only some or all of these strategies over time in order to protect highly-valued pocket beaches for as long as is feasible given climate change.  


Score, A. and Gregg, R.M. (2021). City of Santa Cruz Climate Action Program. [Case study on a project of the City of Santa Cruz, CA]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2021.)

Project Contact

Ross Clark
Climate Change Action Coordinator
City of Santa Cruz
[email protected]

Affiliated Organizations

City of Santa Cruz

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
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