City of Santa Cruz Climate Adaptation Plan Update 2018-2023

City of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz City Council & Climate Adaptation Advisory Team
Posted on: 10/28/2021 - Updated on: 12/03/2021

Posted by

Kathryn Braddock



The scientific community has reached a strong consensus that the climate is changing, as identified in the City’s first Climate Adaptation Plan (2011). Climate change impacts include threats not only to our infrastructure but to our health, safety, and to the economic vitality of our community. Climate scientists agree that there are only three approaches to addressing the impacts of climate change: retreat, resist or ignore. There are different costs associated with each of these paths.

Incorporating climate resilience planning into all that we do as a city allows us to address some of these difficult decisions in advance and take advantage of potential opportunities to protect our residents, infrastructure, and economic well-being. This Update to the City of Santa Cruz Climate Adaptation Plan (CAP Update) creates a framework for decision-makers to build a more resilient and sustainable community, one that is informed by the most current climate science.

The CAP Update is intended to remain a living document and assist the City of Santa Cruz in reducing the impacts of climate change by identifying and characterizing vulnerabilities, resources, information, and strategies for adaptation. Specifically, the CAP Update includes focus on:

  • modeling and economically quantifying the impacts of sea level rise (SLR) at years 2030, 2060, and 2100;
  • the addition of a social vulnerability score and related mapping;
  • updated and improved data sources for the projection of other climate hazards and their impacts;
  • describing progress made on adaptation strategies identified in the original Plan;
  • tailoring adaptation strategies around three-time scenarios/time horizons; and
  • identifying concrete next step actions that improve the utility of the CAP Update in increasing resiliency.

Surrounded by a greenbelt of open space areas and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz is a compact, vibrant beach community that preserves the diversity and quality of its natural and built environments, creates a satisfying quality of life for its residents and attracts visitors from around the world. Its unique geography, from exposed Pacific Ocean cliffs to sheltered Monterey Bay beaches and coastal river running through its downtown and tourist-serving areas, is a part of its appeal, yet these features also increase its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Every aspect of the city — its economic prosperity, social and cultural diversity, scenic beauty and historical character — is threatened by potential impacts of climate change. While the exact time frame and severity of potential climate change impacts are uncertain, climate scientists agree that they will be significant.

The City of Santa Cruz has long been a leader in environmental sustainability and disaster recovery. Santa Cruz has extensive experience in preparing for and responding to disasters such as earthquakes, floods and drought. The community has come back from each experience stronger and better prepared for what lies ahead. We have not only recovered from these hazards but have strengthened our city by taking steps to avoid the impacts of these hazards should they occur again. As an example, our downtown corridor along Pacific Avenue was nearly destroyed by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The community rebuilt downtown to standards that make each building and the whole of downtown better prepared should another earthquake event occur. Hazard mitigation planning contributes to the protection of lives, property and the economic vitality of our city. The 1989 earthquake was devastating but it was also an opportunity to create a safer and more disaster-resistant city. The elevation of our downtown area, visitor-serving facilities, neighborhoods and vital municipal infrastructure are within a few feet of sea level. Awareness of potential climate change impacts, especially SLR, and planning for such impacts, is critical for the future of Santa Cruz.