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How This Coastal City Is Preparing Businesses, Residents For Fight Against Climate Change

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By 2030, the sea level in Long Beach could rise by as much as a foot, flooding parts of the waterfront and impacting several of the multimillion-dollar homes, apartment buildings and other commercial buildings in those neighborhoods.

If sea level continues to rise or a 100-year storm surge hits this coastal community in Southern California, several shipping piers and roads at the Port of Long Beach could be submerged. Operations could be disrupted in the second-busiest trade port in the United States.

A resident writes down his suggestions on how the city of Long Beach can fight climate change during a climate fest event in Long Beach.
A resident writes down his suggestions on how the city of Long Beach can fight climate change during a climate fest event in Long Beach.

If sea level rise or coastal storms don't concern residents or businesses inland, climate change could increase the frequency of heat waves of 95 degrees or more. Residents and business owners trying to beat the extreme heat could overwhelm the city’s electrical grid by overuse and reliance on air conditioners leading to electrical outages.  

These are just a few scenarios that could and, in some cases, already have become a reality in the city. City leaders, residents and business owners have to prepare for the impacts of climate change, Long Beach Development Services Planning Bureau Manager Christopher Koontz told Bisnow

"This is the new reality that we live in," Koontz said during the city-hosted Climate Fest event June 1 to spread the word on the city’s plan.

On a gloomy Saturday at the Marine Stadium in Long Beach, more than 500 people gathered to learn about the city's first plan to combat the dangers of climate change.

Chalk art of waves, fish and other designs were drawn on the pavement. Vendor booths lined the street. And several poster boards of a draft of the city's Climate Action and Adaptation Plan and the dangers of climate change were hung on easels for people to discuss and review. 

The city’s proposed Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, or CAAP, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prepare the community for the impacts of climate change and enhance economic vitality in Long Beach. 

“This is not a future problem," Long Beach planner Alison Spindler said during a climate change forum last month. "This is a present problem and something we really need to address.”

A woman points at an area in the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach that could possibly be affected by sea level rise due to climate change during a climate fest in Long Beach.
A woman points at an area in the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach that could possibly be affected by sea level rise due to climate change during a climate fest in Long Beach.

Long Beach joins more than a dozen cities nationwide in taking a proactive approach against the serious and growing issue of climate change and its impact on residents and commercial businesses in the city.

A U.S. government report released in November found that climate change is already affecting cities and counties across the nation. The government study found that as much as $507B worth of commercial and residential real estate will be below the rising sea level by 2100. 

Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and New Orleans are among more than a dozen cities that have adopted some sort of plan to fight and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Atlanta has set out a goal to reduce energy consumption in commercial and residential buildings by 40% by 2030.

Boston has set out a plan to become a carbon-neutral city by 2050.

Los Angeles' Green New Deal Plan has laid out a vision to have a "zero carbon grid, zero carbon transportation, zero carbon buildings, zero waste, and zero wasted water" by 2050.

Most recently, the New York City Council passed a plan that would require large and midsized buildings to cut emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. 

In Long Beach, the proposed climate change plan comes as the city is experiencing a development boom.

Along with billions of dollars worth of goods coming through the second-busiest port in the country, there are several multifamily and government developments under construction in the city. The mayor is openly courting the Los Angeles Angels to relocate from Anaheim to a 13-acre waterfront site.

This map shows how sea level rise due to climate change can affect the eastern area of Long Beach.
This map shows how sea level rise due to climate change could affect the eastern area of Long Beach.

City planners have been working on this climate plan for the past two years. Since June of last year, the city has hosted more than 20 workshops and forums  and attracted more than 9,000 residents and business owners to weigh in and offer suggestions on the plan, Koontz said.

Koontz said the city hopes to present the full plan to the City Council by early next year.

In their research, city officials found that 54% of greenhouse gases, or GHG, came from transportation and 41% from building energy.

City officials found that climate change is already affecting residents. In 2015, the city experienced 10 heat waves, which led to power outages and school closures, officials said. 

From 1980 to 2000, the city averaged four heat waves of 95 degrees or hotter a year. By 2050, it could reach 11 to 16 extreme heat events a year. By 2100, it could reach to 37 heat waves a year, the Long Beach study found.

The cooling effect that happens at night will also lessen as the area gets hotter.

The Long Beach study found that by 2030 more than a dozen city-owned buildings are in danger of being flooded during high tide events.

Under the plan, the city wants to reduce GHG emissions by developing an electric vehicle infrastructure master plan, implementing a car-share program in low-income communities, increasing bicycle and scooter infrastructure, and improving other transit options.

Other plans include developing a stormwater management plan, constructing a berm along the shoreline and flood-proof sewer pump stations.

Koontz said the city's goal is to reduce GHG emissions by 2045 to net zero.

To prepare for rising sea levels, Koontz said, city officials are also thinking about changing how developers build along certain parts of the waterfront and areas that are flood-prone.

Long Beach Development Services Planning Bureau Manager Christopher Koontz (left) speaks to a concerned resident about climate change during the city of Long Beach climate fest.
Long Beach Development Services Planning Bureau Manager Christopher Koontz speaks to a concerned resident about climate change during the city of Long Beach climate fest.

The buildings should have some sort of flood elevation or a ground floor that if it does flood, the building could quickly recover, he said. 

Koontz said the city is asking current residential and commercial property owners to adapt to the possibility of sea level rising.

"We are not asking people to relocate," Koontz said. "People will make their own decisions. We're asking them to think about making upgrades to their property, perhaps raising the elevation and knowing that water is coming and being ready for it."

"It's about adaptation. Not retreat," Koontz said. 

Long Beach Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Manager Christine Bos said she and other members of the chamber have been working with the city and are planning an action plan against the effects of climate change.

"Nothing official yet," Bos said. "But this is definitely something [on] our radar."

Adam Carrillo, Agency ETA executive vice president of strategy and Long Beach Commercial Real Estate Council president, said he has noticed more developers are doing their part in this climate change conversation by building greener and more energy-efficient buildings.

Local building owners are also renovating and changing their buildings to be more sustainable and green, Carrillo said.

"Just look at the World Trade Center building [in Long Beach], the owners are applying for LEED Platinum certification," Carrillo said. "They are doing that because this is not only important to them but for their tenants."

An official from Pacific6, a hospitality firm renovating the historic Breakers hotel in downtown Long Beach, said the company is concerned about the effects of climate change. Although not directly impacted by sea level rising, the firm is doing its part in minimizing its carbon footprint and reducing the amount of non-biodegradable waste it produces.

"We are already taking steps in that direction, not only during the current construction phase, but also in the way that we will operate the Breakers Hotel," Pacific6 founding partner John Molina wrote in an email to Bisnow. "Saving energy is a primary focus for the development. ... In renovating the Breakers Hotel, we made no efforts to salvage any of the existing mechanical, electrical or plumbing features. We stripped everything out and will retrofit the entire building with some of the newest and most efficient systems available today."

Jeannette Architects owner Jeff Jeannette has been working with homeowners who live along the waterfront and areas in Long Beach such as Naples, Peninsula and Belmont Shores that could be impacted by the sea level rising due to climate change. 

Jeannette said it could cost as much as $30K to $50K to raise a home above the federally required 10 feet above sea level.  

"That's a lot of money but we're future-proofing," Jeannette said. "When you look at it long term, it's much less than if a flood actually happens. That could be $100K worth of damage."

Jeannette, who is working with the city in preparing residents for climate change, said he is proud of what the city is doing to raise awareness.

"The city is doing a fabulous job," Jeannette said. "People need to understand what is to come and to make decisions properly with education for their future."