Even modest projections put up to 2,200 homes at high risk in just two decades

By Andrew Dubbins

Much of Venice will be at serious risk of flooding if the sea level rises 19 inches, as expected, in the next 20 to 60 years

From 2000 to 2050, sea level rise in the Los Angeles region is expected to match global projections of 5 to 24 inches. By the year 2100, it could increase by as much as 66 inches.

To analyze and plan for reducing the potential impacts on Venice, Los Angeles officials have hired three consulting firms to integrate sea level rise policies into the Local Coastal Program, which will become the neighborhood’s pre-eminent urban planning framework. They presented current findings at a mid-March community meeting in the Westminster Avenue Elementary School gymnasium.

About 30 locals listened to consultant Aaron Holloway, a coastal and water resources engineer and former L.A. County lifeguard, discuss the areas of Venice most vulnerable to sea level rise.

“Areas around the canal that are low in elevation are highly subject to flooding” during a severe storm, Holloway said.

Specifically, he’s talking about the iconic Venice Canals — some of the most desirable residential real estate in Los Angeles, where homes have sold for as much as $2,000 per square foot — and other low-lying areas to the north and east, all the way to the chic shops and restaurants of Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Holloway’s consulting firm, Moffatt & Nichol, used data from the U.S. Geological Survey to analyze the area’s topography and make flood area projections for different increments of sea level rise over the next 80-plus years.

Venice is protected by tide gates, Holloway said, but flooding could still occur even today if the gates malfunction or if there’s an extreme rain event or coastal storm like El Niño.

Rising sea levels make for a wider flood zone, he explained.

“With about a foot-and-a-half of sea level rise, the area grows significantly. The flooding extends over to Abbot Kinney and across Venice Boulevard,” he said, pointing at a map of Venice, highlighted in different shades of blue spreading out from the canals.

Infrastructure located inside the vulnerable areas — a storm water pumping station, floodgates, and wastewater facilities — could be affected, he said, as could transportation.

“Eight miles of roadway could be flooded just if the gates malfunction today,” Holloway said. “That goes up to 35 miles for the highest sea level rise scenario.”

Up to 2,200 homes in north and southeast Venice could be impacted, according to the Moffat & Nichols analysis, as well as other structures.

“Some of the most vulnerable are the schools,” said Holloway, including “the Westminster school we’re at here.”

Erosion, saltwater intrusion, and changing tidal patterns also threaten the local ecosystem, including Venice’s sandy beach habitat, nesting areas and marshlands.

Senior City Planner Jonathan Hershey overviewed several adaptation strategies, including berms, breakwaters and new building designs with top-floor living quarters.

“The most drastic [measure] is called a retreat,” said Hershey. “We’d have to declare flooded buildings unusable and not allow new construction.”

Contrary to what you’d expect, the beach amenities and homes closest to the shore are deemed less vulnerable to sea level rise than areas of lower elevation near the Venice canals. However, according Moffat & Nichol’s findings, an extreme storm combined with three feet of sea level rise could cause the ocean to breach the Venice breakwater and flood the world-famous boardwalk.

Consultant Joan Isaacson discussed how low-income and disadvantaged pockets of Venice may be less able to plan for flooding and disproportionately impacted by the interruption to civic services. The topic of environmental justice surfaced once more after a consultant said the city intends to protect certain historically and culturally significant buildings and districts, including the former city hall, Venice Canals and the North Venice walk streets from rising seas.

But, “How do you identify culture?” shot back a longtime African-American resident of Oakwood, who wanted to know why the historically black neighborhood didn’t receive similar protections.

But the discussion isn’t over. The sea level rise conversation, this time focused on mitigation and adaptation strategies, continues with another workshop from 7 to 9 p.m. on May 22, again at Westminster Avenue Elementary School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice.

Visit venicelcp.org for Local Coastal Plan information and to RSVP for the next workshop.