California’s 1,100 miles of coastline spans fifteen counties, 61 cities, and 27 REALTOR® organizations. As the coastal communities within these jurisdictions prepare for rising sea levels, multiple REALTOR® associations have banded together to form Smart Coast California (SCCa), a centralized non-profit providing economic, planning policy, and engineering considerations to inform effective decision-making. Issues Mobilization Grants from the REALTOR® Party in 2021 and 2022 have supported the initiative.
2023 SCCa President Paul Grisanti, a REALTOR®, former mayor, and current Councilmember of the City of Malibu, states that the organization is a single source of reliable information for cities, counties, and the California Coastal Commission, itself. “Our goal is to help coastal communities to formulate smart and nuanced policies. We know that sea-level rise is going to affect different areas in different ways, and we offer an alternative to the one-size-fits-all approach, or to those who say, ‘Okay, the water’s getting close: everybody tear down their houses and move back!’ SCCa is a place where we can consider innovative solutions and managed retreat, so that communities can address their own sea-level rise issues on a case-by-case basis.”
Krista Pleiser, Government Affairs Director of the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS®, and Marta Golding Brown, Vice President of Advocacy at the neighboring Ventura County Coastal Association of REALTORS®, had been dealing with coastal protection and development challenges for years. “There are hardcore environmental organizations that want zero development, and the California Coastal Commission, which technically does not recognize any structure built more recently than 1977 as legitimate; but there was no entity representing private property rights,” explains Pleiser. In 2018, sitting together at a meeting at the California Association of REALTORS® and hearing their colleagues from other local associations asking for help with the same sorts of issues, she and Brown decided to create a place where people from the entire coastline could come together to talk, learn, and air grievances. “It started as just REALTORS®,” she notes, “but we soon realized it needed to be much bigger than we thought.”
With backing from CAR and the REALTOR® Party, and contributions from local REALTOR® associations, they formed the non-profit Smart Coast California, which welcomes partnerships with groups and individuals from other sectors. Golding Brown now serves as the CEO. “We are not climate deniers!” she is quick to point out. “So much coastal variety needs to be considered, not in a vacuum, but with the best science available, and working with our neighbors.” Before SCCa existed, she adds, “There was no context in which to have rational discussions about coastal issues between all stakeholders. The various parties involved were only encountering each other at hearings, in opposition over one project or another, and allowed only two-minute snippets to express their positions. So, we’ve established this space for more nuanced exploration of complex issues, and work across local political boundaries.”
To establish a scientific basis on which to craft policy, SCCa commissioned a major study from Milliman, an independent consulting firm, that determined the likely level of sea-level rise and the feasibility of managed retreat for a handful of cities along the length of the coast. Released early this year, the study is a game-changer, says Golding Brown. “Instead of different jurisdictions looking at different data on sea-level rise, we can compare apples-to-apples – finally!” The findings, she notes, are based on actuarial ‘most likely’ considerations, rather than extreme projections. SCCa has also created an HOA Collaborative and a Municipal Collective, and holds quarterly stakeholder meetings and annual state-wide summit to share information and best practices.
“Our biggest accomplishment,” says Pleiser, “is having gained the respect of the Coastal Commission, which now considers SCCa to be a valued stakeholder on par with the well-established conservation groups. We have earned a seat at the table.”
Golding Brown adds, “We’re also proud to have created a model that is broadly applicable, and we look forward to sharing the Smart Coast approach and best practices with other coastal regions around the country and beyond.”
To learn more about how REALTORS® are leading the way on informing effective decision making for coastal communities, visit https://www.smartcoastca.org or contact Marta Golding Brown, CEO of Smart Coast California at email@example.com or 661.916.5844; or Krista Pleiser, Government Affairs Director of the Santa Barbara Association of REALTORS®, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805.884.8609.