South of San Francisco, the beach town of Pacifica has been an early adopter of planned retreat as it battles constant erosion. The city in 2002 purchased some homes that were at risk of falling into the sea and demolished them.
This summer, the city of Ventura is pressing ahead with its $4.5 million retreat. Last year, crews removed a disintegrating oceanfront bike path at Surfer's Point, a popular surfing spot, and built a new one farther inland. The beach was widened and cobblestone was put down.
Mark Gold, associate director at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, commended local efforts but thinks a large-scale approach is needed.
"It's definitely something that needs to be taken a lot more seriously," Gold said.
So far, most of the scaling back in California has occurred on public land. It's a harder sell for private property owners to take the same action unless beachfront homes are on the verge of being submerged. The state, however, has a built-in retreat: People who want to build new oceanside construction agree not to build a seawall if their homes become threatened in the future.
Charles Lester, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, said planned retreat is an attractive option in theory, but it's hard to execute in densely populated coastlines where there may not be room to move back. Still, he said it's a tool worth using where possible.
Just don't call it surrender.
"I don't think it's giving up. It's about making a smart, sustainable decision," said Gary Griggs, who studies coastal erosion at University of California, Santa Cruz.
Dearen reported from San Francisco. AP Science Writer Alicia Chang can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/SciWriAlicia
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