Coastal California Adaptation Policy Briefs

The Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions released a series of policy briefs for coastal planners to help them develop strategies for adapting to sea-level rise, including engineered, financial, and legal and regulatory strategies.

Two briefs also discuss important legal questions for coastal adaptation analyzing California law on the public trust doctrine and state and constitutional protections for private property (i.e., "takings" law considerations). Each policy brief describes the strategy, analyzes the policy tradeoffs of the option, provides legal and funding considerations for implementation, and gives examples of jurisdictions that have implemented the approach. The policy briefs were developed through engagement with planners and coastal managers at the city, county and state levels throughout California.

The policy briefs examine the following coastal adaptation strategies:


  • Beach nourishment: replacing eroded sand to enhance natural protection provided by beaches and to preserve coastal access and recreation.  
  • Dune restoration: building dunes to provide storm surge buffers and enhance habitats.
  • Structural elevation: elevating structures to accommodate additional flood risks given sea-level rise projections and increasing flood risks.
  • Living shorelines: use of "soft", plants or other natural features, combined with some hard structures to reduce wave energy and erosion while maintaining natural shoreline processes.
  • Riprap: shoreline armoring consisting of stacked stones to prevent wave impacts and shoreline erosion.
  • Seawalls: shoreline armoring built parallel to the shore to dampen wave energy and stabilize shorelines.
  • Wetland restoration: restoring or rehabilitating wetlands to buffer storm surges and manage floodwaters.


  • Buyout programs: acquiring ownership rights to flood-prone properties.
  • Conservation easements: acquisition of easement rights on privately held land with landowner agreeing to conserve land for open space or other environmental functions. 
  • Geologic Hazard Abatement Districts: special district designed to reduce risks posed by geologic hazards, including bluff erosion, beach loss, or storm surges. The Districts require a "plan of control" for the hazard and once designated allow assessments to be collected to implement abatement measures.
  • Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs): TDRs enable a community to limit development in areas while offsetting the costs to landowners who can convert their unused development rights into "credits" that they can transfer to other landowners in areas more suitable for development.  


  • Moratoria: temporarily prohibiting issuance of development permits pending completion of planning studies. Moratoria are often used after a disaster event to allow a community to consider new requirements on rebuilding.
  • Overlay zones: zoning requirements applied on-top of base zoning requirements to address special development considerations, such as flood risks.  
  • Rebuilding restrictions: prohibitions of redevelopment in particularly dangerous locations

Publication Date: February 2018

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  • Legal Analysis
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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