Brief thought: Can It Happen Here?

Very much enjoyed Plastrik and Cleveland’s paper Can It Happen Here? Improving the Prospect for Managed Retreat by U.S. Cities. Recommend. Here is an online summary. My brief thoughts follow.

Before this paper, I had considered that the alternative to managed retreat was post-disaster unmanaged retreat. Plastrik and Cleveland point out a different, pre-disaster retreat, in which people leave as they can afford it, leaving behind a patchwork too thin to support itself economically.  I had recognized this as a consequence of ag water markets, but not seen the application to urban systems.

***

Plastrik and Cleveland discuss the legal implications of retreat on page 36*:

Cities worry about whether certain retreat policies would trigger a ”taking” of property and its economic value and require compensation for the owners. For instance, in Del Mar, California, owners of oceanfront properties worth millions of dollars contended that the city’s consideration of managed retreat was devaluing their property.

I would like to see vigorous pushback against this error. The risk itself is devaluing the property. If the ocean were not going to move into the house, a city’s consideration of response options would not devalue the property.

I have further seen people object to planning for managed retreat because the planning effort might destroy the illusion that the house has future value. If that is the rationale for protesting the planning effort, then the clear solution is to destroy the illusion that the house has future value right away, and then plan for managed retreat. For example, by putting up a series of billboards in every coastal town, illustrating the reach of sea level rise. We cannot all pretend that a terrible thing is not coming because some homeowners want us to so that someone ignorant might buy their liability of a house.

***

At the bottom of page 24, Plastrik and Cleveland quote:

“People and communities who emerge from a storm often identify as ‘survivors,’” noted a Lincoln Institute of Land Policy report. “This sentiment makes them more likely to oppose retreat.”

Reporters could combat this tendency by referring to people who have survived natural disaster as “escapers” instead of “survivors.”

The Appendix (pages 40 – 41) list tool that cities could use to herd people away from disaster-prone areas. They range from zoning to buyouts, all to positively incentivize people away from the coast or floodplain. Honestly, I’d like to see more in the way of negative incentives –making it very expensive for people to stay.  Reflecting the true costs of insurance is the only one that I know of in current practice, and there is political pressure to buffer that. But charging people who won’t leave the shoreline for the lost beach and recreation, making them pay into funds for the clean-up of their homes when they collapse, that type of thing. The whole discussion is oriented around a positive financial pull for getting people out of risky areas, and (especially for the rich ones), I’d like to see more negative financial push.

 

 

*See, Professor Bendell? See how easy that was?

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Brief thought: Can It Happen Here?

  1. It seems self-evident, what you write: “We cannot all pretend that a terrible thing is not coming because some homeowners want us to so that someone ignorant might buy their liability of a house.” And yet people put desire for the dream in front of reality of risk. Incredibly, a New York Magazine piece about California’s fires ended with an LA-based New Yorker writer (and wife of a property developer) rhapsodizing the danger at the same time she endorsed it. I’d like to see negative incentives too, as long as they don’t end up landing on the poor (as so often they do) because the rich write the laws.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Yes, of course. That’s a real problem, accommodating the needs of the poor while motivating the rich properly.

  2. Fig

    MORE STICKS, LESS CARROTS

    :D

  3. jaylund

    Unmanaged retreat, mostly from land subsidence, has been occurring in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta since at least the Big Break in 1928.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Break_Regional_Shoreline

  4. Noel Park

    Alas, I can only think that your first instinct, post disaster unmanaged retreat, is the most likely outcome.

    I agree with others here that it is not the responsibility of the taxpayers to buy out properties which are about to become worthless. You are correct that it is not the fault of local governments that property values will decrease in the face of the obvious oncoming disaster.

  5. swinter

    “For example, by putting up a series of billboards in every coastal town, illustrating the reach of sea level rise.”

    I would LOVE to see the reaction to this happening in Del Mar…

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