Coastal Processes, Hazards, and Society

Examples of Managed Retreat in the U.S.


Examples of Managed Retreat in the U.S.

California Coast

On this page, you will visit two locations on the California coast where the process of managed retreat has been used to address shoreline erosion problems. In the first example, at Ventura Beach near Santa Barbara in southern California, stakeholders worked together to find a solution to a chronic shoreline erosion problem. In the second example, at Pacifica Beach near San Francisco, wetland and riparian habitat were enhanced, while at the same time moving structures out of the way of flooding and erosion. As you will see, both examples are in locations that have a medium level of human development, a motivated group of residents, and diverse stakeholders who collaborated to produce and execute a long-term plan. Both areas are in economically healthy areas, which makes raising funds more feasible. However, none of these things are easy to accomplish. These small-scale, less than ten-acre, projects serve as valuable learning experiences, but larger-scale projects of similar kinds will likely need to be implemented in the near future, on the scale of, for example, Ocean Beach, which you studied in Module 8 Lab.

In the Ventura Beach example ( - Restoring Surfer's Point), Surfers' Point Shoreline Managed Retreat Project is described and illustrated. The article outlines the challenges that had to be overcome to find consensus among the many stakeholders, with the project taking a decade to come to fruition. The stakeholders found that "Focusing on goals they had in common and identifying a bounded problem helped the groups converge on a single solution strategy. The decision to retreat from the ocean—pulling existing structures inland to make room for natural beach processes—allayed concerns that a hardened solution such as a seawall would degrade conditions for surfing, opened opportunities to rehabilitate the beach ecosystem, and enhanced the natural protection of assets on land." In this example, the road and parking areas are moved back and the beach and dunes widened. Volunteers planted native vegetation on the dunes, which serve as natural habitat and protection for the human structures behind the beach.

The following case study looks at the Pacifica Beach effort in creating climate change coastal community resilience. At Pacifica Beach, the managed realignment project is touted as a success. The conclusion statement from the Required Reading article, Restoration and Managed Retreat of Pacifica State Beach reads:

"The wetland project not only achieved 100-year flood protection for Pacifica, it also enhanced steelhead habitat in San Pedro Creek and cost substantially less because it required less physical construction compared to other proposed plans. The Pacifica State Beach Managed Retreat project has resulted in a reduction of flood hazards, increase in functioning wetland habitat, and expanded recreation opportunities. This project was identified as a Top Restored Beach by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association in 2005, and remains a leading example of a well-planned, well-executed coastal project involving the cooperative efforts of the local community, state and federal agencies, scientists, and engineers. One remaining shoreline structure, a Taco Bell restaurant, still needs to be relocated to the other side of Highway 1 as part of the managed retreat strategy."