Coastal Resilience Compass Plan Alignment Guide

Coastal communities already experience sea level rise impacts, including rising tides, shoreline erosion, and landslides; changes to beaches, waves, and sediment; saltwater intrusion, shallow groundwater rise, and subsidence; and shoreline and riverine flooding. Climate change exacerbates the impacts of storms (which are projected to worsen and occur more frequently) and other hazards, such as tsunamis. While sea level rise is a certainty, models and projections have historically produced a wide range of projections for how much and how quickly sea levels will rise. Updated science and improved models can narrow the range of uncertainty, and sea level rise varies depending on local geography, but in all areas of the coast, it poses significant risks. While many shoreline communities, ports, and harbors are on the frontlines of these impacts, inland communities may also experience impacts to wastewater treatment plants, commuter routes, power, and other systems (See: Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance). 

Coastal Resilience Compass

Aligning Planning for Coastal Resilience Compass

Some communities, particularly frontline communities, are disproportionately vulnerable to these risks. A history of colonization and racism in California has led to social, economic, and environmental disparities that harm these communities’ ability to adapt -- including access to resources for basic needs, ability to evacuate, language barriers, and distrust of government and authority figures, especially in times of crises. Potential impacts to landfills and toxic sites or facilities pose risks to water quality and may compound other ongoing environmental justice issues. Climate migration, or forced migration due to environmental hazards resulting from climate change, is a growing concern and also disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.

To address these challenges, baseline science, goals, policies, and actions need to be established across public plans and processes, spanning all sectors, communities, and levels of government. Aligned planning informed by future climate scenarios can promote greater awareness of climate impacts, inform stronger solutions, and decrease coastal risk both now and long into the future.

Local plans, and the process of planning itself, play a vital role in building climate resilience. Furthermore, while the primary focus of this guide is coastal hazards, it is critical that communities prioritize a multi-hazard planning approach to adapt to climate change. The following sections provide introductory information to get started on aligned planning. This information is applicable and important to addressing any natural hazard that climate change impacts. For guides that address other specific hazards, explore the Climate Resilience Plan Alignment Toolkit at resilientca.org/plan-alignment. For additional information on sea level rise, coastal hazards, other climate impacts, and solutions, see the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, State Hazard Mitigation Plan, and State Agency sea level Rise Action Plan for California. Additional state guidance documents critical to local coastal resilience planning are included throughout this guide.

The Plans

Sections in "The Plans" describe key information, requirements, guidance, and best practices for the most common plans used for wildfire and climate resilience planning. Each plan has a section that identifies alignment opportunities with other plans. Some plans are required for cities and counties in California, while others are optional but can be useful for driving climate resilience and hazard mitigation goals forward. These plans can also be useful for entities such as tribes, special districts, and others looking to comprehensively plan for present and future climate risks and can open pathways to funding and project opportunities that can serve multiple community needs.

There are many approaches to plan for uncertain futures in a changing climate, including assessing risk tolerance, undertaking scenario planning, and developing adaptation pathways. Each has benefits, challenges, and tradeoffs, and it is wise to consider a range of approaches and choose one or more that work well together and are most appropriate for the planning area. Risk tolerance and scenario planning are commonly used, but adaptation pathways is relatively new to hazard mitigation and climate adaptation planning. Although adaptation pathways represent an alternative to the traditional “predict-and-plan” method described in the California Adaptation Planning Guide (APG), much of the guidance provided in the APG also supports an adaptation pathways “monitor-then-act” approach. These approaches can, and often should, be combined to support more flexible planning.

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These tips are applicable across all types of plans. For plan-specific information, see the other Plans sections of this guide. See the Implementation Planning section for additional ideas and resources

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Local Coastal Programs (LCPs) implement the requirements of the California Coastal Act by addressing land use, new development, public access and recreation, and the protection and enhancement of coast and ocean resources in the coastal zone (See Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30108.6, 30200 et. seq.). The Coastal Act requires the 61 cities and 15 counties in the coastal zone to develop LCPs to implement the safe development and resource protection policies of the Coastal Act.

An LCP includes a local government's zoning ordinances, zoning district maps, implementing actions within sensitive coastal resources areas, and land use plans that collectively meet these requirements, which must be reviewed and approved by the California Coastal Commission (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30108.6, 30512). The coastal zone is defined in section 30103, subdivision (a), as a strip along the California coast generally “extending seaward to the state’s outer limit of jurisdiction, including all offshore islands, and extending inland generally 1,000 yards from the mean high tide line of the sea.” LCPs contain the ground rules for future development and protection of coastal resources through the local coastal permitting process, and specify appropriate locations, types, and scale of new or changed uses of land and water. (See Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30108.6, 30108.5, 30600). On tidelands, submerged lands, public trust lands, and where no certified LCP exists, the Coastal Commission retains this role and issues development permits. (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30519, 30601.)

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This plan identifies potential risks that may arise from local natural hazards and vulnerabilities, and long-term strategies for protecting people, property, and the environment. Local hazard mitigation plans (LHMPs) are not required by the State or Federal government, but states, tribes, and local jurisdictions must have a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-approved hazard mitigation plan to be eligible for certain non-disaster funding, including grant opportunities under FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) program. LHMPs can be conducted as multi-jurisdictional (usually countywide) plans (MJHMPs). MJHMPs must include both countywide and jurisdictional-specific information for each participating jurisdiction within the county, and must be adopted by each of the participating jurisdictions.

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All cities and counties in California are required by state law to adopt and periodically update a general plan, which sets forth a long-term vision of a community’s future. The format and content of general plans can vary, and while certain topics (“elements”) are mandatory, there is no mandatory structure or maximum number of elements that a general plan can include. Mandatory elements required by law include: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety (Gov. Code, § 65302). Additional elements may also be required; for example, cities and counties that have identified disadvantaged communities are required to address environmental justice in their general plans.

Note: See the General Plan Housing Elements and General Plan Safety Elements sections for information specific to those elements.

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The goal of the safety element is to reduce the potential short and long-term risk of death, injuries, property damage, and economic and social dislocation resulting from fires, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides, climate change, and other hazards. Other locally relevant safety issues, such as airport land use, maritime hazards, emergency response, hazardous materials spills, and crime reduction, may also be included. Some local jurisdictions have chosen to incorporate their hazardous waste management plans into their safety elements.

The safety element directly relates to topics also mandated in the (1) land use, (2) conservation, (3) environmental justice, and (4) open-space elements, as development plans must adequately account for public safety considerations and open space for public health and ecological benefits often incorporate areas of increased hazard risk. The safety element must identify hazards and hazard abatement provisions to guide local decisions related to zoning, subdivisions, and entitlement permits.

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The general plan housing element implements the declaration of State law that “the availability of housing is a matter of vital statewide importance and the attainment of decent housing and a suitable living environment for all Californians is a priority of the highest order” (Gov. Code, § 65580). Provisions in the housing element are more specific and directive than other elements and contain detailed guidance and reviews. The law requires that the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) review the housing element for compliance and that local jurisdictions submit annual progress reports to HCD (Gov. Code, §§ 65585, 65400, subd. (a)(2)(B)). The housing element must be revised and submitted periodically on a four, five, or eight year cycle, depending on various factors (Gov. Code, § 65588).

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Climate adaptation plans involve an evaluation and prioritization of actions or strategies to prepare for and respond to climate impacts. The State and Federal government do not require standalone adaptation plans, but cities and counties in California must address climate adaptation in local general plan safety elements per SB 379 (2015) ((Gov. Code, § 65302, subd. (g)(4)). While not required for other jurisdiction types such special districts, climate adaptation planning is encouraged for all communities to prepare for climate change risks, whether the result is an update to one or more existing plans, and/or a new unique plan. Some local or tribal jurisdictions may find it helpful or necessary to consolidate all climate adaptation-related information in a standalone document to be referenced and integrated with other local plans. Standalone plans can also allow for greater detail than other plans. Cities and counties should carefully review related statutory requirements when initiating an adaptation planning process.

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Implementing an adaptation framework can take many forms, and the process of integrating climate risk and adaptation solutions throughout government planning, decision-making, and investment processes is iterative and ongoing. The plans described in this Toolkit can support compliance with state adaptation mandates, establish authority for adaptation solutions, open opportunities for funding and financing, and identify specific implementation processes. When developing adaptation strategies in these plans, consider identifying implementation plans, such as the capital improvement plan, specific plans, area plans, or sector-based plans that are useful for implementing the strategies.

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Local Plans & State Regulations

Visual summary of relationships between common local resilience planning documents in California and key resilience planning regulations.

Note: this graphic reflects both plan relationships reflected in statute, such as relationships between Local Hazard Mitigation Plans and General Plan Safety Elements, as well as plan relationships that are topically relevant, but not legally related, such as relationships between Community Wildfire Protection Plans and General Plan Safety Elements. The Figure does not show all possible connections between plans, and is subject to change as new statutes come into effect.

resilience planning relationships

Example Plan Update Pathways Over 10 Years

A plan alignment best practice is to create an adaptable 5, 10, or 15+ year strategy for updating multiple plans/elements over time and identify ways that portions of different planning processes can be used sequentially to support each other. Consider aligning the update timeline of different plans by adjusting the frequency of subsequent updates. For more tips, see the Best Practices section of this site.

  • LHMP LHMP
  • safety element adaptation Safety Element/Adaptation
  • housing element Housing Element
  • EJ element EJ Element
  • other general plan elements Other General Plan Elements

Sequential Updates

Every 5 or 8 years

sequential update timeline

Concurrent Updates

Every 5 years

concurrent update timeline

Hybrid Sequential & Concurrent Updates

Every 5 or 8 years

hybrid update timeline

Overlapping Tasks

  • LHMP LHMP
  • safety element adaptation Safety Element/Adaptation
  • housing element Housing Element
  • EJ element EJ Element
  • other general plan elements Other General Plan Elements
overlapping tasks key

Sequential Updates

Voluntary EJ element update, & LHMP update, inform safety & housing element updates.

Concurrent Updates

Housing Element update triggers Safety element update; Concurrent Update of 2 elements triggers EJ element update.

Hybrid Sequential & Concurrent Updates

LHMP update informs safety element update; concurrent update of housing & one or more other general plan elements trigger EJ element update.

overlapping tasks graph

Catalyzing Coastal Resilience: A Plan Alignment Case Study, City of Santa Cruz

Learn how Santa Cruz fostered community climate resilience to sea level rise and other coastal hazards through a focus on plan alignment, regional planning and collaboration, and equitable community engagement.

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Feeling Stuck?

Learn more about the types of resources and information in the Toolkit and find answers to frequently asked questions.

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