Coastal Resilience Los Angeles

The Los Angeles coast is home to critical natural resources such as its iconic beaches and diverse coastal bluffs, dunes, and wetlands. These habitats provide important benefits to the community and make Los Angeles a must-see destination for tourists from around the world. Los Angeles’ remaining natural shorelines are threatened by multiple stressors, including sea level rise and development. Urban open space—including beaches and coastal areas— provides a wide range of ecosystem services to urban residents, including recreation opportunities, coastal jobs, psychological well-being, and public health. However, these services may be inequitably distributed, and not accessible to everyone. Adaptation options in Greater Los Angeles—already constrained by its highly urbanized landscape—are even more constrained for disadvantaged communities, which may lack the resources to invest in expensive coastal adaptation strategies.

Coastal planners and decision-makers are evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of using natural shorelines as part of an overall coastal adaptation package, thereby conserving wetlands, beaches, and estuaries both today and into the future. As they are evaluating impacts and adaptation options, it is also critical to understand equity concerns related to impacts and potential solutions.

Coastal Resilience Los Angeles sought to understand and map the relationship between coastal habitats and disadvantaged communities in Los Angeles County, exploring the question of whether the potential loss of coastal habitats to sea level rise might have a disproportionate impact on low income jobs and residences within L.A. County. This project focused on developing a method for understanding and visualizing the multi-faceted issues related to equity and the relationship to coastal vulnerability and adaptation. Results from the analysis are available on TNC’s interactive webtool.

Coastal Conservation Assessment

Healthy coastal ecosystems provide a myriad of benefits to people – social, economic and ecological. These benefits include providing a critical barrier, protecting communities from storms and sea level rise. However, sea level rise is a significant threat to California’s coastal habitats. The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy, recently completed Conserving California Coastal Habitats: A Legacy and a Future with Sea Level Rise, the first California-statewide, comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability of habitats, imperiled species, and conservation lands to sea level rise. The study found that 59% of coastal habitat area is highly vulnerable to losses. The study lays out a spatially explicit action map of 6 strategies that can be deployed now to conserve these valuable habitats in the face of sea level rise.

To support the CRLA project, the results of the Coastal Conservation Assessment were updated for the L.A. region with the newly released Coastal Storm Modeling System (CoSMoS 3.0) hazard data, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey. This updated the mapping of existing distribution of coastal habitats, protection status, surrounding land use, and strategies for conservation and development planning in the face of sea level rise. This assessment, along with a complete data set on L.A.’ plants, animals, and natural communities previously compiled by the Conservancy, identifies areas for biodiversity conservation and restoration that would benefit people as well as wildlife and habitats.

Coastal Jobs and Access Analysis

Using available datasets, we conducted analyses that explored the relationship between coastal habitats and disadvantaged communities in L.A. County, focusing on coastal jobs and coastal access. Results are available on TNC’s Coastal Resilience Mapping Portal. In addition to county-wide results, the study also includes two case studies for the Cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach. Based on preliminary results, the cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach were identified as hotspots of low paying coastal jobs held by residents of disadvantaged communities located L.A. County, while also containing critical and vulnerable coastal habitat.

Major Findings:

  • 57% of all coastal habitats in Los Angeles County are highly vulnerable to 5 feet of sea level rise. These habitats provide important health, well-being and economic benefits to people of L.A. County.
  • LA has the second greatest extent of sandy beaches in the state (only Humboldt County has more); 87% of upper beach area has high vulnerability.
  • Estuarine habitats are also very important in Southern California, providing critical benefits to a diversity of marine and terrestrial species as well as to people. Irregularly-flooded estuarine marsh is particularly important in providing rich habitat to a heightened diversity of species, many of which are rare or imperiled.  What is left in L.A. county is quite vulnerable – 0.67 km2 (0.26 mi2), 59% is highly vulnerable.
  • 50% of all disadvantaged communities in California are in Los Angeles County. 47% of the County’s population live in disadvantaged communities.
  • With a few exceptions, most disadvantaged communities are not on the coast, yet the coast is important to disadvantaged communities. Over 30% of all jobs on the coast are held by residents of disadvantaged communities.
  • Santa Monica and Long Beach are hotspots for coastal jobs held by residents of disadvantaged communities.
  • Santa Monica: 31% of the jobs are held by residents of disadvantaged communities, and 49% are very or extremely low paying. 55% of workers travel more than 10 miles to work.
  • Long Beach: 39% of the jobs are held by residents of disadvantaged communities, and 55% are very or extremely low paying. 46% of workers travel more than 10 miles to work.
  • As sea levels rise, coastal access points are threatened. In L.A. County, of the 151 sandy beaches with facilities, 99 are highly vulnerable.
  • Access to coastal resources is also an equity issue. The average distance to a coastal access point in L.A. County is 14 miles. The CRLA web tool allows users to explore the link between median income and coastal access points for all County census tracts, including tracts in disadvantaged communities.

Key Data Sources

  • Coastal Conservation Assessment: Comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability of habitats, imperiled species, and conservation lands to sea level rise. The assessment maps and quantifies the vulnerability of 40 wetland and terrestrial habitats, and 5 strategies to guide decisions and investments along the coast to ensure that our future coast will be as natural and conserved as our coast today.
  • CalEnviroScreen 3.0: published by The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in California. CalEnviroScreen identifies California communities by census tract that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, multiple sources of pollution. The CRLA web tool includes the census tracts classified as Disadvantaged Communities (including areas of low population, but high pollution). For each census tract, information related to the overall CalEnviroScreen score and all the underlying indicators is also
  • OnTheMap: a web-based mapping and reporting application developed by the S. Census Bureau and its Local Employment Dynamics (LED) partner states that shows where workers are employed and where they live. It also provides companion reports on age, earnings, industry distributions, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, and sex.
  • Coastal Access and Median Income: This project utilized results from prior analysis conducted for the Coastal Conservation Assessment (Heady et al. 2018), which analyzed the relationship between median income of all census tracts statewide and distance to the closest coastal access point (limited to sandy beaches with facilities). Results for L.A. County are included in the CRLA app. Source data included coastal access points from the California Coastal Commission and median income for L.A. County census tracts. Statewide analysis was conducted by Joshua Morris and Dr. Walter Heady at TNC and is pending publication.


Funding for this project provided by grant from NFWF.