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Beach towns' tourism revenue will slide as sea rises, study finds

September 13, 2011 |  1:29 pm

Broad Beach

As rising sea levels eat away at the California coastline over the next century, the changing beachfront may cause huge economic damage to coastal communities stemming from lost tourism and tax revenues, according to a state-commissioned study released Tuesday.

Economists at San Francisco State predict that as climate change warms the ocean, causing it to swell, storm damage and erosion will narrow the state's beaches and diminish their appeal to tourists, recreational visitors and wildlife.

"You need a certain amount of space for people to recreate, and as beaches erode, you lose beach size and you lose tourism," said Phillip King, associate professor of economics at San Francisco State and an author of the study, which looked at five California beach communities.

For example, Venice Beach could lose up to $440 million in tourism and tax revenue if the Pacific Ocean rises 55 inches by 2100 as scientists predict, according the study commissioned by the California Department of Boating and Waterways.

A drop-off in visitors to an eroded Zuma Beach and Broad Beach in Malibu would cost nearly $500 million in revenue, the study found.

The effect would be particularly hard on Southern California, where the heavily used shoreline generates big bucks to businesses, which pass some of it on to local governments in taxes.

Study Sites Elsewhere in the state, homes and roads are particularly vulnerable.

At San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, the increasingly erosive power of storm surges could cause $540 million in damage to land, buildings and infrastructure by century’s end, researchers project.

The study also examined Torrey Pines in San Diego County and Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County.

Beach communities need to adapt to the rising waters with building sea walls, replenishing beach sand or moving homes and structures away from the shoreline, King said.

"Sea level rise is here,” King said, “and we need to start planning for it.”


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Photo: Workers standing last year along a protective wall of sandbags and rock built on Malibu's Broad Beach. Credit: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times.

Map: The five beaches studied. Credit: San Francisco State