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AT THE VERY SOUTHERNMOST EDGE OF CALIFORNIA, a world away from Malibu, the border town of Imperial Beach seems to be living on borrowed time.
One-fifth of the residents here are lower-income. High tide soaks the road every winter. Sewage spilling from Tijuana regularly shuts down the beach. Those living below sea level recall floodwaters so high in the 1980s that they had to use canoes.
Today - Board - Windows - Brace - Storms
Today, they board up windows and brace for storms. Surrounded by the ocean, a bay and a river, Imperial Beach is looking at losing one-third of the town if nothing is done, one official said. Hazard maps show blocks and blocks of homes that could be flooded by 2100. A beach nourishment effort seven years ago went awry because the sand grains were too coarse. Sand berms and rock walls will last only so long. Moving back seems inevitable, even if the community isn’t ready to say so.
Slide for different sea level rise scenarios:
Frenzy - Retreat - Imperial - Beach - Cities
The reptilian frenzy over managed retreat has overtaken Imperial Beach, as it has in other cities. Fear overwhelms reason. Conspiracy theories and misinformation abound. Some think the mayor, an environmentalist known for his history of preserving open space, just wants to turn the town into one giant lagoon.
With the city barely able to scrap together a $20-million budget every year, others say letting go of prime real estate means abandoning the whole town.
Waterfront - Tax - Base - City - City
“If you get rid of the waterfront, the municipal tax base, how do you support the city?” said City Councilman Ed Spriggs, who lives along the water and questioned managed retreat as a strategy. He points to the city’s first upscale hotel, which was built in 2013 with coastal defenses, as a sign that Imperial Beach has time to survive and thrive well into the future.
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