Devastating Weather and Earthquakes: Are We Ready?

Jon LeSage
THIS PHOTO, taken from the Long Beach Climate Action Plan, shows “King Tides” flooding in the Peninsula.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, and humans causing it, the weather reports and news sure have been difficult to watch lately.

Death Valley in the Mojave Desert reached 128°F on Sunday, July 16. Sections of the Rolling Hills Estates on the southwestern side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula are sliding downhill, houses and all. A massive wildfire, called the “rabbit fire,” grew to 7,600 acres in Riverside County this month. El Niño is predicted to come back this year, bringing another round of drenching and flooding.

While Long Beach isn’t expected to be underwater or destroyed by wildfires anytime soon, what are experts warning us to be ready about?

What about earthquakes? March 10, 1933, saw the most devastating earthquake ever in the Los Angeles Basin region – taking the lives of 120 people and causing widespread damage in Long Beach and local communities. It was a magnitude 6.4 earthquake, which was especially devastating back when many buildings were poorly designed and many had unreinforced brick structures. Do we have to be ready for another major quake?

Nearly one year ago, the City of Long Beach adopted the Long Beach Climate Action Plan (LB CAP). Also known as the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, it was approved by the City Council on Aug. 16, 2022. The 900-page document presented a detailed path for the city to meet the state’s emissions benchmarks. Sacramento had initially put a similar structure in place in 2016 through Senate Bill 32.

What the City is Doing Now on LB CAP

Much of the work over the past year has been pulling the resources together into an effective organizational structure through establishing the new Office of Climate Action and Sustainability (aka Office). Four newly funded climate action positions were merged into the office. Their job is to develop and manage an interdepartmental governance structure with staff across all city departments responsible for implementing LB CAP actions and goals, said Fern Nueno, climate manager for the office of the city manager, Climate Action & Sustainability. The end goal is producing results in efficiency, accountability, education and transparency across all the departments.

Another working project has been completing the 2021 greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory from the 2015 baseline. The data will be published as a “public dashboard to track changes over time,” Nueno said.

Along with the dashboard, the office will produce an annual report to capture projects, programs and policies across departments related to LB CAP implementation. This will feature items such as the green initiatives for the city’s award-winning sustainable fleet and the airport’s new ticketing lobby, designed to meet standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, Nueno said.

When asked about input the office has been receiving from Long Beach residents, Nueno said that people are concerned about negative experiences coming through climate change such as high temperatures, which is especially tough for residents who don’t have air conditioning or are worried that their electricity bill will skyrocket if they use it too much. Flooding events over the past year have also raised anguish for some with extreme wind and precipitation causing property damage and other problems.

“Some community members are calling for more green space and a greater tree canopy in neighborhoods experiencing the brunt of the urban heat island effect,” Nueno said.

The city is focused on the impact and vulnerability of disadvantaged and/or low-income communities. The city’s coordinated response to climate change is addressing public health disparities, and is working on fostering economic opportunities, and realizing a vision of Long Beach where everyone can live in thriving communities built on sustainability and resilience.

The LB CAP implementation will result in investments in communities that will have the highest impact by prioritizing neighborhoods most impacted by extreme heat and burdened with the poorest air quality, Nueno said.

The LB CAP has these elements built into its policy changes. For example, the City of Long Beach will pursue code changes to increase the presence of cool roofs and cool walls.

Working with local and regional partners will add to the service such as responding to extreme weather conditions. That would include providing a winter shelter, operating cooling centers, conducting beach trash pickup after rain events, picking up storm debris from streets, distributing sandbags, and building and fortifying sand berms in coastal areas prone to flooding.

Another project for the city is working on urban greening programs to increase the urban forest and more efficiently capture stormwater.

What Climate Change Could Bring to Long Beach

While Long Beach and San Pedro are protected from massive tidal waves by the three-section breakwater, the protective barriers placed during World War II won’t keep the city safe from rising sea levels.

LB CAP warns that by 2030, exceptionally high tides (also known as king tides) could impact 1.3 million square feet of building, mainly in the Marina Pacifica area and Shoreline Drive south of Ocean Blvd. Naples, Belmont Shore and the Peninsula will also be at risk for what’s referred to as a 100-year storm surge.

The city is taking a pragmatic approach to fighting climate change and air pollution through existing resources and transitions over to cleaner technology. Southern California Edison switching over to powering its electric grid to be 80% carbon-free by 2030 is one of the elements in the LB CAP.

Another one: Long Beach Water Department will be making it to 100% green power this year. Another constructive transition will be the city diverting commercial waste to recycling facilities.

As for transportation, the city would like residents to take an active approach by switching over to electric vehicles; and by taking public transit more and walking and riding bikes more.

LB CAP is using the California Environmental Quality Act as the model for tracking reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The American Lung Association would like to see Long Beach and the greater metro LA area improve air quality, placing it as the most-ozone polluted region in the country in its annual report released in April. Much of it comes through ground-level smog coming from constant traffic on Long Beach and LA freeways, the ports and from air travel.

Increasing temperature extremes is part of climate change, with hot summers being the biggest concern for Long Beach. According to ClimateCheck, a climate risk assessment firm, there were typically about seven days a year in Long Beach that would rise above 91.1ºF between 1985 and 2005. The firm forecasts that will go to an average of 23 days a year over 91.1ºF by 2050.

Should We Worry About
Earthquakes?

Everyone in Long Beach has a story about feeling the earth shake and quake – and that could have been two hours ago. One of the more noticeable shakers took place on May 31, when a magnitude-2.6 earthquake centered in Signal Hill took place that evening. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

The 1933 Long Beach earthquake has been the focus of many a study over the years, with policy experts saying it drove a series of earthquake safety rules being adopted, especially in schools. It’s also at the heart of improved building codes and standards for residential and commercial buildings in the city.

In April, Seismological Society of America released a report saying that seismic arrays deployed in Long Beach and Seal Beach areas detected more than a thousand tiny earthquakes over eight months. The data tracking study also found that many of them happened close to the surface – less than two kilometers (1.24 miles) below. While the study didn’t warn about imminent catastrophes, it offered more insight on how the fault lines have been changing over the years.

Seismologists think the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 1933 may have ruptured in part on the Newport-Inglewood fault. Most major earthquakes had been happening at a much deeper level, but Caltech researchers Yan Yang and Robert Clayton in an SRL study said, “shallow seismicity suggests that there are many possible paths for a rupture to propagate to the surface.”

Some of the newly identified faults in the study included the Los Alamitos Fault, the Newport-Inglewood Fault and north of the Garden Grove Fault. These had been discovered and reported recently by oil company exploration studies.

Building safety and emergency-response tactics became urgent after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. Long Beach was already a vulnerable target, as was Seal Beach and its naval weapons station, which ramped up surveillance and brought in more federal agents. Responding to climate change impact and earthquake damage would be more in line with the teams deployed to save lives after the devastating Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

Public education on climate change and finding safety during extreme weather is built into LB CAP. The office is currently planning a community celebration to be held after the one-year anniversary of the LB CAP adoption focusing on climate action, sustainability and education, Nueno said.

The office anticipates providing more information within the next two-to-three months. Community members can get involved with environmental initiatives now through sustainability programs, including Restoration Fridays on the second Friday of the month from 3-4 p.m. at Longview Point in Willow Springs Park. Check the LB CAP website to stay informed: www.longbeach.gov/lbds/planning/caap/.

 

Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com

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