It’s not often you see a public official smiling when talking about climate change and sea-level rise. But that’s exactly what Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) was doing on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 18. Standing aboard the bright yellow Discovery Science Foundation Ocean Quest education boat Dylan Ayres, Petrie-Norris called on Governor Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 65, a bill she authored to authorize $40 million in infrastructure assistance to coastal communities dealing with sea-level rise.
“California is leading” in the fight against sea-level rise, Petrie-Norris told the few dozen activists, officials and scientists gathered on the boat (what better place to talk up a bill on sea-level rise than on a boat docked in Newport Harbor, which will change dramatically over the next century because of sea-level rise, right?). “My first bill of this legislative session was AB 65. When we protect nature, nature protects us.”
After pointing out that 70 percent of California’s population lived relatively near the coast–“840 miles of breathtaking beauty”–Petrie-Norris said climate change and rising sea levels imperils it all.
AB 65 requires the California State Coastal Conservancy to priortize “projects that utilize green infrastructure and provide multiple public benefits along the coast to improve climate change adaptation and combat sea-level rise,” states publicity materials on the bill handed by Petrie-Norris’s office. “Increased vegetation along the coasts can protect eroding marsh edges and mitigate sea-level rise, which is crucial in protecting our communities.”
Two UC Irvine scientists, Dr. Kathleen Treseder and Dr. Brett Sanders, spoke at the event about the need for the bill (click here for our recent story on Treseder’s research on the link between climate change and Valley fever; click here for our extensive look at how sea-level rise will affect Orange County’s coastline, which relied heavily on Sanders’s research).
Treseder said the bill will help protect coastal species that are imperiled by sea-level rise–species that play a vital part in the food web that affects all life on Earth.
“This bill is based on some of the best science we have now,” said Treseder, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who added that she advised Petrie-Norris’s office on the bill. “I credit the Assemblywoman for using science and I appreciate her work.”
Sanders spoke of the erosion and floods caused by sea-level rise, and the danger that poses to beaches, and those who live near beaches.
“We rely on beaches as a natural defense against floods and erosion,” said Sanders, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. “But sand supplies have been reduced.”
For all the national controversy over climate change, AB 65 passed the Legislature with little opposition. In fact, its final approval vote in the Assembly on Sept. 11 was unanimous, and there was just one nay in the Senate’s Sept. 10 vote (Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Riverside). In fact, the Orange County Business Council (OCBC) even sent an official to Petrie-Norris’s event.
“We are supporting AB 65,” OCBC senior vice president for government affairs Alicia Berhow told the gathering. “We need to get this done.”
A Sept. 6 Assembly analysis of AB 65 succinctly explained why there was so much support for the bill.
“Supporters note that natural restoration projects provide multiple benefits including ecosystem restoration, support of coastal economies, and access to recreational opportunities,” states the analysis. “The City of Costa Mesa, in support of the bill, emphasizes that prioritizing projects that provide public access ensures that the projects have benefits beyond the municipality where the projects are located.”
For her part, Petrie-Norris said that she wasn’t surprised by they support for AB 65.
“There are always more things that members want than we have resources for,” Petrie-Norris said after the event. “But I feel that climate change is a bipartisan issue here in California.”
That certainly seems to be true when pushing a bill full of infrastructure spending. But it’s not an absolute: in fact, two bills, SB 54 and AB 1080, which would have phased out single-use plastic containers, failed in the Legislature this year. This is despite new evidence that the production of single-use plastics harms our planet’s climate.
“The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns,” The Guardian reported back in May. “Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product.”
In any case, Gov. Newsom has until Oct. 13 to sign AB 65.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.