Underwater in 40 Years? Which L.A. Beach Homes Are at Risk

Joel Kinnaman Venice Home-Nobu Malibu-Carbon Beach Homes-H 2016
Josh & Matthew Altman/Douglas Elliman; Henry@HenryHargreaves.com/Courtesy of Subject; Calabrese, CelebrityHomePhotos/Newscom

Scientists are predicting that by 2100 the oceans could swell six feet higher than they are today, which means that scores of multimillion-dollar houses in Malibu and parts of Marina del Rey would be sitting in water.

Scientists predict that by 2100, thanks to global warming, Earth's oceans could swell six feet higher than they are today. If that happens, melting ice caps would inundate southern Florida and huge swaths of Louisiana, where "there's not a lot of land above sea level," says Linwood Pendleton, an environmental economist at the European Institute for Marine Studies. In New York City — average elevation 33 feet — whole blocks would be underwater only 80 years from now, including the East Village almost touching Tompkins Square Park and some 50 blocks fronting the Hudson River.

By contrast, much of Los Angeles — average elevation 305 feet — would stay happily high and dry. Six feet of sea-level rise in L.A. wouldn't submerge the beaches in Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Venice and Manhattan Beach (all widened decades ago by trucking in millions of tons of sand), though scores of multimillion-dollar houses in Malibu and parts of Marina del Rey would be sitting in water. Say goodbye to much of Malibu Colony, where residents include Jason Statham and Rob Reiner.

What alarms climate researchers for L.A., though, is the possibility of a one-two punch of a major winter storm — known as a 100-year storm — and sea-level rise. Temporary flooding could devastate much larger areas of the city, even with three feet of sea-level rise, which scientists predict could happen only 40 years from now. "The scientific community is really, really concerned about this," says Phyllis Grifman of USC's Sea Grant program. In that scenario, parts of Venice, Marina del Rey, Santa Monica and Malibu would be swamped (see map).

To help mitigate such a disaster, L.A.'s The Bay Foundation, among other organizations, wants to restore sand dunes that once stood as natural barriers. "Areas of New York and New Jersey that had intact dunes were much less affected by Hurricane Sandy," says executive director Tom Ford. "Thank God we've got a lot of East Coast transplants — I don't think there will be widespread resistance to this concept." Other options have drawbacks, such as building rock or concrete walls or revetments. Says Grifman, "When waves hit the wall, it can scour the sand out from around it," which is what happened to Broad Beach's revetment, now being removed in favor of trucking in sand at a cost of $31 million, paid for by homeowners. But don't expect L.A. taxpayers to foot the bill to save beaches where public access is limited. "It's very hard to get the public motivated to invest to protect the homes of rich people," says Pendleton. Agrees Grifman, "It's kind of a foregone conclusion: Those houses aren't sustainable." Pendleton's solution would horrify most industry-ites who live in Malibu: "The Netherlands has convinced people to abandon low land entirely and turn it into parks that occasionally are flooded and act as barriers to storms and sea-level rise." It seems David Geffen already might have taken heed of such a scenario, quietly having sold his beachfront Malibu compound for $85 million this year. 

A. With three feet of SLR, the model shows most houses in and near the Venice canals would be waterlogged. Residents include Suicide Squad's Joel Kinnaman (who bought a $3.75 million house, below), former President of Telemundo Entertainment Nely Galan and attorney Jake Bloom.

B. With three feet of SLR, much of Silicon Beach probably would escape flooding, including the YouTube Space and Electronic Arts in Playa Vista and Snapchat in Venice. Vice Media's offices, located only a couple blocks from Abbot Kinney Boulevard, wouldn't fare as well, nor would the former Venice post office, purchased by producer Joel Silver in 2012 to convert into offices. With six feet of SLR, much of Venice's commercial district likely would be inundated by storm surge, including all of Abbot Kinney and its restaurants (Gjelina, Joe's), coffee shops, juice bars and boutiques.

Vice Media's offices

Joel Silver's post office

C. With six feet of SLR, most buildings that border Marina del Rey's main drag, Admiralty Way, would suffer flooding, including the Ritz-Carlton (below) and Marriott hotels, the California Yacht Club and a gated community where basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a 3,200-square-foot house listed for $3 million.

D. On Carbon Beach, aka Billionaires' Beach, most homes, including those owned by Haim Saban, Eli Broad and Dr. Dre (below), are likely to be flooded by a major winter storm coupled with three feet of SLR, though Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen's spread would stay relatively dry. If seas rise six feet, it would also likely be soaked.

E. Nobu Malibu (below) and Soho House Malibu are so close to the ocean that they could suffer significant flooding from a storm of the century, even at current sea levels. With six feet of SLR, water likely would cross from there over Pacific Coast Highway and inundate the McDonald's and KFC restaurants as well.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.