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Charting the Right Course: Using the Compass Tool to Integrate City Plans


Santa Cruz is a city of 65,000 people located on Monterey Bay on California’s central coast. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and the Santa Cruz Mountains border the city to the north. This dynamic landscape makes the city vulnerable to coastal hazards such as storm surge, erosion and flooding, as well as mountain hazards of wildfire and landslide. Like most California municipalities, the city has several plans to address its vulnerability to these hazards.

  • The Hazard Mitigation Plan describes the city’s current risks and short-term future risks and vulnerabilities. It also outlines a mitigation strategy to reduce them.
  • The Climate Adaptation Plan reviews the science of climate change and focuses on medium- to long-term concerns associated with it.
  • The General Plan is the city’s overall blueprint for growth and development. For many communities, meeting the requirements of these plans can be confusing during the planning process and can make the efforts feel disconnected.
City of Santa Cruz, California shoreline. People on the beach, a view of rollercoaster behind the beach.
Santa Cruz sits between the ocean and the mountains and is vulnerable to hazards from both.


The Santa Cruz Climate Action Program oversees the city’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote resilience. It coordinated with the Public Works Department by bringing together experts to update and strengthen the Climate Adaptation and the Hazard Mitigation plans.

The planning teams used Resilient California Coastal Plan Alignment Compass Tool to easily understand and communicate about the different plans. The tool provides clear information about each plan type, planning requirements, best practices, how to integrate and coordinate plans.

The tool suggests integration opportunities for coastal communities, such as using the same sea level rise models across all plans and community documents. It also provides information about California state requirements for the General Plan. Tool users in inland communities may also use the tool for hazard mitigation and climate adaptation planning

The Santa Cruz integrated approach is not limited to hazard mitigation and climate change. “The folks that are on the frontline, the folks that are underrepresented and vulnerable are the ones that suffer the most from climate hazards. That's really become a central focus of my work and our work here at the city,” said Dr. Tiffany Wise-West, Sustainability and Climate Action Manager.

City planners and officials review how plans and processes affect vulnerable populations, including non-English speakers and homeless residents. The city is also implementing a health-in-all-policies framework, which incorporates public health, equity, and sustainability into all city plans and programs.

These coordinated efforts—updating codes and regulations, monitoring sea level rise and other changes and developing a bilingual virtual reality sea level rise viewer—allowed Santa Cruz to apply for and receive grants to enhance resilience. As Santa Cruz moves toward their next update, they expect to further align their plans through integrated economic analyses, climate change metrics and how climate change specifically affects multiple, connected hazards.

Key Takeaways

  • The Resilient California Coastal Plan Alignment Compass Tool includes information about hazard mitigation and climate adaptation planning that is applicable for inland communities across the country.  
  • Planners in Santa Cruz developed their Hazard Mitigation Plan and Climate Adaptation Plan together. This enabled them to connect climate change to potential hazards, even hazards that aren’t obviously impacted by climate change. The integration strengthened both plans.
  • Aligning the plans keeps equity at the forefront of all plans and planning processes.
  • Working together has opened opportunities for grant applications and other partnerships.

Related Documents and Links

A FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan is required for certain kinds of non-emergency disaster funding. To learn more about funding eligible projects, review the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and the new pre-disaster mitigation program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities.