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Project April 23, 2021

Poverty and Plenty Face Rising Seas

Author:

Local governments along the San Francisco Bay Area coastline are confronting the reality of sea level rise. A state highway that provides a critical east-west commute floods every winter, shutting down traffic for days in a row. Cliffs crumble, edging closer to homes, while residents refuse to consider retreating. Inundation zones encompass basic services such as fire houses, schools, and water treatment plants.

While there are guidelines meant to help developers and local officials plan for sea level rise projections in new projects, there are few enforceable regulations. Across the nine counties fronting the water, there’s no agency watchdog in charge of ensuring that new developments can survive the triple assault of sea level rise, storm surge, and land subsidence.

Amid these challenges, Bay Area governments face pressure to build ever-larger tax bases on valuable waterfront property, and struggle to protect low-income neighborhoods that exist in the shadow of the world’s largest tech companies. We highlight the struggle to protect businesses and residents as rising seas collide with extreme wealth gaps, skyrocketing land values, and entrenched policies favoring waterfront development.

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