Builders plan to invest more than $21 billion in offices and homes in flood-prone areas, where waters could climb 8 feet above today’s high tide by the end of this century. Land-use records reveal that the building boom, fueled by a white-hot tech economy, is moving too fast for regulators to keep pace. (Cover story from the summer 2015 print edition)
Sea Level Rise: First in a Series
Summer 2015 — The Bay Area’s current waterfront building frenzy includes at least $21 billion in housing and commercial construction in low-lying areas that climate scientists say could flood by the end of the century. In examining approval processes for new buildings on the edge of San Francisco Bay, our team found that some cities are greenlighting waterfront development without planning for the long term or fully accounting for the future cost of reconfiguring large projects to resist flooding.
Construction Worth Billions Could be Flooded Within Decades
In light of a new convergence in scientific projections — in which sea level rise could drive floodwaters during extreme storms as high as 8 feet above today’s high tide — some scientists and community activists are calling for reforms. That may not happen before all these new waterfront communities and office parks get built. Developers say they can raise the land, waterproof basements and build levees and seawalls much higher to protect residents and businesses. But critics say the burden of protecting new real estate is being passed on to the taxpayers of the next two or three generations.
ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT
In recent years, researchers in many disciplines have mapped detailed projections for potential flooding as sea levels rise. And, importantly, these models now mostly agree. The Public Press compared these models against local and regional policies and with recent building permit data. The research reveals that billions of dollars worth of planned development could be threatened by rising waters within a human lifetime.
REPORTING: Kevin Stark, Winifred Bird, Michael Stoll, Emily Dugdale, Lulu Orozco, Paul Lorgerie, Sophie Murguia, Caroline Cakebread and Tanya Dzekon | EDITING: Laura Impellizzeri, Kevin McKean and Katherine Bourzac | CARTOGRAPHY: Marcea Ennamorato, Maia Wachtel and Brittany Burson of the UC Berkeley Cartography & GIS Education Lab | PHOTO & VIDEO: Eric Lawson, Peter Snarr and Dayvon Dunaway | ILLUSTRATION & DESIGN: Erika Rae Langdon, Clark Miller, Emily Underwood and Anna Vignet | ONLINE: Amanda Hickman
SPECIAL THANKS: John Upton of Climate Central
THIS PROJECT WAS MADE POSSIBLE BY DONATIONS FROM PUBLIC PRESS MEMBERS, AND BY A CHALLENGE GRANT FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO FOUNDATION