Two years ago, the California Supreme Court overturned decades of land-use law by upholding lower court rulings that cities could no longer require developers to take into account the effects of climate change on their projects. That decision has unsettled public officials and planners, and critics say it will allow real estate interests to saddle taxpayers with a gigantic bill to defend against rising seas.
Sea Level Rise
In summer 2015, the Public Press first reported on how rising seas could inundate coastal land in the Bay Area. Since then, we have discovered that state regulation of waterfront development has loosened, while local governments have been slow to respond.
The landmark California Environmental Quality Act, which cities have used compel adaptation to climate change, has been weakened by legal challenges from the powerful building industry. In San Francisco, as elsewhere, officials continue to promote large developments on the bay despite scientists’ increasingly dire scenarios as greenhouse-gas emissions melt the world’s glaciers and spawn powerful storms.
To gauge how interpretation of state law is changing, we searched public databases of construction projects, reviewed dozens of lawsuits and court cases, and analyzed thousands of pages of environmental records filed with planning agencies. A public records request also revealed efforts by developers and builders to lobby Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to dissuade cities from invoking the state’s environmental law to address climate change. We also used public records requests to determine why a major city-commissioned report on flood risk in Mission Bay was not published before officials and voters signed off on the San Francisco Giants’ Mission Rock development and the Golden State Warriors new arena.
The spring 2017 print issue of the Public Press is now available at select locations.
See part 1 of this series: Sea Level Rise Threatens Waterfront Development, from the summer 2015 edition.
ABOUT THIS REPORTING PROJECT
REPORTING: Kevin Stark, Mary Catherine O’Connor, Ellyn Beale, Noah Arroyo and Lulu Orozco | EDITING: Michael Winter and Michael Stoll | PRINT DESIGN: HyunJu Chappell/Magna Citizen Studio | CARTOGRAPHY: Marcea Ennamorato | DATA EDITING: Subramaniam Vincent | COPY EDITING: Michele Anderson, Zachary Benjamin, Richard Knee and Dean Takehara | PHOTOGRAPHY: Anna Vignet | ONLINE: John Angelico | AUDIO EXTRAS: Audrey Dilling
This project was made possible by donations from Public Press members, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Strong Foundation for Environmental Values, and by a challenge grant from the San Francisco Foundation