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San Francisco Bay Area voters last week approved a unique regional climate adaptation tax. Measure AA will impose a $12 annual property tax to raise $500 million over 20 years to help restore thousands of acres of wetlands in preparation of sea-level rise. Supporters argued that restoration would protect “shoreline communities — and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure — from flooding.”


Public funding to protect against climate risk isn’t easy to come by. In the case of the Bay Area, the nonprofit SPUR, which supported Measure AA, noted regional agencies had years ago set a goal of restoring 100,000 acres of wetlands around the bay. But according to SPUR, the lack of funding meant only 15,000 acres has actually been restored, while the backlog is decades long for restoration of another 35,000 acres. In other areas of the country, like southern Florida, regional efforts to address sea-level rise have won little interest at the state level, where climate change risk is viewed as overblown.

Adaptation angle

This isn’t the first time communities have levied taxes for green restoration that could help with climate adaptation. In a Climate Central report on the Bay Area vote, the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association noted it is common for beach municipalities whose economies rely on tourism to levy hotel taxes to raise money for beach maintenance. And in 2007 Boulder, Colorado, became what was believed to be the first municipality to impose a carbon tax on residents.

Questions to ask

  • What adaptation initiatives in your community need public funding?
  • What tax approaches are currently in place in your community for other types of public services and initiatives? How might an adaptation tax fit in with that regime?
  • Is a new tax the best approach to adaptation funding? What other funding approaches are possible?
  • Is private sector funding an alternative?
  • Could regional collaboration or funding help with adaptation planning and execution? Is funding available from state or federal governments? What public funding approaches might have already been tried and failed?
  • Should adaptation taxes differentiate between residential, commercial and industrial sectors, or between wealthier or poorer residents? These equity issues were raised in the Bay Area case and are in play in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where the remaining population is being asked to shoulder the rising cost of flood resilience measures.
  • How might the local economy, businesses, jobs and other revenue streams be affected if the public didn’t fund adaptation initiatives in your community?  
  • Even if funded locally, are adaptations compatible with adjacent communities? Are there state regulations that might conflict with adaptation plans, or require changes to infrastructure managed at the state level? How well-aligned is your community in terms of working with different levels of governmental policymaking?

Reporting resources

Dig deeper on the public funding story using related resources in the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation database.

A. Adam Glenn  


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