“Bay Area towns need to address sea-level rise. Will they?”

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The Story

“Bay Area towns need to address sea-level rise. Will they?”
by Robin Meadows
High Country News, June 2, 2020

The Pitch

Subject line:

Query: preparing for sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay


Hi Emily,

Great to meet you at AGU and I’m excited to pitch a story for your summer special issue on systems!

Ready or Not: Why it’s so hard to prepare for sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay

Sea level rise already threatens the San Francisco Bay shore, which at about 500 miles is half as long as the entire California coast, and the worst is yet to come. But fragmented governance is thwarting efforts to prepare for this disaster. Most land-use decisions are local, and more than one hundred municipalities ring the bay. Coordinating their sea level rise planning is critical because fixes in one area can shift flooding elsewhere, jeopardizing unprotected highways and mass transit, sewage treatment plants, and low-income neighborhoods along the waterfront. In a 2019 survey, Mark Lubell, director of the University of California, Davis Center for Environmental Policy & Behavior, found that Bay Area leaders know they need to address sea level rise but disagree on best ways to actually do it. They overwhelmingly cited the lack of a regional plan as the biggest barrier to addressing this problem. At a recent conference session on this predicament, local leaders reinforced Lubell’s conclusions, with one commenting, “Everybody’s involved, no one is in charge.” That said, they also stressed that none of them wants to be in charge. Meanwhile, the water keeps rising, shrinking the window for implementing solutions.

I think this story will resonate with HCN readers, many of whom likely face similar collective action challenges posed by institutional systems in their work or communities. I propose to tell your readers how the lack of regional governance hinders planning for sea level rise in the San Francisco Bay Area, reasons for reluctance to take the lead on this vital issue, and possibilities for moving forward. This story could be told as a reported analysis of Lubell’s work and the perspectives of those tasked with preparing for sea level rise in the region, or as a feature that brings the issue to life by highlighting vulnerable spots – and people – around the bay. I would be happy to take the approach that best meets your needs.

I am a good person to tell this story because I have reported on water and governance issues in the San Francisco Bay Area intensively over the last five years, and am deeply familiar with the issues and players. In addition, I live in the region and know first-hand how high the stakes are.

Below are a few relevant examples of my work (two that explore regional solutions, and a feature); you can learn more about me here and can see more of my stories here.

Please let me know if you are interested in this story – I would love to write it for you and would also love to work with you!

Cheers, Robin

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