Bay Area Adaptation Tax: Covering Public Resilience Funding in Your Community

IN THE NEWS: In an important first this week, San Francisco Bay Area voters approved a unique regional climate adaptation tax. Measure AA will impose a $12 annual property tax to raise $500 million over 20 years, the funds earmarked to prepare for sea-level rise by helping to restore thousands of acres of wetlands (more coverage).

BACKSTORY:  Public funding to protect against climate risk isn’t easy to come by. In the case of the Bay Area, for instance, area non-profit SPUR, which supported Measure AA, said 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 have actually been restored, while the backlog is decades long for restoration of another 35,000 acres (more). 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 (more).

ADAPTATION ANGLE: It’s not 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 Boulder, Colo., in 2007 became what was believed to be the first municipality to impose a carbon tax on residents (read a 2015 Q&A).


  • What adaptation initiatives in your community need public funding?
  • What tax approaches are currently in place in your community for other kinds of public services and initiatives? And how might an adaptation tax fit in with that regime?
  • Is a new tax even 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 upstream, like from state or federal governments? What public funding approaches might already have been tried (and perhaps failed)?
  • Should adaptation taxes differentiate between residential, commercial and industrial sectors? Wealthier or poorer residents? These equity issues were raised in the Bay Area case, for example, or are at play in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, where shrunken populations are asked to shoulder the rising cost of flood resilience measures.
  • How might the local economy, businesses, jobs and other revenue streams be affected if adaptation initiatives were not publicly funded in your community? Examples might be tourism dollars and hotel levies from local beaches (more) or other green amenities.
  • Even if funded locally, are adaptations compatible with adjacent communities? Or are there state regulations that might conflict with adaptation plans, or that 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 the dozens of related resources in the database of the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation.

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on June 13, 2016