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Rising sea levels could become a major threat to cities along the coast. That certainly includes San Francisco and actually the entire Bay Area. And voters there are now considering a property tax that would restore wetlands, something that would help prepare for those rising sea levels. But this tax would be the same for the low-income families as it would be for tech companies right on the water like Google and Facebook. And that's causing some controversy as a Lauren Sommer from member station KQED reports.
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park is chock-full of employee perks. There's the free food and gym, the free bikes for getting around and...
JUAN SALAZAR: (Laughter) See, you get the beautiful view of the bay.
SOMMER: Facebook's public policy manager Juan Salazar is showing me that view from the roof of the company's newest building, which is right on the water.
SALAZAR: On a good day, you can actually see Oakland from here.
SOMMER: But that perk is becoming a liability for Facebook and half a dozen other tech giants on the shore here. By the end of the century, scientists say sea level could rise 3, 4 - maybe even 5 feet, depending on how climate change plays out. Salazar says Facebook is already planning for that.
SALAZAR: For us, on the building that you're sitting in right now, we were built above floodplain.
SOMMER: But the roads and freeways around here? Not so much.
SALAZAR: There's been major places of infrastructure that have been underwater in the recent past. And that is only a small taste of what's to come.
SOMMER: Mike Mielke is with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. According to one study, $62 billion of infrastructure around San Francisco Bay is at risk. Mielke says Measure AA would raise money to protect it. The proposal is on the June ballot in nine Bay Area counties.
MIKE MIELKE: It would institute a modest, $12 a year or $1 a month parcel tax.
SOMMER: And that would be a first. Other coastal cities like New Orleans have turned to federal grants to protect themselves. Measure AA would tap Bay Area residents to deal with climate change. Half a billion dollars would defend against sea level rise by restoring marshes.
DAVID LEWIS: The marshes are a great buffer because the plants in the wetlands slow down the wave action and reduce the flooding.
SOMMER: David Lewis is executive director of the nonprofit Save The Bay. And we're walking through low-lying plants on the East Bay shoreline.
LEWIS: So this is pickle weed, actually makes a delicious salad.
SOMMER: It is really salty. Wow.
LEWIS: It's pretty salty.
SOMMER: Since the gold rush, about 80 percent of San Francisco Bay's marshes and their plant life are gone, either paved over or...
LEWIS: They were filled in to create dumps for the cities here in the East Bay.
SOMMER: Lewis says the ballot measure would help restore thousands of acres of marsh. But that means convincing voters that live an hour from the Bay - nowhere near the shoreline - that it matters to them.
LEWIS: This is a very tiny tax, shared by a lot of people that generates a huge amount of benefit for San Francisco Bay - for people and wildlife.
JON COUPAL: It's only a latte a month. That's the phrase the tax-and-spend crowd really likes to use.
SOMMER: Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The problem with Measure AA, as he sees it, is that everyone would pay the same, no matter the size of their property or how much it would benefit.
COUPAL: Whether it is a struggling farmworker family in a very modest bungalow in Gilroy or the Apple campus there in Silicon Valley, so obviously there are equity issues with respect to this particular proposal.
SOMMER: But supporters say the measure would help the entire bay area, not just tech companies. If it passes, it could be a model for other coastal cities looking for funds to deal with rising seas. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer in San Francisco.
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