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The Public Press Blog

Sea Level Rise Report — Coming Soon!

Kevin Stark measuring high tide at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our summer campaign this past week! Together you pledged nearly $6,000 to support the San Francisco Public Press, bringing our summer fundraising total close to $31,000.

Join this week’s flash campaign to help us reach our $50,000 goal even faster: New and renewed membership donations through the end of Friday, July 10, will be matched up to $500 by Public Press board member David Cohn and his wife Megan.

An additional incentive to act now: If you join by Monday, July 13, you will be listed as a member in Issue 17, which will be published next week.

We’re excited to share the new issue with you. Lead reporters Kevin Stark (pictured here measuring high tide near the Ferry Building) and Winnie Bird have been working on the sea level rise project since early this year, supported by a sprawling crew of interns, senior editors, cartographers, photographers and illustrators.

The Bay Area’s current building frenzy includes both housing and commercial construction. In examining approval processes for new buildings on the bay’s edge, our team found that cities are green-lighting waterfront development with little regard for long-term planning or the future cost of retrofitting large-scale projects — a burden passed on to future residents — in light of consensus projections for sea level rise.

Map preview of San Francisco Bay waterfront development.

This report is heading to press and is guaranteed to reach readers. Can you help us keep this work going? We need your support to ensure that the San Francisco Public Press can continue producing in-depth investigations that show the real impact of public policy decisions and help all of us in the Bay Area understand our communities better.

Help the San Francisco Public Press raise $50,000 this summer and take advantage of a $15,000 matching grant from the San Francisco Foundation by donating today to support our work as a trailblazer for public-interest journalism.

Thank you for joining us in this effort!

Graphic via FreeimagesHub. Illustration by Olivia Henry.

Join the Summer 2015 Campaign

Issue No. 1 of the San Francisco Public Press arriving from the printer in June 2010.

Can you believe we published our first newspaper five years ago this month? We're putting finishing touches on Issue No. 17 and are excited to share our findings on how cities around the bay are managing waterfront development in light of consensus projections for sea level rise. (Hint: We didn't find many long-range plans.)

The report will include context-rich maps in print and video and interactive elements online to give a clear view of how our region is changing and what it could look like in the not-too-distant future.

The San Francisco Public Press needs your support to continue producing in-depth investigations that show the real impact of public policy decisions and help all of us in the Bay Area understand our communities better.

You can help us to reach our goal of raising $50,000 this summer by donating to renew your membership or become a member today.

We are already halfway there. Several supporters helped launch this summer campaign with pledges totaling $25,000, including a $15,000 matching grant from the San Francisco Foundation.

By adding your donation, you will help produce investigations on undercovered issues like the disparity in fundraising by parent-teacher associations, the focus of a data-intensive story we broke in 2014. This year, that report received a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a John Swett Award for Media Excellence from the California Teachers Association.

Jeremy Adam Smith with the San Francisco Public Press' first SDX Award.

Our goal is to lead in improving community coverage. We tackle topics like the tortuous path from homelessness to housing, delays in communicating with tenants and homeowners about the earthquake vulnerability of soft-story buildings, how San Francisco tracks its myriad workforce development programs, and increased segregation in San Francisco public schools.

Become a member of the San Francisco Public Press today to help us continue our work as a trailblazer for public-interest journalism.

Thank you for your support!

How a Small Nonprofit Newsroom Leads Education Coverage in San Francisco

We were encouraged this week to see the San Francisco Chronicle take a deep look at racial segregation in local public schools. As our readers know, the San Francisco Public Press produced a major investigative report in January on this subject: “Choice Is Resegregating Public Schools.”

Our goal at the Public Press is to lead in improving community coverage and in setting the local news agenda. As a community-supported nonprofit news organization, we focus on under-reported public policy issues, and we are heartened to see other Bay Area news outlets following our lead.

To produce significant, in-depth investigative reporting, we rely on donations from readers. We can continue this important work with your help. Consider becoming a member of the San Francisco Public Press today to support independent public media in the Bay Area.

Our original analysis of education data shed light on an increase in racial segregation in San Francisco schools. While parents now have more choice in where their children are enrolled, such a policy results in a “separate but equal” system. Factors that drive parents’ choices include the time and cost involved in transporting children to better schools.

Our investigation clearly influenced the Chronicle’s three-day series. A blog post by Scott Lucas of San Francisco Magazine noted similarities between the two reports. We’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.

Cover of the Winter 2015 issue of the San Francisco Public PressMay 17, 2015 cover of San Francisco Chronicle

Other news organizations that reported on our findings, including the Washington Post, the San Francisco Examiner and various education and economics blogs, linked to our coverage. KALW’s talk show “Your Call” featured an hour-long conversation with our lead reporter, Jeremy Adam Smith. The Chronicle in March also ran an op-ed about our coverage written by Smith, and cited our reporting in a blog post on

The Chronicle’s recent report also discussed the disparity in fundraising by parent-teacher associations, the focus of a data-intensive story we broke last year in “Public Schools, Private Money.” This spring, that report received a 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a John Swett Award for Media Excellence from the California Teachers Association.

We are proud to have spurred so many news organizations, including one of the largest newspapers in California, to bring this significant equity issue to the attention of many more readers in San Francisco and beyond.

The San Francisco Public Press was founded six years ago to shift the local news agenda to focus more on serious public policy questions. Help us continue our work as a trailblazer for public-interest journalism by making a tax-deductible donation to the Public Press.

Thank you for your support!

Lila LaHood


Public Press Reporting on School Segregation Inspires Broad Media Coverage

Editor’s note: Over the past several months, we have been gathering reporting that follows up on our coverage of segregation in San Francisco’s public schools. The latest pickup was a three-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle starting Sunday. Read more about it here.

San Francisco Public Press’ reporting package on school re-segregation has sparked conversation about race and education.

A March 27 article in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog draws heavily from the Public Press to discuss the national implications of school choice. “In San Francisco, it looks as though giving parents some measure of choice in where their children go to school…in the long term can only result in gross educational inequities,” writes the Post’s Max Ehrenfreund.

Data-crunching firm Priceonomics crafted an impressive set of visualizations based on Public Press reporter Jeremy Adam Smith’s “eye-opening” data.

San Francisco youth demographics chart from

The San Francisco Chronicle’s own data dive into school diversity cites the Public Press’ demographic analysis. It follows Smith’s March 17 op-ed in the Chronicle calling out the city’s “profound identity crisis” in light of growing racial and income inequities. This month, the Chronicle published this report. The Society Pages and Education News also link to the Public Press’ investigation.

In other local media, San Francisco Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez wrote that the package revealed “a shameful truth about our city.” The Bold Italic had high praise for the “devastating” report: “If you’re thinking of sending your kids to SFUSD (or even if you’re considering having kids at all, really), it’s worth a thorough read.” KALW Radio’s “Your Call” devoted an hourlong program to discussing school segregation with Smith and other guests, and KALW’s “Crosscurrents"  interviewed Smith for a segment on the investigation.

eremy Adam Smith prepares for an interview at KALW's studios in 2014. // Public Press - See more at:
Jeremy Adam Smith prepares for an interview at KALW's studios in 2014. // Public Press

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that advocates for school integration, tweeted the story to its 45,000 followers. SF Dads, Education Cities and The New York Times Magazine’s race reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones also shared the story on Twitter.

The Institute for Nonprofit News’ Senior Director of Product and Technology Adam Schweigert tweeted that the reporting left him “genuinely much more informed about that issue.”

“That’s huge,” Schweigert wrote. “And sadly, rare.”

In April the Public Press received two awards for its investigation into the enormous disparity in parent fundraising across city elementary schools: The Society of Professional Journalists’ 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting and the California Teachers Association’s 2014 John Swett Award for Media Excellence.

Sea Level Rise Shapes Future of Bay Area Waterfront Development

Sea level rise threatens tens of billions of dollars worth of new waterfront development in the Bay Area — but there may be time to adapt.

That was the message at Tuesday’s panel on sea level rise hosted by the San Francisco Public Press at the Impact Hub, a co-working space. Panelists included UC Berkeley professor Kristina Hill, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Climate Program Director David Behar and Public Press reporter Kevin Stark.

Stark is one of two lead reporters of the Public Press’ new edition on sea level rise, due to hit newsstands later this month. The front-page investigation, a six-month collaboration of 10 journalists, scientists and cartographers, has so far uncovered dozens of commercial and residential projects planned for areas below 8 feet in elevation. Eight feet represents an unlikely but possible sea level rise scenario for the year 2100, combining maximum sea level rise predictions with a major storm swell.

What does an 8-foot increase look like? Someone standing at the edge of a pier near the Ferry Building would be waist-high in waves, Stark said.

Some of those upcoming projects include new developments in Mission Bay and residential towers planned for Treasure Island.

It is a daunting figure for a region bounded by water. “Are you going to convince me to sell my home in Alameda tonight?” one audience member teased.

But Behar cautioned that an 8-foot rise would be extreme. He was tasked by the city with interpreting competing sea level rise data in 2013, and said most studies expected only 3 feet of rise by 2100.

By and large, state and local governments do not have explicit sea level rise regulations on the books. Environmentalists and the building industry have tussled over whether sea level rise needs to be included in the state’s environmental review process. But Behar said the days of murky rules will soon be over: “We know regulation is coming.”

Will it come fast enough? Hill, a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning at the University of California, Berkeley, said long-range planning needs to happen soon. She reminded the audience that sea level rise is exponential: The levels will climb slowly, then all at once.

“We are living in the last two stable decades of sea level rise," Hill said. "Around 2045, 2050, or 2060, it’s going to get faster.”

In the meantime, Stark said, many developers are forging ahead with little heed for the advancing water line. One developer, he said, “told me ‘The barbarians aren’t at the gate yet.’ There’s a compartmentalization of understanding of sea level rise and climate change. The knowledge that it’s happening on one hand, and the need for space and houses on the other.”

The two are not necessarily in competition, Hill said. She gave the example of a housing development in Hamburg, Germany with “floodable architecture.” Its plaza welcomes the water in instead of holding it back.

Another plan from Dutch engineers widened a beach to expand the buffer between city and sea. Hill said a similar approach could work in the Bay Area, joking that some are calling the method “shallowing” to avoid its more controversial name: bayfill.

“In 1965, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission was founded to stop the filling of the bay,” Behar added. “Today they’re studying how filling the bay could be a really good idea.”

For more on the data and thinkers behind Bay Area sea rise, look for the Public Press’ new edition on newsstands at the end of May.

5/5 Event on Long-Range Sea Level Rise Planning for Bay Area Waterfront Development

What: Rising Tides: Climate Challenges and Solutions for the Bay Area Waterfront
When: Tuesday, May 5, 2015 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Impact Hub, 925 Mission St., San Francisco
RSVP: Reserve tickets via eventbrite

Join us for a discussion about long-range planning and waterfront development around the Bay Area, and preview of our cover story for the next issue of the San Francisco Public Press.

By the end of this century, scientists project the San Francisco Bay will rise by at least three feet - and possibly as much as eight in a bad storm. Rising bay water will threaten businesses along the Embarcadero, UCSF Hospital, AT&T ballpark and the thousands of homes currently being built in Mission Bay, Treasure Island and Hunters Point. City planners are currently discussing what can be done and at what cost, likely in the billions of dollars. Learn from an expert panel the anticipated effects on our natural ecosystem, existing and new development, and public utilities such as transportation and sewage. This solutions-focused discussion will help us all responsibly plan for the future of the Bay Area.


  • Michael Stoll, executive director, San Francisco Public Press (moderator)
  • Kristina Hill, associate professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning, UC Berkeley
  • David Behar, climate program director, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
  • Kevin Stark, reporter, San Francisco Public Press

Note — No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Send an email to rsvp {at] sfpublic press [dot] org if you need a discount ticket.

This event is hosted by Impact Hub San Francisco, a coworking and events space for a membership community of entrepreneurs, activists, creatives and professionals taking action to drive positive social and environmental change.

San Francisco Public Press Wins Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting

The Society of Professional Journalists has honored the San Francisco Public Press with a 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting.




SPJ recognized “Public Schools, Private Money” by lead writer and project editor Jeremy Adam Smith and the staff of the San Francisco Public Press as the winning entry for investigative reporting by a non-daily publication in the newspapers/wire service category.

SPJ selected 85 national award winners from more than 1,600 submissions.

For the winter 2014 print edition cover story, our reporters examined tax records from parent-teacher associations and compiled 10 years of budget and academic data from the city’s school district. The research focused only on elementary schools to make easy comparisons. Our research shows that while a small number of schools were able to avoid the worst effects of recent budget cuts, belts continued to tighten at schools with more economically disadvantaged students. Read the series:

Congratulations to the whole project team!

  • Jeremy Adam Smith — Lead writer and project editor
  • Michael Stoll and Lila LaHood — editors
  • Tearsa Joy Hammock and Luke Thomas — Photographers
  • Jeffrey Thorsby, Jason Winshell, Adriel Taquechel and Shinwha Whang — Data team
  • Justin Slaughter and Emilie Raguso — Sidebar writers
  • Thomas Guffey — Designer

Public Press Report Leads to Discussions on Segregation

Journalist Jeremy Adam Smith is making the rounds, speaking publicly about diversity and segregation in San Francisco, a topic he recently covered regarding local public schools for the San Francisco Public Press.

In an op-ed published March 18 in the San Francisco Chronicle, Smith said that the city previously known for its “diversity, innovation and fairness” now is “facing a profound identity crisis” marked by racial and income inequities.

On Monday, March 23, Smith will discuss these issues and the Public Press report on KALW’s “Your Call” at 10 a.m. with host Rose Aguilar and other guests.

For the op-ed, Smith drew evidence from a variety of sources, including the San Francisco Police officers currently under investigation for racist text messages, and noted the disproportionately high percentage of African Americans killed by the city’s police department. He also cited increasing racial segregation in the city’s public schools — the topic of our winter 2015 special report, for which he was the lead reporter.

“6 in 10 schools now have majorities of one racial group. But it gets worse,” Smith wrote in his op-ed. “Though San Francisco is now one of the most affluent cities in the United States, most of its public school students are poor — and almost all those poor children are Asian, Latino or black.”

Jeremy Adam Smith prepares for an interview at KALW's studios in 2014.

Jeremy Adam Smith prepares for an interview at KALW's studios in 2014. // Public Press

Bay Guardian Raises Hell One Last Time

Inside the newly released Winter 2015 edition of the Public Press, you will find a publication that commemorates the storied 48-year history of one of America’s earliest and most important alternative weekly newspapers: The San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The day the San Francisco Media Co. killed the Bay Guardian in mid-October, we offered to print whatever the laid-off editorial staff wanted to give us to reflect on their situation as an eight-page insert in our fall edition — if they could get it to us in a week. Instead, they chose to take three months and put together a thoughtful retrospective that makes an eloquent and impassioned case for preserving a diversity of voices in local media.

The Guardian’s closure shocked the local journalism community as much as it did the progressive political constituency with whom the paper sided on so many efforts over 48 years. When the Chronicle was timid, the Guardian was fearless. When the Examiner was superficial, the Guardian dived into public records. And when SF Weekly was cynical, the Guardian oozed idealism. No publication in the city came closer to the journalist’s creed: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

While the Public Press was not founded on the same business model and shies away from political advocacy, we share the aim of holding the powerful accountable. We hope the Guardian-in-Exile staff will find new and innovative ways to continue independent muckraking in San Francisco, a city that sure needs it.

You can pick up your own copy of the commemorative edition inside the print edition of the San Francisco Public Press at these retail locations, or online through the digital delivery service Gumroad.

Public School Inequality Report Wins SPJ Award

A child buys tickets at the Halloween-Día de los Muertos fundraiser for Junipero Serra Elementary in Bernal Heights. The event netted $3,000 for the PTA. Photo by Tearsa Joy Hammock / San Francisco Public Press

The San Francisco Public Press is pleased to accept a 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for “Public Schools, Private Money,” an in-depth look at inequality in fundraising among schools in the San Francisco Unified School District.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter recognized the special reporting project in the Winter 2014 edition for the best explanatory journalism in the small print publication category.

Lead writer Jeremy Adam Smith and colleagues scoured hundreds of pages of tax and school district records. They found that after years of deep local and state education budget cuts, a few were weathering the storm with the help of private donations to parent-teacher associations. Just 10 out of 71 elementary schools earned half the total dollars raised, all at schools where the wealthiest families in the district were concentrated.

The reporters interviewed education leaders about several solutions, including new state funding, local equity dollars and pooled parent-teacher association funds to benefit disadvantaged students.

The reporting team included researchers Jeffrey Thorsby, Jason Winshell, Adriel Taquechel and Shinwha Whang; reporters Emilie Raguso and Justin Slaughter; graphic designer Tom Guffey; and photographers Tearsa Joy Hammock and Luke Thomas.

The Excellence in Journalism Awards dinner takes place on Nov. 12. For more information visit

The report can be read here:

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