“Groundhog Day,” Newark City Council Edition

The proposed development of “Area 4″ in Newark. Decades ago, this area was healthy tidal marsh, and could be again. But the City of Newark is continuing plans to pave Area 4 and build hundreds of houses and an 18-hole golf course. Photo Credit: Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge.

In the 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day,” a weatherman played by Bill Murray finds himself caught in a time loop, reliving the same string of events over and over again, day after day. In a futile effort to respond, he devises a seemingly endless number of new ways to die before finally getting the clue that to break the cycle, what he really needs to do is take a step back and reverse his misguided priorities.

Unfortunately, Newark City Council demonstrated Thursday that it remains stuck in a “Groundhog Day” of its own when it voted unanimously to approve a revised Environmental Impact Report that would allow the development of 500 luxury homes and an 18-hole golf course on sensitive tidal habitat adjacent to and identified for inclusion in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This latest action marks the City of Newark’s continued pursuit of an ill-advised, environmentally damaging project that has died many times and been resuscitated in one form after another since 1992.

As far back as 1999’s Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project and as recently as 2013’s Tidal Marsh Ecosystem Recovery Plan, this property, known as “Area 4,” has been identified as uniquely situated for the restoration of both tidal marsh and upland transition zones; as a host habitat for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse; and as “critically important to waterfowl and shorebirds.” It is also directly adjoining Mowry Slough, one of the primary breeding grounds for San Francisco Bay harbor seals.

Despite years of hard work by the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge to alert Newark lawmakers to the irreversible damage that would be caused by developing this large tract of restorable baylands, and numerous communications over the same period from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission citing their presumptive jurisdiction over portions of the property and raising concerns with elements of the proposed development plan, the city has continued undaunted in its attempts to build on the site.

In January, Alameda County Superior Court sided with the Citizens Committee and found the Environmental Impact Report for the current development plan insufficient to meet the requirements of the law.  Since then, the city has sped through technical changes designed to satisfy the court’s concerns while leaving the flawed fundamentals of the project wholly intact and very much the same as they have been ever since 2010, when Newark City Council gave the project its initial approval.

The City of Newark will now have to file for permits from the Water Board and BCDC, where the Citizens Committee will keep leading the fight to preserve Area 4, and Save The Bay will keep supporting them, this time before agencies that are likely to get off the merry-go-round and stand up for the Bay.

Stay tuned for how to make your voice heard to protect this vital tract of wetlands and wildlife habitat!

Great news: EPA takes the helm on Cargill’s Clean Water Act end-run

Cargill Salt Ponds - Restorable Wetlands

Thanks in part to more than 3,000 Save The Bay supporters who took action, the federal Clean Water Act and San Francisco Bay escaped a potentially disastrous setback this week.

At issue: Cargill’s reckless plan to pave over restorable wetlands to build thousands of bayfront homes in Redwood City.

Such wetlands have historically been protected by the Clean Water Act, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was just hours away from issuing a bizarre legal interpretation that the waters at this site are not, in fact, “waters of the United States”—and therefore not subject to protection. Such a ruling would have set a dangerous precedent for undermining the nation’s primary law for protecting U.S. waters, and moved Cargill one step closer to paving over our Bay.

Thankfully, Bay Area congressional leaders and more than 3,000 Save The Bay supporters raised their voices in protest, and the EPA stepped in to assert its authority on the issue.

As Paul Rogers reported for the San Jose Mercury News:

Legal experts said Thursday that EPA’s taking over is a significant setback for the project. Not only will the move delay any construction, but depending on how much of the site EPA says cannot be developed, it could be so limited that the project will not financially pencil out.

“For us, it’s a critical juncture for San Francisco Bay,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA’s regional administrator in San Francisco. “Our goal is continuing to implement the Clean Water Act in a way that protects the bay.”

So far, the EPA has done the right thing to protect the bay against Cargill’s rogue efforts to gut the Clean Water Act. Now, it we must keep the pressure on for a final ruling that protects these restorable wetlands from development. Ultimately, the Redwood City salt ponds should become part of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, and restored for people and wildlife.

The future of these restorable wetlands is now in the EPA’s hands. Please TAKE ACTION and tell the EPA to preserve federal Clean Water Act protection for San Francisco Bay.

It’s Time to Talk Trash

Zero Trash | Zero Excuse logoSan Francisco Bay has a serious trash problem. You might not see it from the Bay Bridge or Twin Peaks, but there is a constant flow of trash polluting the body of water that defines our region. If you’ve ever participated in a shoreline cleanup, this won’t be news to you.

But do you know where it comes from?

The largest source of Bay pollution comes from runoff from our city streets. There’s all kinds of gross stuff in that runoff, and a huge portion of it is trash. That’s right — trash that you see in the street enters storm drains and flows through city storm water systems into our creeks and out into San Francisco Bay. How does that happen?

Take our 5-question Stormwater Quiz to learn more. 

Over the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing a lot more from us about trash flowing into San Francisco Bay and what we can do about it. It’s time to stop talking trash and start cleaning it up. Zero Trash, Zero Excuse. We hope you’ll join us.

Returning to my Roots

A tall, arching bridge and hills giving way to the blue peace – looking out into the Carquinez Strait from the Benicia waterfront. Photo by. Daniel Adel

As a Benicia native, the Carquinez Strait was (and continues to be) an everyday sight. As a child, I would often frequent my hometown’s many shoreline parks, such as the tidal marsh wetlands of the Benicia State Recreation Area immediately downhill from my residence. The stunning views of San Francisco Bay, the sights of tall, arching bridges and hills giving way to this expansive blue peace – knowing that our estuary was the meeting place of California’s waterways before draining into the Pacific Ocean, had a strong impact on my psyche, my sense of place, and ultimately my future pursuits as a student and advocate of the environment.

For the last month, I have had the privilege of working as Save The Bay’s Communications Volunteer, helping to update Save The Bay’s website, social media platforms, archive photos, and keep track of volunteers at our restoration events.

It’s strange, seeing how all the pieces came together.

As a result of personal and academic influences, I have, in recent years, been involved with many environmental causes, such as campaigning for fossil fuel divestment in the halls of San Francisco State (now my alma mater), or marching in Downtown Oakland to address climate justice in my ancestral South Asia. Such hard-hitting global issues were topics I covered as a writer for the environmental magazine, Earth Island Journal. Sharing such stories are also the focus of much of my personal social media feed.

While these experiences, forming the basis of my post-college career goals, are why I applied as an office volunteer for an environmental non-profit like Save The Bay, my connections with this organization’s work go back many years – rooted in my experience of growing up in the Bay Area.

My upbringing in Benicia provided me with a lifelong appreciation for San Francisco Bay. Save The Bay’s legacy of protecting our shoreline has always been extremely visible to me, but the organization in name first entered my consciousness after reading Richard Walker’s book, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area and subsequently watching the KQED documentary, Saving The Bay: The Story of San Francisco Bay several years ago. As a recurring topic in my Environmental Studies courses, it became more and more apparent to me how Save The Bay has shaped the trajectory of our region – and now my career.

It’s heartening to finally take a step back and return to my roots – the Bay Area. It’s such an honor to have the opportunity to contribute to work that has been so near and dear to me, and to use the experience to build on some of my more contemporary pursuits, such as writing and communicating for an environmental cause.

Old and new memories – looking south to Contra Costa County from across the Carquinez Strait. Photo by. Daniel Adel

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been frequenting the Benicia shoreline almost every day, revisiting old memories and connecting to new ones at Save The Bay.

My origins in the Bay Area, its history, achievements, and role in inspiring broader progressive movements around the world, have strongly shaped my identity. As I continue my role in communications, in becoming more familiar with all its nuances and technicalities, I aspire to bridge my two passions: writing and advocacy.

Volunteer Spotlight | Irvington High School Students

Students from Irvington High School
Top row (left to right): Ishani Desai, Iris Wen, Shreya Chowdhury, Vinamar Sidhu | Bottom Row (right to left): Vasuman Moza, Khoi Duong, Jwalin Shah, Michael Nguyen

Save The Bay values the work and commitments of students. These eight freshmen from Fremont’s Irvington High School recently chose to focus on wetland restoration issues for a school project. Do you know a school or student group who’d love to get to work on the shoreline? Check out upcoming volunteer events.

How many times have you volunteered with Save The Bay?

4 times.

Do you have a favorite site?

Bair Island in Redwood City.

How did you get involved with Save The Bay?

The CHANGE project, which is the freshmen benchmark project at Irvington High School that deals with environmental issues.

What is the best thing about volunteering with Save The Bay?

The things we’re learning and the knowledge that we’re making a difference.

Who is your environmental hero?

John Muir.

What is your favorite thing about the San Francisco Bay Area?

The beauty of it: location, weather, scenery, diversity.

What is one thing you do each day to protect the environment?

Recycling and carpooling.