This Mother’s Day we want to celebrate our Save the Bay Moms and the work they put in not only in saving the Bay, but in raising their children in this wonderful place.
Ever since I became a Mom I wanted to do something to leave this world a better place for my children. I am fortunate enough to live by the San Francisco Bay and work with Save The Bay. For me, there is hardly a better way to make this world a better place than to start in my own backyard. At least once a year I take my children to one of Save The Bay’s Restoration events. I want them to appreciate the San Francisco Bay in a way that goes beyond what they see. In honor of Mother’s Day, some of Save The Bay’s Mothers were able to join me with their kids and we spent a Saturday morning pulling weeds. This took place at our restoration site Oro Loma guided by one of our Restoration Project Specialists, Jack States.
Weeding may not sound like a lot until you learn that the native plants these weeds are forcing out are crucial to the environment and the wildlife in that area. Weeds covering these native plants are taking away water and nutrients, making it impossible for the native plants to survive if the weeds aren’t removed. Save The Bay relies on our numerous volunteers who show up every weekend to help with some of these challenges. It was truly satisfying to watch these Moms and kids work side by side and enjoy themselves at the same time.
We asked Save The Bay’s Moms, “What does it mean to you to be a Mom raising your kids by the San Francisco Bay?”
“It means teaching my son that he has a role to play in making this beautiful place we live better than it is now. From recycling and putting trash in its place so it stays out of storm drains, to recreating by the Bay, to the importance of wetlands; I want him to have an appreciation of how much the bay gives to us and the animals that call it home.” – Kate Berry, Associate Director of Development
“The San Francisco Bay is our playground, our science lab, and our church. I can’t imagine raising my son anywhere else.” – Robin Erickson, Director of Finance & Administration
Lastly, we would like to especially honor and remember the mothers of our movement: our founders Esther Gulick, Kay Kerr and Sylvia McLaughlin. Without their dedication and persistence there may not be a San Francisco Bay for Moms to enjoy with their children today.
From all of us here at Save The Bay, Happy Mother’s Day!
Join us in voting YES on Measure AA this June 7th to ensure that our children and our children’s children will have a clean and healthy Bay to enjoy.
Opening Day on the Bay is a long-standing tradition to launch the boating season on San Francisco Bay. Since 1917, sailors have paraded their vessels as a celebration of spring and their love for sailing the waters of our beloved Bay.
The parade’s theme this year was “Heroes on the Bay” and the Berkeley Yacht Club chose to honor Save The Bay’s founders for their entry. They gave us a call to see if we had any images of Sylvia, Kay, and Esther that could be used to fit the theme. Fortunately, we held onto a long banner picturing the founders from our 50th anniversary gala, which the club was able to rig up on the front of a sailboat named Oksza.
The image of our founders flew proudly above San Francisco Bay, and a Save The Bay flag flew high above a long banner reading “Protection and Restoration”. Club members were inspired to introduce the story of these local environmental heroes to a new generation of Bay enthusiasts. Plus, the Oksza took 2nd place sailboat in the parade!
Patti Brennan from Berkeley Yacht Club said, “It was a memorable moment to see the original founders of Save the Bay inspiring a new generation. Berkeley Yacht Club and its members are honored both to have had this opportunity and to receive this award.”
Thanks to the Berkeley Yacht Club for celebrating Sylvia McLaughlin, Esther Gulick, and Kay Kerr, as Heroes on the Bay!
Talk with anyone working to restore marshes and wetlands along San Francisco Bay, and they’ll say there’s no shortage of projects that are all but ready to go — except for the lack of funds.
If Measure AA passes on June 7, that job gets easier to the tune of roughly $25 million a year.
“This would be a huge benefit for us,” said John Bourgeois, project manager for the California State Coastal Conservancy’s efforts to convert 15,000 acres of South Bay salt ponds to a seminatural condition. “We own the property, we have the plan in place, and we know how to do this kind of restoration. The missing piece is money.”
The measure would create a parcel tax across the Bay Area of $12 per parcel for the next 20 years. The money raised would be dispensed across the region on an annual basis to projects with measurable environmental benefits in terms of wildlife habitat, public access and “protecting communities from flood.” Like other such tax proposals in California, it needs a “yes” from two-thirds of voters to become law.
A nine-county measure of this sort is a first for the Bay Area. It also differs from such tax initiatives as countywide transportation improvements that spell out exactly who gets what down the road. The idea with Measure AA is to replenish a pool of money each year available for projects deemed worthy, whether it provides the final bit of cash for a restoration effort or helps attract federal and state funding.
The approach also makes sense, proponents say, given the huge body of water that would benefit — a placid-looking estuary that stretches from San Jose to Petaluma, the Golden Gate to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
“People view the bay and its shoreline as a regional asset and a regional symbol,” said David Lewis, executive director of the advocacy group Save the Bay. “We all see it, and we all share it in that regard.”
Leaving nothing to chance
The tax has long been a goal of local environmentalists eager for a guaranteed stream of financial support for restoration efforts, and the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority was created by the state Legislature in 2008 to dispense funds should an ongoing source exist. But the recession put the initiative on hold.
Even now, given the novelty of the nine-county approach and the requirement of a “supermajority” of voter support, the pro-AA campaign is leaving nothing to chance. Extensive polling occurred before the $12 figure was chosen, as well as the decision to pursue a flat parcel tax rather than something keyed to the value of individual properties. Roughly $2.5 million has been raised for the campaign, and endorsements have been collected from more than 600 individuals, organizations and government bodies — a cross-section that ranges from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the Oakland Chamber of Commerce to 57 environmental groups.
The only opposition at this point is a loose alliance of groups opposed to new taxes and people wary of anything that smacks of regional government, especially one with tax revenue flowing its way.
“The concern for us isn’t taxes but regionalism, the fact that we’d be losing local control,” said Marcy Berry of the Nine-County Coalition, formed this year in response to Measure AA. As for the idea that the bay’s challenges reach beyond county lines, Berry called that “a spurious argument. We still have a form of government that says each local community has a say.”
Urgency of climate change
If there’s a way in which this year’s campaign differs from what we might have seen when the parcel tax idea was conceived, it’s the emphasis on the likelihood of sea level rise in the coming decades. Unless the pace of marsh restoration picks up in coming years, environmentalists say, there will be less of a chance to create ecologically adaptable wetlands along the bay as it expands.
“A decade ago, we were still explaining the local impact that climate change would have,” Lewis said. “What has changed is that more of the public and our elected officials have come to recognize the urgency posed by sea level rise.”
The campaign isn’t shy about playing this card, with one flyer emphasizing the need to “protect our shoreline in the future.” Scientists make the same point.
“We need to restore as much as we can by 2030 to get ahead of the sea level rise curve” that forecasts the increase gaining speed after 2050, Bourgeois said. “If I restore a salt pond today, it’s going to be 20 years before it is truly well established.”
At the same time, Save the Bay’s Lewis knows that distant dangers are no match for a kayak ride or the sight of reeds rippling near the road.
“For most voters, sea level rise isn’t the top motivator,” Lewis said. “They want the bay to be clean and healthy.”
Nate Kauffman is a landscape architect from the East Bay. He is he founder of LEAP (The Live Edge Adaptation Project). He is also an award-winning teacher, consultant and trouble-maker extraordinaire. He is an instructor in graduate landscape architecture studios at UC Berkeley and teaches a design-build summer studio, URBANFRAME, at MIT’s School of Architecture. He is the Project Director for Owlized, a tech startup committed to helping the public discover deeper understandings of their environments. He was contracted to produce visualizations of the Horizontal Levee and helped describe them at the Treatment Plant, in a public outreach event last November.
Horst Rittel, former architecture Professor at University of California, Berkeley is perhaps best known for his description of a particular brand of planning and social policy challenge. He termed these ‘Wicked Problems’ for their vexing interplay of conditions and contingencies; their interdependencies obfuscating clear solutions; and their tendency to require stakeholders with different world views and values to cooperate in order to solve them.
In the context of global climate change and the common call for local approaches for addressing and adapting to it, Wicked Problems entail another, critical dimension: their tendency to induce an effect often referred to as analysis paralysis. The already-branded ‘climate paralysis’ is essentially described by the condition of spending so much time trying to figure out what to do (and to raise and rally support for it) that actually doing so happens too late to be effective.
Professionals the world over are earnestly contemplating this apparent fact of the human condition, writ very large on the face of a changing planet. As the globe is pushed toward unknown planetary boundaries — the physical balances in the chemistry of the water, atmosphere and soils that literally give us life — the need for scalable, replicable and sustainable applications for climate adaptation is dire.
Innovative solutions for shoreline resilience
I was brought into the Oro Loma Sanitary District’s Horizontal Levee project last year to help envision the reality of this green infrastructure approach on a local and regional level. As a landscape architect, consultant and visualization specialist, I am generally tasked with articulating an argument in visual terms: making the case for a given proposal or project. Jason Warner, Oro Loma’s General Manager, was earnestly interested in how to convey and capture a sense of what the Horizontal Levee would represent for the communities adjacent to it. Aside from his efforts quarterbacking the Horizontal Levee endeavor in general, Jason’s commitment to understanding its benefits for the societies that might invest in these kinds of green infrastructures was inspiring. SFEI’s Jeremy Lowe helped me understand the extensive benefits and actual mechanics of the approach. And what was so compelling about the Horizontal Levee itself was how much a common-sense solution to an emergent problem could actually deliver to the societies that need it most.
Projects, policies and partnerships that successfully reimagine our built environment for multiple socio-ecologic benefits are exceedingly rare in the world of executed work. The design field’s positively brim with fanciful notions of pseudo-sci-fi futurisms: imagining Utopian societies founded on as-yet-undiscovered ways of building and development that are inexplicably and seemingly effortlessly also conducive to environmental health and ecologic stability. One of the primary reasons so many of these speculative projects fail to actually gain traction is that their underpinnings are grounded in unrealistic or unsustainable resource use models and approaches.
Restoration for climate change adaptation
Oro Loma’s Horizontal Levee project is a major pivot in this respect: it essentially represents a return to a Bayshore more physically similar to that which predated the development, Bay fill and sprawl of the 19th and 20th century (that has so badly positioned us to adapt to a rising Bay). It also closes loops on wasteful resource cycles. And it is hardly rocket science: it takes an abundant byproduct of our society (polished wastewater) and uses it to bind what is free (air, sunshine and opportunistic wildlife) with what is cheap (sediment and plants). The result is an engine driven by the discreet application of this wastewater to trigger a cascade of growth and production. And all of this happens so that a relatively simple landform intervention-based approach to flood protection can be made sustainable and affordable.
The Horizontal Levee (a pilot project whose six-month construction took over four years to permit), must prove that it’s environmental impacts are not detrimental to the broader health of the SF Bay’s various and interwoven ecosystems, nor the humans who interface with them. Before broader deployment of the technology can proceed, the proof-of-concept must be deemed “safe”. In some sense that is the bad news, but the good is that the precedent it may become could have far-reaching application potential, and even global implications for shoreline societies.
I will tell you a secret: The Horizontal Levee works. The project will validate the hypothesis driving this experiment. The reason we are collectively holding our breath to see what the effect of this critical lynchpin might represent for regional resilience has more to do with its reception, not its efficacy. The commensurate questions abound: How will we find the funding to scale up this approach? How will the rat’s nest of overlapping and competing agencies untangle itself to streamline permitting to put projects into practice? And who shall emerge as champions for a low-tech, multiple-benefit network intended to buffer our built environment from the impacts of a rapidly changing natural one?
From a planning and policy perspective, there are innumerable decisions to be made regarding what we build and choose not to (and where); what to repair or abandon, (and when); what to protect and what to attempt to prevent from happening (and how). These questions entail considerations of the fundamental economics of our built and natural environments and the consequences of their inevitable collisions and potential coexistences.
New modes of infrastructure
Infrastructure projects are notoriously expensive, for all kinds of reasons. Adapting 20 miles of the soon-to-be sub-sea level Highway 37 linking Vallejo and Novato will allegedly cost five billion dollars. That’s the equivalent of every human on earth throwing in seventy-five cents. At some point, a distinction between the cost and value of problems and projects like Highway 37 will need to be assessed.
Oro Loma’s Horizontal Levee experiment could represent a chance to make the case for a new mode of infrastructure: in its design, resource paradigms, multi-functionality, sustainability and requisite funding models. More than anything, because what it seeks to do is actually reconnect, reestablish and rebuild systems that sustain and even repair themselves, the Horizontal Levee project is a re-imagining of what investment truly means in the modern era’s climate adaptation discourses.
What we cannot lose sight of in this process is that, for all of the economic realities wound up and built into sweeping, regional green infrastructure deployments, this challenge transcends even the broadest definition of economics. Because climate change is inextricably and inexorably tied to the passage of time, the challenge is fundamentally an ethical one. Accepting that future societies, inheriting the legacy of our inactions, will find themselves armed simultaneously with fewer options in their menu, and worse ones at that, is a stark reality with which to grapple.
Oro Loma offers a glimmer of hope in this sea of societal uncertainty, historic intransigence and cultural inertia. Aside from the impressiveness of the trans-disciplinary team that actually got this project done, it is also notable in that it attracts interest and attention from taxpayers and politicians alike. There is no panacea for climate adaptation, nor a silver bullet for coastal planning in the era of rising seas and worsening storms. We cannot wait for those solutions to suddenly coalesce.
Something to be done
In the opening scene of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play, Waiting for Godot, Estragon removes his boots to wait with his counterpart for the title character, who ultimately fails to show. “Nothing to be done,” Estragon laments, kicking off an absurdist masterpiece of human existentialism. The play is a meditation on the arrival of a grand apparition, though nothing ultimately “happens”.
The plight and peril of the Bay Area, and its collective response thus-far to the complete remaking of its 1,000 miles of shoreline threatened by a rising Bay, has something of an absurd air to it: the global epicenter of innovation fumbling around for the political will, funding and proactive spirit to tackle its very own existential crisis. The upcoming measure AA, a $12 parcel tax arriving on June’s ballot, arguably represents the most profound gesture our region has made toward ecologically-based sustainability in a generation. It will be a crucial litmus test of the common awareness of and will to play a part in the direction of our very society. And as far as something “happening” to spur action in The Bay, we won’t get hit by a catastrophic Nor’Easter or Hurricane (à la Sandy), nor a hundreds-of-millions-of-gallons oil spill (à la Deepwater Horizon) to galvanize responses to our estuary’s shoreline vulnerabilities. The slow burn of a rising Bay is apparently thus far an easy disaster for us to ignore and avoid.
The Horizontal Levee is our proverbial ‘something’ to be done. Insofar as the broader Bay Area planning and policy circles are casting around for an application that possesses profound potential for regional replicability, there are few projects as promising on the horizon. And, more importantly, the Horizontal Levee approach is not mutually exclusive to many other green infrastructure concepts. It actually strengthens and is strengthened by complementary living systems that are more sustainable, economically feasible and ecologically viable than the catalog of coastal and shoreline engineering approaches we turned to in the era before acknowledgment of a changing planet.
This work is only a piece in a larger chain of an interconnected puzzle with each impacting the other. The benefit to our Bay’s health by setting aside a long term financial commitment via Measure AA is an important next step.