The History Behind Battle for the Bay: The 1990’s

Before there was Arnold, and before there was Gray, there was Pete Wilson, governor of California from 1991 to 1999.  Among the fights Wilson picked was one against protection of San Francisco Bay.

As some Bay Area residents know, urban development had shrunk the Bay’s size by one-third by the early 1960s.  90% of the bay’s historic tidal marshes paved over or diked off.  Seeing the Bay being filled by each shoreline city, Save The Bay’s founders saw a need for the state to protect and manage the Bay as a whole.   They waged an aggressive effort against long odds to win state legislation that created the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to accomplish that goal.

The McAteer-Petris Act establishing BCDC was signed into law in 1965 by then Governor Pat Brown, and made permanent in 1969 with the signature of Governor Ronald Reagan.  For decades, BCDC received strong bipartisan support, but by the 1990’s development interests were lobbying state legislators to eliminate the agency that regulated their shoreline property.   In January of 1995, Governor Pete Wilson proposed a state budget which called for the elimination of BCDC within a year. He argued that most of BCDC’s functions could be split up among other governmental agencies.

The public response with immediate. Bay Area newspapers, city councils and other public agencies joined environmentalists in criticizing Wilson’s move.  In response to the criticism, the State Secretary of Resources, Douglas Wheeler asked Joseph Bodovitz, the well-respected former Executive Director of BCDC and the California Coastal Commission to look into the matter. Bodovitz concluded that “the need to govern San Francisco Bay as a single body of water remained as important in 1995 as it was in 1965” and that BCDC should not be “casually discarded.”

After continued public pressure, and a successful joint effort by Save The Bay and the Bay Planning Coalition to streamline some functions of BCDC, Governor Wilson backed down and dropped his proposal to eliminate BCDC.

There are periodic attempts to undermine BCDC’s budget and its ability to protect the Bay and our quality of life. For the last two years, Cargill and DMB Associates have lobbied extensively against BCDC guidance on regional planning for sea level rise.

As we have learned repeatedly over the past 50 years – we must remain vigilant to protect and restore the Bay, and the laws and regulations established for that purpose.

Defeat Pete Wilson’s attempts to defeat BCDC in Battle for the Bay today!

For additional history, see: Jonathan Smith and Alan Pendleton, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission: Challenge and Response After 30 Years, 28 Golden Gate U.L. Rev. (1998),