Shaping a green infrastructure agenda for the Bay Area

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. Photo by Matt Fabry.

Greening urban areas with street trees, rain gardens, parks, and other natural infrastructure offers many benefits to our communities. Neighborhoods become more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, getting people out of their cars. Urban heat islands—the increase in local temperature resulting from heat retention by an overabundance of asphalt and concrete—are reduced, decreasing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning during warm weather. Chemicals, trash, and other pollutants picked up by rainwater are filtered by vegetation and soil, reducing the pollution we send into our creeks and the Bay. There’s even evidence that urban greening leads to improvements in public safety.

Why, then, aren’t we greening all of our neighborhoods? If there are so many benefits to green infrastructure, what’s holding us back?

This was the topic of discussion at the Bay Area Leadership Conversation on Green Infrastructure on Friday, Dec. 9, that Save The Bay helped to plan and lead. At the beginning of the day, local and state elected officials representing the Bay Area gathered to learn from one another, sharing green infrastructure case studies and discussing the difficulties in scaling them from demonstration projects to community-wide implementation.

While green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Photo by Matt Fabry.

The main event was attended by over 250 people representing state agencies like Cal EPA and the Strategic Growth Council, cities and counties, local clean water programs, park districts, environmental justice organizations, environmental organizations, and more. Round-table and panel discussions were held throughout the day, and keynote speakers discussed the state and federal political climate and its implications for expanding green infrastructure, funding challenges, and examples of where green infrastructure is already having an impact. Examples ranged from wetland restoration projects on the Bay shoreline to rain gardens in dense communities that allow stormwater to seep back into underground aquifers, reducing pollution and improving local water supply.

A few important messages emerged from the day. First and foremost, people are excited about greening our communities, but it takes resources. We need our state elected officials to lead the way in securing more funding for local governments and agencies to implement green infrastructure, and to prioritize its integration with housing development and transportation projects. Every time our cities approve new housing developments, or repave our roads and sidewalks, is an opportunity to weave in bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens. But current policies and funding restrictions are making it very difficult to implement projects that include all of these elements. Secondly, while green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Greening projects should be designed through a participatory stakeholder process to ensure that community priorities are incorporated. Additionally, local agencies and organizations should work together to train and retain a local workforce that can maintain our green infrastructure and ensure our ability to reap the full array of benefits from these projects.

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. We look forward to working with stakeholders and local government to transform our cities from gray to green, protecting the Bay and enhancing quality of life with each park and rain garden.

A hard-fought victory: Passing Prop 67 to Save the Bay

Californians showed their support of Prop 67 through personal testimony as “Humans of the Bay,” playing a huge part in passing this historic bag ban.

There’s no question that the election left many of us discouraged, mystified, and fearful.

As we all search inside and out for ways to support one another in this strange new political climate and defend the causes we believe in, it is important to also recognize the amazing victories we have achieved and the positive changes we still have the power to make.

I, for one, am proud to say that Californians made some very good decisions on their ballot last week. By approving Prop 67 and rejecting Prop 65, we stood up for creeks, beaches, and our environment, capping off nearly a decade of advocacy by organizations across the state.

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We boldly traveled to Novolex’s headquarters in South Carolina to bring their toxic plastic trash right back to their doorstep.

In addition to relentless advocating through policy for a plastic-free environment, we also advocated in the streets as dancing zombies, showed our support through personal testimony as “Humans of the Bay,” and boldly traveled to Novolex’s headquarters in South Carolina to bring their toxic plastic trash right back to their doorstep.

This victory has shown that we can fight for our Bay and win on an enormous scale with room for a ripple effect across the country. These types of victories make us stronger here at home and have impacts far beyond the Bay Area, inspiring many others to replicate our successes.

And while looking forward towards the future, we would be remiss if we did not also shine a bright light on our long and hard history that has been spent fighting to keep our California waterways free from plastic bag pollution.

Save The Bay began advocating for local bag bans after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags in 2007. At that time, rejecting the perceived convenience of plastic bags was quite a statement, despite the fact that bringing your own shopping bag had been the norm in many European countries for as long as anyone could remember.

In order for bag bans to prevail in the Bay Area—let alone throughout California—other major cities would have to show similar leadership. In 2008, Oakland did just that, but was bullied by the plastic bag industry into putting its ban on hold indefinitely.

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Hipline dance studio joined us on Halloween Eve to advocate for Prop 67 as flash mob dancing zombies. Photo by Sara Maney.

Despite this setback, the Bay Area environmental community organized a regional campaign to urge the largest city in the Bay Area to adopt a bag ban. The San Jose City Council adopted the strongest bag ban in the country in 2010, after a two-year campaign that involved environmental, youth, community service, and faith-based organizations as well as elected officials, grocers, and the business community. What followed could be described as a four-year domino effect that lead to 80 percent of Bay Area residents living in a city that had banned plastic bags by mid-2014.

Meanwhile, bag bans at the local level had begun to spread across the state, begging the need for a consistent and uniformed statewide policy. Despite the clear benefits of this approach, several attempts to pass a state bill were unsuccessful.
But the environmental community would not give up so easily.

In 2014, state legislators adopted SB 270, signaling the end of plastic bags in California. But, the quick response from the plastic bag industry to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot meant that voters would have to make the final call.

Well, we did. Together, we passed Proposition 67 to ban the bag once and for all. And for that, we thank Californians.

Challenging times are undoubtedly ahead, and protecting the environment will require new strategies and more resources. But one thing is clear: Save The Bay will continue fighting for the Bay.

That means restoring more wetlands, stopping the flow of trash from our cities, and encouraging Bay Smart urban development that protects our waterways and improves quality of life for all Bay Area residents.

With your help, we will be victorious.


Don’t be Fooled by Prop 65

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Photo credit: Dave Bleasdale

Prop 65 is a classic “look here, not over there” distraction tactic by none other than the plastics industry, and they’re banking on their ability to confuse California voters. We’re here to make sure you know better.

Let’s be clear: Prop 65 does not ban plastic bags. It simply requires that the 10 cent charge for paper bags at the checkout stand is sent to a state fund instead of being kept by the store. So what’s wrong with that? The state fund that would be created by Prop 65 is vaguely defined and likely won’t amount to much. We know from the 150+ local bag bans in California that most shoppers quickly make a habit of bringing their own bags to the store instead of buying paper bags for 10 cents. The plastics industry is not in the business of solving our state’s environmental funding issues; Prop 65 is a green washed distraction and nothing more.

Need more convincing? Check out the ten largest contributors to the Prop 65 campaign. Hilex Poly is the old name for Novolex—remember them? They’re the ones who told us they would toss kids’ drawings in the recycling bin when we visited their headquarters in South Carolina earlier this month. The rest of the entities on the list are plastic bag manufacturers as well. NONE of them represent California voters. NONE of them are working to protect California’s waterways and coastlines. NONE of them deserve your vote.

Vote NO on Prop 65 and YES on Prop 67.

Vote Bay Smart: investing in green infrastructure benefits SF Bay

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Potholes and cracked streets are a challenge for street sweepers to clean, causing trash and other pollution to be left behind, where they wait to flow straight into the Bay the next time it rains.

Bay Area residents are well-acquainted with the region’s critical need for better public transit and affordable housing, but our streets and our stormwater infrastructure are also badly in disrepair, and contribute greatly to the runoff of trash and toxic pollutants into San Francisco Bay.

Potholes and cracked streets are a huge liability for cities. For example, Oakland’s potholed streets are among the worst in the region, ranked 89 out of 109 Bay Area cities. They cause serious damage to peoples’ cars and create serious costs for the city. They also are harder for street sweepers to clean, causing trash and other pollution to be left behind, where they wait to flow straight into the Bay the next time it rains.

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Our stormwater system of pipes and channels carry rainwater polluted with trash, oil, pesticides, and other toxins directly into our creeks and into the Bay.

We’ve written before (here and here) about the stormwater system of pipes and channels that carry rainwater polluted with trash, oil, pesticides, and other toxins directly into our creeks and into the Bay. Unless we invest in stormwater infrastructure improvements that remove pollution from rainwater before it flows into our creeks, or capture and treat it for drinking water or irrigation, this serious threat to the health of the Bay will only worsen.

One option involves constructing solutions that mimic nature, allowing polluted water to filter through plants and soil (such as rain gardens and bioswales) before flowing to the Bay. This green infrastructure is not only a solution for stormwater pollution, it also reduces local temperatures on hot days (saving energy money on air conditioning), and creates pleasant new urban green space that encourages people to walk or bike instead of using cars. Expanded urban greening like this has even been shown to reduce crime.

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Oakland’s Measure KK and Berkeley’s Measure T1 invest in street and stormwater infrastructure improvements.

The good news is there are opportunities on the November ballot for Oakland and Berkeley residents to secure the much-needed funding for street and stormwater infrastructure improvements.

In Oakland, Measure KK is a $600 million bond that would fund investments in Oakland’s roads, community facilities, and housing. About $350 million would go toward repaving and repairing streets and sidewalks and improving bicycle safety; some of these improvements are likely to include green infrastructure. Additionally, $100 million would be invested in acquiring, preserving, and building affordable homes, and $150 million would go toward improving libraries, parks, public safety buildings, and fire stations.

Berkeley’s Measure T1 is a $100 million bond for improvements to streets and sidewalks, storm drains, parks and recreation centers, and the city’s public  buildings, with an explicit emphasis on the utilization of green infrastructure. Check out our Bay Smart Voter Guide for more detailed information about these measures.

We’ve put off investing in our roads and stormwater infrastructure for a long time, so the price tag has grown, and it will continue to grow unless we act now. The Bay Area’s booming population will only place more stress on our roads and create more polluted runoff. Be a part of the solution by voting “Yes” on measures KK and T1 in support of  investing in our city infrastructure, for the health of our communities and the health of the Bay.

The monster in your grocery bag…

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.48.06 PMAs an important member of our Save The Bay family, you know that we won’t rest on past successes. 

We fought hard and won on Measure AA—but with the November election comes a new ballot fight: Banning single-use plastic bags in California by passing Prop. 67. If we’re going to win this and other important fights for our Bay, we need your help. 

Disposable plastic bags kill fish and wildlife. Plastic pollution entangles, suffocates, and poisons hundreds of animal species worldwide, including sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals. Flimsy plastic bags break down into tiny pieces that are eaten by fish and contaminate the food chain. 

The most frustrating part is that California already passed a statewide plastic bag ban two years ago. But the out-of-state companies who make this trash forced a referendum onto the ballot in November. They would sacrifice our waters and wildlife to protect their profits. But we can stop them by “banning the bag” once and for all in California. 

Your membership contribution to Save The Bay today will also support our work to restore Bay Area wetlands, create Bay Smart communities, teach students about Bay habitat and mobilize volunteers on our shorelines. 

All of the work we’re doing at Save The Bay is intertwined, bound by the common goal of a clean, healthy, and resilient San Francisco Bay. And banning single-use bags is a simple solution that’s proven to protect our water and wildlife—we can’t let out-of-state companies stand in our way. That’s why we’re working hard to help pass Prop. 67 in November. 

When you join Save The Bay today, we will fight to pass Prop. 67 to help rid our Bay of toxic trash, restore critical wetlands around the Bay Area, and lead the way into the future with the development of Bay Smart communities. 

So please don’t hesitate—with so much at stake for our beloved San Francisco Bay, we need you standing with us now.