Getting to Zero Trash: Oakland’s Challenge and Our Opportunity

In almost every city, trashy runoff flows directly into the Bay, untreated.
In Oakland and in most Bay Area cities, trashy runoff flows from city streets directly into the Bay via a network of municipal storm drains.

Putting an end to the pollution of San Francisco Bay by stormwater-borne trash that harms our wildlife, spoils our shores, and further damages our oceans has long been a top priority for Save The Bay and our supporters.

In 2015, Save The Bay fought hard to strengthen the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit (MRP) issued by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) to reduce the amount of trash found in stormwater discharges from 78 Bay Area governments and agencies. The MRP now requires all of them to achieve a 70 percent reduction from 2009 levels of stormwater-borne trash flowing into San Francisco Bay by July 1, 2017, an 80 percent reduction by July 1, 2019, and a full 100 percent trash load reduction – zero trash – by July 1, 2022.

To help prepare these governments and agencies to meet their trash reduction requirements, the Water Board asked them to demonstrate compliance with a July 1, 2016 target reduction of 60 percent, and as we reported recently, the results showed fully one-third of them had fallen short of this goal, some dramatically.

But the Water Board isn’t the only entity tracking the amount of trash flowing into the Bay. The City of San Jose, the largest covered by the permit, settled a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by San Francisco Baykeeper by entering into a consent decree requiring that it undertake a long list of measures to ensure that the permit’s trash reduction goals are met. The estimated cost of this court-enforced settlement is an additional $100 million over ten years (inclusive of stormwater trash reduction costs, costs of compliance monitoring, and costs of mitigation projects in place of civil penalties), plus $425,000 in plaintiff’s legal fees.

Now that the City of San Jose’s trash reduction shortfalls are being remedied under monitoring and enforcement by the court, the City of Oakland stands as the biggest violator of the permit’s requirements as measured by the total volume of stormwater-borne trash flowing into the Bay over and above target levels.

Reducing Oakland’s Trash Load: Shortfalls and Solutions for 2017

As of July 2016, Oakland had cut its trash load by only 45 percent, meaning nearly 25,000 gallons more trash were flowing from its streets into the Bay than July 2017’s 70 percent reduction requirement will allow.

The risks to the City of Oakland for failing to remedy this shortfall are substantial. In particular, a lawsuit to enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act could end up costing the City of Oakland millions of dollars per year and requiring implementation of compliance measures that maximize stormwater trash reduction by placement of multiple trash capture devices in the ground while minimizing trash reduction strategies that would improve Oakland residents’ quality of life. These include enforcement of illegal dumping laws and faster pickup of dumped refuse, increased frequency of street sweeping, reducing the numbers of homeless people living in street encampments by providing them with permanent housing, and enhanced urban greening.

The good news is that City of Oakland staff has now submitted to the Water Board the outline of a multi-benefit trash reduction plan that could achieve July 2017’s 70 percent reduction requirement, but only if it is fleshed out in more detail, if it wins Water Board staff approval, and if it is fully funded for implementation.

This outline has as its largest element a reduction in “Direct Discharge,” the category of trash that flows into the Bay from homeless encampments and illegal dumping. Oakland’s plan also includes more effective use of street sweeping, expansion of the City’s plastic bag ban, deployment of green infrastructure, and greater use of storm drain trash capture devices.

Moving quickly to complete, fully fund, and implement this plan will enhance the quality of life for Oakland’s diverse communities, reduce the City’s exposure to enforcement action by the Water Board or in the courts, and model for the entire region a multi-benefit approach that takes big steps toward achieving a greener city and a cleaner Bay. The fact is that if Oakland can do it, every Bay Area government and agency can do it.

Achieving Zero Trash Compliance: 2018-2022

To maximize its protection against potential liability, the City of Oakland must also act immediately to craft a credible plan that will meet the requirement for 100 percent trash load reduction – zero trash – by 2022.

This plan should include all currently accepted practices considered effective for reducing trash, and should be integrated into an expanded multi-benefit strategy designed to address pressing issues of neighborhood blight and homelessness, sanitation and public health, and lack of urban greening, as well as stormwater pollution.

In particular, given that Oakland will soon be adopting a biennial budget that extends all the way through June 2019, it is critical that the city develop and implement a plan and a budget for trash reduction improvements that will achieve the 80 percent reduction required by the MRP as of July 2019. At a minimum, any such plan will require greater use of both large and small trash capture devices than envisioned in the existing outline.

The additional costs of a fully phased-in, multi-benefit plan sufficient to reach the zero trash goal by 2022 have not yet been calculated by city staff, but we know that if the city does not pursue such a plan and is ordered instead to rely on storm sewer upgrades alone to meet its requirements, Oakland will miss opportunities to leverage expenditures in other critical program areas to achieve its mandated stormwater trash reductions.

While Oakland must exert some fiscal effort to meet even the costs of an incremental, multi-benefit plan that takes advantage of synergies with expenditures necessary to provide other key municipal services, Save The Bay is also committed to pursuing new funding sources that will help underwrite zero trash implementation.

In particular, Save The Bay is working hard to pass SB 231 (Hertzberg), which would clarify the definition that enables agency charges for sewer services to include charges associated with the stormwater sewer system.

How You Can Help

If you are an Oakland resident, please email your City Councilmember and write that you need them to:

  • Support a greener city and a cleaner Bay in the city budget by fully funding a detailed, multi-benefit program that will meet the Water Board’s 2017 and 2018 stormwater trash reduction requirements.
  • Ensure city staff sets forth a comprehensive plan now to meet the Water Board’s 2022 zero trash goal.

If you are not an Oakland resident, please sign our petition to Oakland City Council and let them know “The Whole Bay Is Watching” and wants to see Oakland lead the way to a clean and healthy Bay by achieving its 2017 and 2018 stormwater trash reduction requirements and laying out a plan to get to zero trash by 2022.

Bay Alert: Barge Capsizes in the Bay

Photo: US Coast Guard

Early this morning, the 112-foot freight barge Vengeance capsized in San Francisco Bay between Yerba Buena Island and the city of Oakland, carrying 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 300 gallons of lube oil on board. The diesel fuel is in barrels, not in the vessel’s tank, and 3,000 feet of boom have been deployed around the barge to keep any fuel spills contained.

While officials have reported fuel and oil leaking from the vessel, so far there are no reports of a large scale spill or any wildlife or shoreline sites being harmed. For further information, read the San Francisco Chronicle story.

We are concerned about the situation because pollution is one of the biggest threats to the Bay, and oil spills cause immediate damage to wildlife and Bay water quality. We are monitoring the situation closely and will send out an update to our supporters immediately if urgent action is needed.

Election 2016: The good news you may have missed

Evening fog blankets the bay_Mike Oria_4.03.15 (800x533)
Sometimes the small victories at home can lead the way in making a big difference for the state and the nation. Photo by Mike Oria.


While the nation reckons with the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in last week’s presidential election, and we begin to make sense of the effects it may have on public policies and budgets in California and the Bay Area, San Francisco Bay supporters have a lot to celebrate in state and local election results.

This year, Save The Bay endorsed a full slate of statewide and local ballot measures to improve the environment and advance environmental justice by reducing major sources of trash that foul our Bay and by upgrading outmoded transportation, housing, and infrastructure.

Our endorsements of Prop 67 (the statewide single-use plastic bag ban), Prop 56 (the increase in the state’s tobacco tax), and 10 local Bay Smart Ballot Measures helped almost all of these measures to victory.

With nearly all the votes counted, Prop 67 passed with 52 percent of the vote (the plastic industry’s deceptive counter-measure, Prop 65 failed with 45 percent). Prop 56 passed with 63 percent support, and nine out of ten local Bay Smart Ballot Measures passed as well.

Building on our success in passing Bay restoration Measure AA in June, Save The Bay’s contribution to these victories is another big advance for our 2020 Strategic Plan.

We have extended our work upstream and upland to address sustainability issues facing our region in ways that benefit San Francisco Bay. Perhaps as important, we have positioned ourselves powerfully to protect our Bay in the uncertain period ahead.

In the next few months, we will be working hard to develop our 2017 state legislative agenda, as well as a focused approach to preserve federal funding and environmental protections for the Bay.

Thanks to you and Save The Bay’s thousands of supporters, we are confident that we will continue making progress to protect and enhance San Francisco Bay in these new and challenging circumstances.

Here are the complete results for the local Bay Smart Ballot Measures that Save The Bay endorsed:

Affordable Housing Measures

  • Measure A1 (Alameda County Bond): $580 million bond for down payment assistance, rental and housing development, preserving homes for low-income and other vulnerable people, preserving affordable rental housing, and preventing tenant displacement.

PASSED: 72.3%-27.7% (2/3 required)

  • Measure K (San Mateo County Tax): 20-year extension of a half-cent sales tax with commitments from the Board of Supervisors to increase investments in affordable housing, focused on seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and working

PASSED: 70%-30%  

  • Measure A (Santa Clara County Bond): $950 million bond to create and maintain affordable homes for the most vulnerable members of Santa Clara County communities, including veterans, seniors, homeless children, and low-income and working

PASSED: 67.3%-32.7% (2/3 required)

Transportation Measures

  • Measure C1 (Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District): 20-year extension of a $96 annual parcel tax necessary to continue providing nearly $30 million per year necessary for safe, reliable, affordable AC Transit bus service for the East Bay.

PASSED: 81.4%-18.6% (2/3 required)

  • Measure B (Santa Clara County Tax): half-cent, 30-year sales tax measure expected to generate $6 billion for transportation projects, including expanding and improving BART and CalTrain; increasing bus frequency; and bike and pedestrian programs to close gaps and improve

PASSED: 71%-29% (2/3 required)

  • Measure RR (BART Bond): $3.5 billion general obligation bond to repair and replace rails, upgrade the train control system to reduce congestion, and improve access to BART with more parking, disabled access, and bike

PASSED:  70.2%-29.8% (2/3 required)

Housing/Transportation Measures

  • Measures J & K (San Francisco): Measure K calls for a 0.75 percent general sales tax increase for 25 years, expected to generate between $150 and $155 million for the General Fund. Measure J establishes new funds and allocation requirements that will provide roughly $100 million for transportation programs (MUNI equity and affordability; transit maintenance and expansion) and $50 million for homelessness

Measure J PASSED: 66.4%-33.6%  

Measure K FAILED: 35%-65%  

Infrastructure Measures

  • Measure KK (Oakland Bond): invests up to $600 million in repaving and repairing streets and sidewalks, improving libraries and parks, and upgrading public safety buildings and fire

PASSED: 82%-18% (2/3 required)

  • Measure T1 (Berkeley Bond): $100 million general obligation bond for infrastructure improvements including streets and sidewalks, storm drains, green infrastructure, parks and recreation centers, and public  buildings.

PASSED: 86.5%-13.5% (2/3 required)

Vote Bay Smart: The Bay Area’s housing crisis is a crisis for San Francisco Bay

028 (800x533)
The Bay Area’s extreme lack of affordable housing is a significant contributor to longer traffic commutes and multiple growing homeless encampments that increase the flow of pollution into the Bay.

Sky-high housing costs have for a long time now been the single biggest concern for Bay Area residents. Average rental costs in the region have risen to more than $2,500 per month, and the median single-family home price recently hit an all-time high of $841,500, more than double its Great Recession low.

While there are multiple causes for the Bay Area’s affordable housing crisis, and many disagreements about which of them are most important and how best to address them, there are three things on which virtually all of the region’s policy analysts, public interest advocates, and elected officials can agree:

  1. The region’s huge job and population growth have not been met with equivalent growth in the supply of housing, especially affordable housing subsidized for offer at below-market rates.
  1. In recent years, there have been massive cuts in federal and state funding for the creation and preservation of affordable housing, including elimination of the state’s redevelopment program. Statewide, these cuts have reduced annual funding for affordable housing by $1.7 billion.
  1. The affordable housing crisis is the major factor driving increases in the volume and length of daily car commutes that add greatly to the region’s stormwater pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. This extreme lack of affordable housing is also a significant contributor to the multiple growing homeless encampments that increase the flow of trash, bacteria, and other pollution into the Bay.

For the immediate and long-term health of San Francisco Bay, it is critical that we reduce the toxic stormwater runoff and airborne particulates that are a major source of Bay pollution, and house the homeless people whose urban encampments foul the Bay with tons of trash and untreated waste.

To address these problems, it is vitally important that we build more affordable housing at greater density along transit lines in Bay Area cities, and this will require that we make meaningful new public investments.

There is a critical mass of ballot measures across the Bay Area to fund more affordable housing for low- and middle-income individuals and families. Three of the most important of these measures, which are the focus of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and its allies, are:

  • Alameda County Measure A1, a $580 million bond to preserve and expand affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, low-income families, and homeless people.
  • San Mateo County Measure K, which would extend a half-cent sales tax for 20 years to help fund affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and working families.
  • Santa Clara County Measure A, a $950 million bond to expand affordable housing for South Bay veterans, seniors, homeless people, and low-income and working families.

Together, these measures add up to the kind of coordinated regional action that can begin to address our affordable housing crisis on a scale that really matters to the Bay Area and to San Francisco Bay.

Building more affordable housing at greater density along urban transit lines will not only reduce Bay pollution, but also reduce development pressures on open space, including baylands. Additionally, more affordable housing will preserve and increase Bay access for low-income families and communities of color that are being pushed to the outskirts of the region, and sustain broad-based support for protecting San Francisco Bay as the commons of the Bay Area.

Please make sure to vote for a clean and healthy San Francisco Bay by supporting the Bay Smart Ballot Measures in your area when you mail in your ballot or go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8!

Voter Guide: Saving the Bay by sustaining the Bay Area

As the Bay Area struggles to accommodate rapid growth, it is critical to invest in affordable housing, improved transportation, and community infrastructure.
As the Bay Area struggles to accommodate rapid growth, it is critical to invest in affordable housing, improved transportation, and community infrastructure.

Already, 2016 has been a pivotal year in the remarkable history of Save The Bay.

After 55 years of hugely successful work to protect San Francisco Bay from damaging shoreline development, dumping, and storm water-borne toxic trash, the passage of Measure AA on the June 2016 ballot marked the evolution of our mission from rescuing the Bay to restoring it.

But 2016 isn’t over yet, and now we’re taking another giant step to advance Bay Smart solutions to threats posed by our region’s rapid growth.

For the first time in Save The Bay’s history, we’re endorsing 10 local ballot measures focused on upgrading the Bay Area’s outmoded transportation, housing, and infrastructure.

Download our Bay Smart Voter guide

These measures align with Save The Bay’s 2020 Strategic Plan, which extends our work upland and upstream from the shoreline to address sustainability issues facing our region in ways that will benefit San Francisco Bay.

Our challenge is to reduce the flow of pollutants into the Bay, increase the efficiency of water use, decrease emissions of airborne particulates and greenhouse gases, reduce heat island effects, and improve access to the shoreline, all while the Bay Area’s population is projected to grow 30 percent larger.

This slate of measures takes important steps toward these goals by:

  • Funding public transportation upgrades and roadway improvements that will decrease automobile use and storm water runoff, and the pollution they contribute to the Bay
  • Creating affordable housing that will alleviate homeless encampments – which are a major source of Bay pollution – and maximize the environmental benefits of denser development by reducing displacement of working families from our urban centers
  • Expanding the use of green infrastructure and increasing urban greening, which will keep the Bay cleaner and healthier and help more people to enjoy its beauty.

Taken together, these measures advance the key environmental justice goal of ensuring that disadvantaged communities, which have suffered the most from environmental damage, do not suffer further as our region adapts to become more resilient to climate change.

These measures will also reduce the pressure that lack of transportation and housing infrastructure creates for more sprawl into open space, including baylands, and will help preserve the political consensus for protecting the Bay that comes from our region’s shared sense that it belongs to us all.

We hope you and all of our region’s residents who love the Bay take a moment to review the “Bay Smart” slate on Nov. 8, and follow its recommendations when you vote.

Passing these ballot measures is just the beginning. We’ll be working with partner organizations, businesses and municipalities to advance a Bay Smart communities agenda through other policy mechanisms like local and state legislation, regulatory changes, and by helping cities improve best practices.

Ultimately, saving the Bay will require saving the Bay Area’s quality of life. In the words of our strategic plan, “We must help save the Bay Area as a sustainable community with a healthy Bay at its heart.”