I’m Choosing People Over Politics

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As we witness the official upheaval of our country’s leadership, I am ready to collaborate with anyone who, regardless of their political views, are trying to do the right thing for people, communities, and our natural resources.

Like many of us, on the night of the election I cried.

I cried for women, for immigrants, for people who have been wronged by a racially-biased justice system, for the unemployed, for the LGBTQ community, and for our environment. I cried for the daughter I’m about to bring into the world, that the society she will be born into is one in which you can mock, ridicule, and verbally abuse people on national television and still win a presidential election.

So I stuck my head in the sand. I barely opened Facebook for weeks (gasp). I limited most of my online interaction to looking at people’s vacation and holiday photos. But in this virtual absence I did a lot of thinking. Certainly we have more power than we think—even in the election aftermath people across the country successfully demanded justice and change in their communities. We may have not been able to stop the inauguration or these asinine cabinet appointments, but starting today we can respond by being strategic, creative, and collaborative. And honestly, if you live in California, you have an obligation to keep your head up and show that change is possible, no matter who’s in the Oval Office.

“We may have not been able to stop the inauguration or these asinine cabinet appointments, but starting today we can respond by being strategic, creative, and collaborative.”

 

In the Bay Area, we’re in a double bubble: we have many local elected officials who are committed to ensuring safe and equitable communities where our natural environment will thrive, while our state legislators have vowed to resist any attempts by the administration to reverse the social, economic, and environmental progress we have made in our state and country. If we don’t take advantage of our favorable political circumstances here in California, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

As we witness the official upheaval of our country’s leadership, I’ve decided I’m ready to take my head out of the sand. I’m ready to do my part to ensure that the new administration is held accountable for any poor judgment and negligence that it demonstrates. I’m also ready to collaborate with anyone who, regardless of their political views, is trying to do the right thing for people, communities, and our natural resources.

That’s what really matters, and we must believe in our collective ability to succeed.

Fighting Climate Change Deniers at the Local, State, and Federal Level

Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond.
Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond. Photo by Dan Sullivan.

It’s a new year, which in the case of 2017 means a new Congress and a new administration in Washington, D.C. Many of us in the Bay Area have a palpable sense of unease about what the impending changes in the federal government mean for the Bay and the environment more broadly. And on no issue is this concern felt more deeply than the fight to address climate change and its impacts.

Environmental advocates in the Bay Area – and California as a whole –  are determined and prepared to advance this fight, and we at Save The Bay are doing everything we can to ensure that climate change remains front and center in regional, state, and federal agendas over the coming years.

Here is what we are doing to make this happen:

On the local level

As the Bay Area rapidly grows in the coming years, we can help ensure that the growth happens in a way that minimizes the impact on the Bay and adapts to climate change. This is the aim of our new Bay Smart Communities Program, which promotes investment in green infrastructure, low-impact development, transit-oriented development, and increased affordable housing along the Bay. These “smart growth” components have a number of significant climate change-related benefits, including:

  • Reducing vehicle emissions and harmful pollutant runoff into the Bay by building higher density housing – particularly affordable housing – and commercial developments near public transit, allowing people to work in the same communities in which they live, thereby facilitating decreased vehicle use;
  • Conserving fresh water and slowing the flow of rain water by building “green streets” and plumbing systems that filter pollution from rain water and provide opportunities for its capture and local reuse; and,
  • Increasing urban green space, which enhances recreational space, encourages people to walk or bike instead of drive, and reduces urban heat islands that lead to higher local energy consumption.

On the state Level

We are fortunate to live in a state that has led the nation in the fight against climate change. Gov. Jerry Brown and our state legislature have already committed to pursuing continued aggressive action regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C. In 2017 and beyond, Save The Bay will:

  • Build on the success of Measure AA by advocating for additional state funding to match our regional investment, allowing for more Bay restoration that will protect the ecosystem while also safeguarding shoreline communities against climate change-induced threats like flooding due to sea level rise;
  • Build on the success of landmark 2016 climate mitigation legislation by advocating additional policies that further reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide communities – particularly low-income communities and communities of color, who suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change – with the resources to minimize these emissions and improve public health, safety, and quality of life; and,
  • Support other climate resiliency legislation to benefit the Bay, including bills dealing with stormwater management, green infrastructure investment, allocation of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund monies, and water allocation and storage.

On the federal level

Despite what we expect to be a more climate-change skeptical and anti-environment leadership in Washington, D.C., over the next few years we will be more aggressive than ever in asserting the importance of federal environmental protection laws, regulations, and strong action on climate change. Already, we have:

  • Opposed the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citing his record of fighting EPA action on climate change and opposing enforcement of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act – all vital laws that we rely on to help protect the Bay and its ecosystem, particularly in the face of climate change;
  • Urged our state’s newest U.S. Senator, Kamala Harris, to actively oppose Pruitt’s nomination in her capacity as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and,
  • Discussed with our congressional partners the importance of creating a new federal program for San Francisco Bay restoration, including robust funding to match regional and state investments, both to ensure that the Bay ecosystem is protected into the future and to create a framework for addressing the growing threat of sea level rise and other climate-induced changes.

Together, we made a lot of progress on addressing climate change in the Bay in 2016, and Save The Bay is committed to intensifying the fight in 2017 and beyond.

In Memoriam: Harold Gilliam

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Harold Gilliam was a pioneer of environmental journalism, and was one of the original 10 who were present in the Berkeley living room where our organization was conceived in 1961. Photo: Russell Yip, The Chronicle.

Harold Gilliam passed away last week at the age of 98, a giant of environmental journalism who essentially established the field, at least here in the Bay Area.  After Save The Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin passed away at the beginning of this year, Harold was the last living person of the 10 who were present in the Berkeley living room where our organization was conceived in 1961.

Harold was a brilliant writer, and a sweet man who loved nature and inspired others to see and love it through his words.  He chronicled our movement from that initial Berkeley meeting to its many victories in his newspaper columns and books, in speeches and interviews, and in the 2009 “Saving the Bay” documentary that is still a pledge week favorite on KQED-TV.  Harold made numerous appearances at events for us in recent years, always inspiring us with his recollections of past battles and interpretations of what they would mean for the future, and we honored him with our Founding Member Award in 2010.

Harold learned his craft from the best after serving in Europe in WWII, attending the Stanford Writing Program under Wallace Stegner. Initially hired as a copy boy for the “San Francisco Chronicle,” he wrote for that paper and the “San Francisco Examiner” for 30 years. In addition to columns covering industrialization, habitat destruction, Bay fill and global warming, he also authored dozens of books on San Francisco, its environment, and even its weather.

His first book on San Francisco Bay inspired Kay Kerr’s invitation for him to join the organization’s first meeting with her, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick, David Brower and other conservation group leaders in January of 1961. He was dubious the effort would go anywhere, but years later he recounted how the three ladies overcame great odds and deep doubts to mobilize a grassroots movement that saved the Bay from being destroyed.  In 2007, as he chronicled the daunting challenges of climate change, he wrote:

It would be absurd to compare saving the bay to saving the Earth, which will require revolutionary changes in the way all of us on this planet live and work, but it should give us courage and perspective to remember the first environmental activists, who didn’t realize that what they were trying to do was impossible. (How the Bay Was Saved)

Gilliam frequently credited the success of the Save The Bay movement for inspiring other efforts beyond the bay itself, here and around the country:

In a time when many Americans feared that their lives and their environment were at the mercy of forces over which they had no control, the save-the-bay success proved that ordinary citizens were not powerless as they confronted the juggernaut of rampant technology and the political clout of giant corporations. It affirmed that they could win against the most formidable opposition.

Inspired by that example, residents of other regions organized their own grassroots campaigns to turn back the bulldozers. The traditional American conservation movement, which had been focused on saving wilderness, broadened into the burgeoning environmental movement, concerned with urban as well as rural areas — and ultimately with the Earth itself.

He wrote for long enough that he got to describe environmental battles as they happened, like the effort to protect redwood trees in a national park (1966) — and then decades later to inform those enjoying the trees that they were still standing because of a tenacious battle to save them (1982).  He wrote about San Franciscans fighting against more freeways plowing through Golden Gate Park and Fisherman’s Wharf (1965) and the Chronicle reprinted that column in 2012 when few residents could imagine that was ever proposed.

When San Francisco International Airport proposed filling two square miles of the Bay for reconfigured runways, Harold noted Mark Twain’s observation that history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it rhymes.  He predicted the public’s love for the Bay would again defeat a developer’s plan to fill it, as San Francisco voters faced a ballot measure giving them the power to approve or deny filling:

San Franciscans have the opportunity to exercise the same kind of people power that broke the tyranny of the bulldozers three decades ago. Other shoreline cities and counties may follow suit, placing ultimate decisions about the entire bay in the hands of the people.  And the rhymes of history will be confirmed.

Five years ago, Chronicle urban design writer John King wrote about Gilliam’s lasting impact on San Francisco and the Bay Area:

Without people like Gilliam who fought hard to keep San Francisco and the Bay Area distinct, treasures we take for granted in many cases would be lost. It’s not chance that 1.3 million acres of this region now are protected open space, for instance. It’s because of a shared realization in the 1960s that, to quote a Gilliam column of the time, a concentrated effort of this sort “would preserve for our descendants a share of the superb natural environment enjoyed by our own generation.”

But King also noted Gilliam didn’t dwell on the past – he saw that our region has a psyche that makes us take on challenging causes in part because we have done so before and succeeded.  Gilliam called it the “San Francisco psyche … this frame of mind that says innovate, take risks, improvise. You won’t win every battle, but you’ll win the important ones.”

Thank you, Harold, for inspiring me and so many others with your words.

Read Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte’s obituary for Harold Gilliam here.

 

Scott Pruitt is terrible news for the Bay

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President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an ardent foe of environmental protection who has attacked the laws that protect our water, air and land. In short—he poses a big threat to the Bay.

Trump selected Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the federal agency that protects public health and the environment. It’s a frightening choice. Pruitt led attacks against the EPA’s regulations and challenged the legitimacy of the agency itself through lawsuits.  He is unapologetically anti-science and anti-environment, with close ties to the very corporations and industries he would be regulating.

For years Pruitt has attacked the EPA and the Clean Water Act – the cornerstone of pollution prevention and wetlands protection here in the Bay and throughout the nation. He has fought EPA action against climate change, and sued to dismantle crucial laws and regulations that protect all of us.

Pruitt was one of the first to sue the Obama administration to block EPA from protecting the drinking water sources of 117 million Americans, and attacked the rules that prevent development in “waters of the U.S.,” which protect Bay wetlands against filling. He led other state attorney generals in trying to block restoration of Chesapeake Bay by filing an amicus brief on supporting draconian litigation, even though that Bay is more than 1,000 miles from Oklahoma.

He also crusaded against the EPA’s standards for reducing soot and smog pollution, its protections against toxic pollutants from power plants, and its authority to improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.

Pruitt proudly touts himself as a fan of fossil fuels.  And he supported fracking throughout Oklahoma with minimal regulation to protect groundwater.

I have no doubt that he would lead the Trump Administration’s effort to defund the EPA and cripple its enforcement against polluters. So to save the Bay, we must fight to stop Scott Pruitt’s nomination, and we need your help now.

For the Bay we love, the air we breathe and the water we drink, we call on the U.S. Senate to oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination.

With the help of our thousands of members and supporters, Save The Bay will:

  • Demand that the U.S. Senate oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination. We need help from our supporters to mobilize California’s Senators and others throughout the nation to block Scott Pruitt from becoming EPA Administrator.
  • Support our elected officials here in California to pursue strong state protections for the Bay, to counter the Trump Administration’s anti-environment policies.
  • Continue our leadership to protect and improve our environment, right here in the Bay Area. In the Trump era, effective local organizing and action is more important than ever.

We will stand up and fight for the health of our Bay and our environment. But we can’t do this important work without help from our supporters.

I’ve seen anti-environment Presidents before. They come to Washington, DC, and try to destroy protections for water, air and land that are essential for public health, wildlife, and the planet.  It takes strong, coordinated advocacy from people and organizations at the local, state and federal level to block them, and Save The Bay will join that effort with our colleagues and environmental champions in government.

We’ve also proven how much we can accomplish for the Bay without relying on the federal government for help.  New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has observed:

“If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head — the country looks so much better from the bottom up. What you see are towns and regions not waiting for Washington, D.C., but coming together themselves to fix infrastructure, education and governance.”

The Bay Area is a shining example of that, and Save The Bay has been a leading force for regional progress:

  • We worked for over a decade to create a new Bay Area funding source to accelerate Bay marsh restoration, building a broad coalition that ultimately won 70% voter support for the Measure AA parcel tax in the nine counties this June.
  • We endorsed nine successful local bond and tax measures for transportation, housing and infrastructure that can help the Bay Area grow sustainably, to be healthy and resilient.
  • We’re convening mayors and city staff from all nine counties to promote green infrastructure that adapts our communities to climate change, reduces Bay pollution and improves natural resources.

In Save The Bay’s 2020 Strategic Plan we set ambitious goals for improving the Bay and the Bay Area, and most of that is within our power as a region and a state.

We will combat the Trump Administration’s anti-environment agenda, and we will continue to make more progress—for the planet, and right here at home for San Francisco Bay.


Please consider supporting Save The Bay as we fight Scott Pruitt’s nomination and Donald Trump’s dangerous attacks on our environment.

Welcome Paul Ledesma, our new Regional Political Organizer

Paul Ledesma, Regional Political Organizer for Save The Bay
Paul Ledesma, Regional Political Organizer for Save The Bay

My earliest memories of Penitencia Creek include playing on the ruins of the turn-of-the-century mineral baths.

One of my favorite pastimes was searching for crawdads in the creek as it flowed through Alum Rock Park in San Jose. At that time, the area was surrounded by orchards and pasture lands that were disappearing vestiges of the Santa Clara Valley, and on the verge of being rechristened Silicon Valley.

The Valley’s constant and rapid change is what I most remember.

In 1961, the year I was born, San Jose had a population of just over 200,000. Today, over a million people call it home. As the city sprawled towards the foothills, the pastures and orchards disappeared.

Seeing such dramatic change during my childhood left me with the desire to better understand the forces at play that could cause such a transformation. Eventually, this preoccupation became a vocation, born out of an aspiration to help preserve the City’s undeveloped riparian corridors.

For the last 25 years, I have had a rewarding career managing environmental programs at the cities of San Jose and San Francisco where I worked on watershed protection, zero waste, and clean energy programs. At Save The Bay I want to apply the lessons learned from working in local government to my new role, advocating for higher standards, improved funding, and more oversight of the watersheds that drain into the Bay.

As Save The Bay’s new Regional Political Organizer, I’ll be working with Bay Area local governments and community partners in support of our new Bay Smart Communities program and our ongoing efforts to make Bay restoration a core element of climate change adaption policies across the region.

I am thrilled to join the policy team at Save The Bay.

When I was in local government, I relied on Save The Bay’s advocacy to amplify the City’s messages regarding watershed protection and reach into the community in a way that I couldn’t as a city staff person. The objectives of local governments and that of Save The Bay won’t always line up, no matter how hard we try. But, what I’ve learned from my time at City Hall is that the kind of collective impact needed to protect and restore San Francisco Bay doesn’t always require stakeholders’ objectives to align perfectly.

It just requires that we all share a core vision and keep traveling in the same direction.