In Memoriam: Harold Gilliam

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.


A #GivingTuesday message from Jaime Redford


As a documentary filmmaker, conservationist, and proud Bay Area resident, experience has taught me that when we focus on hope and solutions, our society is capable of great things. You and the Save The Bay community are proof of that.

Measure AA passed earlier this year because more than 70 percent of us here in the Bay Area stood up to restore our wetlands, and to make it better and healthier for everyone. And just weeks ago, Californians stood together to ban the plastic bag in our state once and for all by passing Prop. 67. Save The Bay and supporters like you are making climate change and other environmental issues personal — by talking about what’s happening in your backyards, by meeting people where they are, and by bringing people together to protect this magical place. And that’s inspiring to see.

As we travel to see our loved ones for the holidays and with #GivingTuesday right around the corner, I put this video together to share why I believe our Bay community is so important. The inspiring work of Save The Bay, and the hope and optimism of supporters like you, is more critical now than ever.

I hope you’ll take a minute to watch my video. Thank you for being a part of this movement, giving all you can as we work toward solutions for people, wildlife and the planet.








Jamie Redford

Save The Bay Supporter and Fairfax Resident

Captain Maggie McDonogh

Captain Maggie

Award winning U.S.C.G. Certified Captain Maggie McDonogh is the President, CEO and fourth generation Captain of the Angel Island – Tiburon Ferry Company, now celebrating over 55 years serving the community on San Francisco Bay.

Save The Bay last spoke with you about the return of the porpoises to the Bay. Do you still see porpoises on your daily trips across the Bay?

Yes we do. In fact I’ve been seeing quite a few calves, which is really quite wonderful.

You told me you saw a Mola Mola out in front of your boat in Tiburon the other day. How often do you see marine life during your daily trips across the Bay?

We see some sort of wildlife every day on every trip. Right now, we see a lot of jellyfish, baitfish, seals, harbor seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, an occasional whale and many different kinds of sea birds. It’s fascinating when you see species that aren’t normally seen in the Bay.

The Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry Company is the last remaining family owned and operated ferry service in California. What was it like growing up out on the Bay?

It was wonderful. We saw all sorts of beautiful things regularly.  My father, who grew up on the Bay himself, taught me how to handle all sorts of different situations and we met many fascinating people. The Bay is a beautiful place to be. I was very lucky to grow up with it being a central focus of our family’s lives.

What is it like to continue your family’s work and to see your children becoming involved as well?

Well that’s wonderful too.  Not only do we have the privilege of operating the boats but we get to make people happy for a living. My dad taught us that not all returns on an investment are monetary. It’s a very enriching and a wonderful experience to continue doing ferry boats and to watch over people. To share what we get to do every single day with people who don’t get to do this every day, that’s a huge honor.

It’s amazing to watch our son Sam who is 20 getting his captain’s license. Teaching him to run the ferry boat is an experience. When he receives his documentation he will be the 5th generation of our family in Tiburon to be a captain. His grandfather would be very proud. Our daughter Becky is the next in line after Sam and our youngest Ben is all about learning how to tie the lines.

What I didn’t understand for a long time is that the highest form of compliment is imitation. When your children are imitating what you do and following you, that’s a huge compliment. They don’t need to do it. They certainly are welcome to explore other avenues, but it’s very nice to see them showing interest in what we do.

From hearing stories from your family and from your own experiences have you noticed any changes in terms of how people interact with the San Francisco Bay and how people talk and think about the Bay?

I see a lot more people interested in the Bay and its wellbeing. There’s a lot of discussion and concern about the funneling of the water from the Delta south because that’s going to have a tremendous impact on the health of the Bay. Then you get the people who don’t know anything about the Bay, so there is an opportunity to educate them. There are all of these different avenues for people who aren’t involved to see more and for people who don’t really understand to be educated.  I hope that people who ride the boat and experience the Bay’s beauty will educate themselves and become involved since the Bay is an essential element in our greater community.

During the 2008 wildfire, you brought fire fighters to Angel Island via ferry, ensuring that the island and its historical buildings were protected. Can you tell me more about that experience and what role the AITF has played in saving the Bay?

That was a period where we had four or five days of North Easterly wind and we were called by the Head Ranger who said that there was a small fire but we didn’t need to worry.  We came to the docks and at that point my phone was ringing like crazy and everyone was saying, “Hey Maggie your island is on fire.”

So William and I ran the boat with some other volunteers for hours, moving firefighters back and forth because you have to move quickly in situations like this. You know there’s concern for all the historic buildings and then there’s the concern about all of the people on the island. It was really intense and I have a lot of respect for the firefighting crews that were out there because they were very effective in dealing with a potentially horrific situation.

We were also involved with the 2007 oil spill that recently was on the Bay. We discussed with the cleanup crews the best placement of the oil absorbent pads because we are familiar with the currents around Angel Island and in the cove better than just about anyone else. We came and helped them move equipment back and forth to the island. We provided service off of our dock in Tiburon for them to use as a staging platform.

When you are not ferrying passengers across the Bay, what are some of your favorite things to do on the Bay?

We do lots of things on the Bay. I like to just take the boat out and relax. We go swimming, paddle boarding and kayaking. Since the Bay is never the same from hour to hour or day to day there is always something to see or do.

Learn more about Captain Maggie

A pillar in the San Francisco Bay Area community and beyond, Captain Maggie McDonogh is the recipient of many honors and awards including the Tiburon Peninsula Business Citizen of the Year Award, North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Award, and the American Red Cross Lifesaving Hero Organization Award, to name a few.

In addition to fun day-trips to Angel Island State Park year-round via Tiburon, California, the public is invited to join “Captain Maggie” and her expert crew on-board for seasonal Sunset Cruises, specialty cruises and private charters on San Francisco Bay.

For more information and to plan your next getaway on San Francisco Bay please visit:

June 2015 Blog Roundup

Here are the five most popular posts from our blog in June. Read more about microbeads, the potential for future flooding and three stories about how people interact with the Bay.

Good Riddance to Microbreads

Cyril Manning, Communications Director


470 million plastic microbeads are released into San Francisco Bay every day, posing health hazards to the aquatic environment. The California Assembly is taking action to ban microbeads in personal care products sold in California. Read More




From Drought to Downpour

Nissa Kreidler, Restoration Operations Specialist

An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862

A Great Flood hit the Bay Area in 1861, leaving most of the low lying areas around the Bay covered in water. Scientists project that a flood like this could happen again. Is the Bay prepared for the next big storm? Read More






Paddle to the Sea

Coauthored by Luigi Ryan, Monica Greene, and Aly Cheney, Guest Bloggers

The Tuolumne River Trust’s kayaked down through the Tuolumne watershed, from Yosemite, into the Central Valley, down through the Delta, across the Bay, and out to the sea at the Golden Gate Bridge. Learn about their journey paddling from the Sierras to the Sea. Read More




Coming Back to the Bay

Caity Varian, Communications Volunteer

View of the San Francisco Bay from Tiburon.Returning to the Bay Area after a long time away is an amazing experience, especially for Bay Natives. Communications Volunteer Caity Varian reflects on her experience returning to Bay during college breaks. Read More




Escaping Alcatraz | Bridget Quinn 

Bridget Quinn, Guest Blogger

Bridget and friends preparing for the iconic swim.

Escape from Alcatraz participant and avid Bay swimmer Bridget Quinn reflects on the experience of swimming in the Bay and the unique perspective it provides. “I’ve been swimming in the Bay for fifteen years and consider the proximity of such liquid majesty one of San Francisco’s greatest gifts.”  Read More

From Drought to Downpour


An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862
An artist’s rendition of California’s flooded State Capitol circa 1862

“Extreme river and creek flooding has broken many records, and swept away hundreds of homes”  -CNN, May 2014

“The frequent sight of houses floating, air-like, along the swift current was novel indeed, some of them being upright, some bottom up” -Union Democrat, December 1861

Two similar quotes that strangely tie events from today into our roots from the past. The first quote is from present day Texas, where millions of dollars in infrastructure damage has lead the President to declare the event a major disaster. The second is a piece from our own state’s history, an event not often mentioned in the textbooks or the classroom.

If you grew up in Northern California you’ll undoubtedly remember being given a small pan filled with rocks and soil to sift through in search of that infamous, luminous element known as gold. But how many of you remember being told the stories of our state capitol underwater just a decade after we discovered gold, our own governor having to be rowed from his house to the capitol building for his inauguration, or of the thousands that lost their possessions, property, or even their lives because of a torrential downpour that lasted 43 days straight?

History of a hundred year storm

The flood of 1861-1862 started off as a welcomed rain after a major drought throughout the state. While Native Americans of the Delta and Bay Area warned the post-gold rush era settlers of the floods that were about to ensue, many newly established citizens and towns were ill-prepared for such an event. What started as a quenching relief for many farmers soon turned into their worst nightmare, as the Central Valley turned into an inland lake and swelling rivers took down entire towns, a quarter of the state’s livestock, and thousands of lives.

The floods were so bad that, after attempting to run the state from underwater, legislatures decided to move the capitol from Sacramento to San Francisco until it could recover. While San Francisco was in better shape that the inundated Central Valley, most of the low lying areas around the Bay were covered in water. During the peak of the storm, so much water poured in from the Delta that our Bay shorelines didn’t experience low tide for a week.

Haven’t heard of the 1861-1862 flood before? It’s OK, neither had I until I caught one of Joel Pomerantz’s natural history lectures, but surely this is something we Bay Area residents should be aware of considering this was not some freak event but rather a natural occurrence.

Due for another downpour

Every 100-200 years we get a visit from the deceptively named “Pineapple Express”, or stream of warm air and moisture that starts at the equator and makes its way up the West Coast. What most meteorologists refer to as Atmospheric Rivers, these streams of warm air and moisture are important in the global water cycle and can bring up to four times the annual rainfall amount to areas of California.

A deluge of rain may sound like relief given our current dry state, but the reality would be overwhelmingly damaging. Today one of these great storms is estimated to wrack up $10.4 billion dollars in damages, almost the cost of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.  What’s worse is that many of these damages would likely be to our shoreline infrastructure and low lying cities on the Bay.

A recent study calls for large scale restoration of San Francisco Bay’s wetlands to help prepare our communities for the next big storm. You see, wetlands act as natural buffers for our communities. One acre of wetlands can hold a million gallons of water – water that would otherwise be in our streets and at our doorsteps if these wetlands didn’t exist. Save The Bay has been working on restoration projects that further help protect our cities from the negative impacts of flooding and support clean Bay water.

While we can’t stop these large storms from occurring, we can educate and better prepare ourselves for when they do arrive. To learn more about the flood of 1861-1862 and what you can do to help support the Bay join us for a restoration event.