Sylvia McLaughlin honored with Jefferson Award

Sylvia McLaughlin
Save The Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin has been honored with a Jefferson Award for Public Service.

We are proud to announce that co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin is being honored with a Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition for citizens who exemplify public service through extraordinary contributions to their communities.

In 1961, when Save Bay was founded by McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick, the city of Berkeley had plans to double its size by filling in the Bay. Other cities around the Bay had their own plans to pave over shorelines. The three women mobilized and stopped the project in Berkeley, marking the birth of a modern environmental movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. The women recruited thousands of supporters to stop other bay fill projects, forced cities to close the burning garbage dumps ringing the Bay and halted the then common practice of dumping untreated sewage into Bay waters.

In 1965, the fledgling organization scored a huge win by successfully lobbying for the passage of the McAteer-Petris Act, a moratorium against filling the Bay. Later California established The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to regulate shoreline development and ensure public access. BCDC became a permanent agency in 1969 and continues today. It was the first coastal zone management agency and the model for most others in the world.

“It is an honor to receive this award,” said McLaughlin, who recently celebrated her 96th birthday. “We started Save The Bay because we were inspired both by the vision of what the Bay could be and the reality of what was happening to it. Even today, the Bay is never saved – it is always in the process of being saved. That’s why it so important for the current generation to continue to care for the Bay.”

McLaughlin grew up in Colorado outside of Denver. She attended Vassar College, graduating in 1939. She married Donald McLaughlin in 1949 and moved to a house in the Berkeley Hills, where she resides today. The view of the Bay from her home partially inspired the movement she founded. McLaughlin didn’t stop with saving the Bay. Active throughout her life on conservation issues, she has served on numerous boards of directors including Save The Redwoods League, National Audubon Society, and others, and held positions in local government including serving on the Advisory Planning Committee of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. In 2007 she joined a group of tree sitters to protest a planned expansion on the UC Berkeley campus. She was instrumental in preserving the Berkeley waterfront and creating open space for public enjoyment. In 2002, she spearheaded efforts to create the Eastshore State Park. In 2012 the California State Park and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to rename the park in honor of McLaughlin.

CBS broadcasts clips about each Jefferson Award winner. Watch Sylvia’s clip below: