$20 Million Closer to a Clean & Healthy Bay

Just after Labor Day, we asked you to join Save The Bay in the fight to secure additional funding for important Bay restoration projects in the Parks and Water Bond under consideration by the State Legislature. You responded with overwhelming support. Over 1,700 of you signed our petition that we delivered to key members of the Bay Area Legislative Caucus.

With that support, and the help of our allies from the Bay Area Council, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Operating Engineers Local 3, and the Governing Board of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, we worked hard to make our case for Bay restoration funding among competing environmental priorities throughout California.

While we are disappointed that the final Parks and Water Bond the Legislature approved does not include the level of funding we had hoped for, we are happy to report that it does include a one-time state investment of $20 million for San Francisco Bay restoration projects. Subject to the Governor’s signature and voter approval on the June 2018 statewide ballot, these funds would add to the $25 million annually for 20 years provided by 2016’s regional Measure AA.

We have already begun work to identify additional Bay funding options that we can pursue in the coming year, and as always, our success will rely on your efforts.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our beautiful Bay,

David Lewis
Executive Director, Save The Bay

Brunch by the Bay: The NextGen of Bay Stewards

Brunch by the Bay Speakers
Brunch by the Bay Speakers


One of the most enjoyable events I get to run in my role is Save The Bay’s Brunch by the Bay. On Saturday, August 19th we hosted more than 60 guests, including many founding members, at the Berkeley Yacht Club to commemorate the organization’s founding and discuss our plans for the future.  We look forward to this event every year as a way to honor the organization’s deep roots and remind ourselves that our founders accomplished “impossible” things against all odds.  Sylvia, Kay, and Esther were three women living in a world dominated by men in the 1950s and 1960s. Their world had no environmental protection laws, and they successfully banded together for the good of the Bay and the communities that call it home.

I have spent my entire adult life and the majority of my decade long career standing up for women’s rights. When I learned about the founding of Save The Bay and the three fearless women who started a revolutionary movement to prevent Bay fill, I immediately wanted to join the cause. I enjoy working for Save The Bay because of our inspiring founding story, my Bay Area roots, and most importantly so I can teach my 18 month old daughter the importance of fighting climate change through proactive and nature-based solutions.

A commonly held goal amongst parents is to make the world better for our children and generations to come. This sentiment was echoed at the Founder’s Brunch by Allison Chan, our Bay Smart Communities Manager, who is making real strides on behalf of Save The Bay to help the Bay Area reach zero trash by 2022. One thing that drives Allison is the hope that her baby girl will grow up in a cleaner and healthier environment. Our other speaker, Kenneth Rangel, spoke about his work on the habitat restoration team and how some of the students he takes to the shoreline have never seen the Bay despite growing up just a few miles away. Thanks to Kenneth and his fellow restoration colleagues, Save The Bay leads over 5,000 volunteers to restore the shoreline every year.

Brunch By The Bay 2017

We must honor the unprecedented victories of our founders and continue to protect, preserve, and restore our beautiful Bay, which is at the heart of our Bay Area community. By joining the Save The Bay Legacy Society, you can support this vision! Your legacy can be to leave this beautiful community stronger and more resilient for those who come after us.  I am so moved that Save The Bay has received almost a quarter of a million dollars in legacy bequest gifts this year.  This unexpected funding allows us to hire and retain staff, like Kenneth and Allison, and equip them to engage more volunteers and advocates.

In the spirit of legacy, I encourage you to join us as a member of Save The Bay’s Legacy Society. We are so passionate about our Legacy Society that we’re offering a special, one-time opportunity to receive a beautiful framed photo of San Francisco Bay if you let us know that we are a part of your estate plans.  To learn more about legacy giving and receive your Bay photo, please contact me at kreitter@savesfbay.org or 510-463-6837.

I continue to be inspired by the stories of our founding members—how the Bay was in a dire state before Save The Bay was formed and how our founders’ tenacity and grit helped to transform it. I am grateful to our founding members for making the Bay Area a better place for me, and I am committed to doing the same for my daughter. Thank you for standing with us.


The Man Behind the Mission – A Chat with David Lewis, Executive Director for Save The Bay

Our fearless leader, David Lewis, celebrates his 19th Anniversary at Save The Bay this month. To honor this occasion, David’s colleague and friend, Robin Erickson, CFO, sat down for a chat to hear about his motivations, what keeps him up at night, and how he’s changed as a leader over nearly two decades.

David Lewis, Executive Director of Save The Bay. Photo: Mike Oria

I’ve worked for this man for 12 years. That’s 3,000 days in the office together. (OK, we’ve taken a few vacations in there, but you get the idea). And when I think about why I’m still at Save The Bay, David Lewis is at the forefront.

I’ve never stopped learning from David. About our fascinating Bay, about politics and history, and random Latin phrases I really wish I could remember (and have no idea how he does).

In the 12 years I’ve known David, he’s never slowed down. He leads by example. He cares about the people who work for him. He welcomes differing opinions. He doesn’t get defensive when you point out mistakes. He’s the first to sign up for kitchen cleaning duty.

I respect David a lot. So I was honored to sit down with him and ask him a few questions.

Robin: What’s the best part of your job?
David: A rare part of the job – being on the Bay, which I get to do when I’m participating in tours with donors or stakeholders. I’m lucky to see it from my office window (and my house), but it’s not the same. Experiencing the Bay be it walking, hiking, biking, sitting on the beach, kayaks, volunteering in a wetland restoration, etc. is inspiring and it’s what drives me to get up and go to work every day.

Robin: What’s the hardest part of your job?
David: Seeing more opportunities for Save The Bay to protect and restore the Bay than we have people and resources for. We have to be very strategic because there are way more things to work on than we are able.

Robin: How have you changed as a leader in 19 years? 
David: I’ve developed more confidence to make changes that need to be made. Earlier on I wasn’t always able to recognize when change was needed and act quickly. And I’ve realized the importance of hiring the best people available. Your effectiveness as a leader depends most on the people you hire. I’ve also become more comfortable delegating work, like some writing tasks and funder relationships.

Robin: When the going gets tough, what values and practices do you lean on to get you through your day?
David: Do something. When things get overwhelming it can seem paralyzing. I try to do the most important thing, but if that isn’t obvious I at least try to do something. It’s about action. It’s important to plan and to build alignment and consensus, but you can’t let that get in the way of making the call or having the meeting. What organizations and individuals do is more important than what they are “for.”

Robin: Where have you seen the most impact in environmental conservation in the Bay Area in the last 19 years?
David: When environmentalists truly partner and enlist other constituencies they have the most impact. There’s a saying, “Winning advocacy is about addition.” We have who we have, but how do we get who we need that we don’t yet have on our side? Measure AA is a great example.  There wasn’t any doubt that we would gain environmental leaders’ and organizations’ support, but we were going to need support from a two-thirds majority of 3.5 million registered voters. That required support from people who care about the Bay but don’t primarily identify as environmentalists —  business leaders, labor unions, community organizations, elected officials. That’s why it took 10 years. In the Bay Area we’ve done most of the easy stuff. Hard stuff requires building alliances and support outside our core constituency.

Robin: Like many conservation nonprofits, Save The Bay has survived decades of climate deniers and low funding prioritization. Today’s political climate creates more hurdles for nonprofits like us, how will Save The Bay survive for another 50+ years?
What you said about climate deniers is true in general but less true in the Bay Area and on the issue of the Bay. People here are mostly not climate deniers, they have concern for the environment and pride in the Bay, and we are a wealthy region overall, so it’s not as much of a challenge for us to tell that story (and be believed) as it is for environmental organizations in other parts of the country. A bigger challenge is that there are a lot of important causes competing for attention and support here (and the overall number of conservation donors is still a small fraction compared with other nonprofit causes). One of Save The Bay’s advantages, if we use it, is that our issue is visible and beloved. But when people look at it, the Bay looks beautiful, so we have to work harder to explain that the Bay isn’t saved: it is still threatened by pollution, climate change, and population growth in the region, and if we don’t continue to protect and restore it, it won’t support our economy or the lifestyle Bay Area residents love.

Robin: If a million dollars landed in our lap, what would Save The Bay work on?
David: I’d have Save The Bay work in more cities for our Bay Smart Communities program. It’s a new program that we’ve just launched that focuses on the importance of greening Bay Area communities to ensure a clean and healthy Bay.  We’re focusing on two cities to start with – Oakland and San Mateo – because we can’t be in too many places at the same time and know we can make a valuable impact in communities there. Long-term, I want us to be able to make a difference all around the Bay. I want us to make a bigger impact and faster… which requires a lot more money.

Robin: The Bay Area is the world leader in technological development. How has technology changed since you started at Save The Bay and what difference has it made?
On the plus side, technology gives us efficiency and power so we are able to reach more people to share our story and ultimately broaden support. The danger is when it becomes a crutch and barrier to personal contact because it’s often the personal contact that brings results. For example, we just got a first-time six-figure gift from a funder. I developed a phone relationship with a program officer, they spent two hours attending one of our restoration programs, and Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director Donna Ball and I made an in-person presentation to their board. If I had limited my efforts to just email we wouldn’t have had the same result, but it was a multi-touch approach and the ability to have face-to-face time that helped us secure that support.

What I’ve learned is that every person likes to be contacted in different ways, for some, a phone call stands out more because email volume can be overwhelming, for others, they use text and social media to connect. A big advantage we have as a local organization with a volunteer program is that we can have that in-person contact, and that in-person time is priceless.

Robin: What keeps you awake at night?
David: Trump, lately. I worry about what the last election means for the future of our planet, our country, and our Bay. I’m still a pretty good sleeper, though.

Robin: What do you do when you’re not working?
David: I am fortunate to live on the edge of Tilden Park in the East Bay. I love to hike local trails and my dog loves it too because he can be off leash. I learned to ski after I was 40, which was difficult but (eventually) very rewarding. This year the snow came back after years of drought and low snowpack, so I’ve enjoyed some epic skiing with my family.

Robin: What advice would you give to yourself at 20? 
David: Work less, travel more.
Robin: Why that advice?
David: I grew up in the Bay Area, which is a great place, but not typical of the country or the world. Then I worked for 15 years in Washington, DC, which is also a great place, but pretty insular and sheltered “inside the Beltway”. I became a much more effective advocate by working on cleanup and shutdown of nuclear weapons production facilities with local activists. This was in remote places like Paducah, Kentucky, Amarillo, Texas, Eastern Washington state, and rural Ohio and Tennessee. That was tough territory. People working in those places had to be clever, efficient, and collaborative to be successful. By contrast, we live in a place where you can get 1,000 people to give you $25/year for almost any cause. It’s almost impossible to run an organization into the ground here because people here are well-off and generous and progressive. My travel to those other places made me appreciate what effective advocacy requires. Travel and exposure to more people and places has made me appreciate the advantages I have and the challenges other people face, so I can quickly get into that “don’t mourn – organize” mindset, appreciate the great advantages I have as a person, and we have as an organization. No whining!

Robin: Have you given that advice to your kids?
David: My girls have traveled way more than I did at their age (more credit to their mom than me). They don’t need me to give them that advice.

Robin: What gives you hope?
David: My kids. Young people, generally. We’ve had an incredible parade of talented people – staff and fellows – passing through the organization, bringing great work and energy and going on to other challenges. They become ambassadors for Save The Bay. Our Fellows Program is one of the best additions we’ve made at Save The Bay. It gives me hope.

2017 Conservation Action Award Winner David Lewis: With Ballot Measure Passed, What’s Next for Save the Bay?

DavidLewisPortraitILLO-1_squareI wonder at first why David Lewis has chosen to meet at Point Isabel, a somewhat nondescript stretch of filled Bay shoreline at the south edge of Richmond.

“What we’re standing on shouldn’t be here,” Lewis admits. “But look around!” He gestures toward the hills. “Up there is where Kay Kerr lived.” Kerr, one of the three founders of Save The Bay, the organization Lewis now heads, looked down on this shore when it was a row of active landfills pushing into the Bay—and knew she must take a stand. At home in Kensington, Lewis enjoys a similar but now less alarming view.

He gestures toward the Golden Gate. Under a streaky gray December sky is the glimmering reach of the Central Bay, bounded by its three big bridges, cradling its four big islands. In the campaign for Measure AA, the wetland restoration measure, “we learned what people see in their minds when they hear the word ‘Bay’.” It’s this: the bridges, the islands, the cities next to the water. Other stretches of bayshore are wider, wilder than Point Isabel. There are better places, north and south of here, for marshland restoration; there are better places to be alone with a big sky. Lewis is especially fond of China Camp in Marin and the vast expanses near Alviso. “But people like nature with people. That’s what we learned.”

Lewis grew up on an urbanized bayshore not unlike this one, in Palo Alto. The waterfront the family liked to visit had everything proper to such a shore: a duck pond, a sewage treatment plant, an airport where they went “to watch planes land,” and a dump. “Of course we went to the dump. The dump was a destination.”

His parents “sent in their dollar a year to Save The Bay,” the organization’s original and symbolic membership fee, but Lewis’s activism came home with him from school. During the 1976-77 drought, “I was the water police,” the monitor of running taps and lengthy showers. A summer class in natural history also planted some seeds.

These would not sprout, however, for 20 years. After high school, instead of following in his parents’ footsteps to Berkeley, Lewis chose the other coast, winding up at Princeton. He majored in politics and American studies, writing his senior thesis on the evolving nuclear freeze movement in the early 1980s. This interest led him to the arms control field and to Washington, D.C., where he worked successively for Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), and the League of Conservation Voters. But the Bay kept pulling him back. He and his family had already decided on the move when, in 1998, Save The Bay tapped him as its second executive director.

It didn’t take long for lobbying skills honed in Washington to come into use in California. In 1998, San Francisco International Airport released a plan to add runways on Bay fill, the first big Bay encroachment proposed since the 1980s. The powers that be lined up in unanimous favor. “It looked unwinnable,” Lewis recalls. Some conservationists toyed with the thought of a grand bargain: SFO would get its expansion but fund the purchase of all the restorable former wetlands around the Bay rim. Lewis wasn’t tempted. “If there was going to be any accommodation, it should be at the end of the environmental review process, not the beginning. Even if we lost, we would have represented the Bay well.” The ensuing campaign followed the classic Save The Bay model—factual, science-based, polite, equipped with reasonable alternatives, implacable—arguing that the airport could clear up its rainy-day delays with gentler, cheaper, more sophisticated means. That would prove to be the case. “Later,” says Lewis, “SFO Director John Martin thanked me.”

Lewis would gladly declare victory in the generation-long battle against Bay fill, but “an old-style fight” continues at Redwood City, where Cargill hopes to develop 1,400 acres of crystallizer beds once used for salt production with 12,000 homes. Opposition has slowed down this new juggernaut, and the public is increasingly skeptical of the plan. “Meanwhile, the sea level keeps rising and the traffic gets worse.”

The restoration of the wetland rim, more urgent than ever as sea level rise gains speed, is proceeding without Faustian bargains. Lewis threw himself into the campaign to pass Regional Measure AA. Now the citizens of nine Bay counties are taxing themselves to plow ahead with the restoration job.

Save The Bay has recently raised and widened its sights, from the here and now to the long-term future and from the immediate shoreline to the wider Bay watershed. The streams that feed the Bay are carrying too much pollution, too many plastic bags, and often too little sediment to help rebuild marshes, Lewis says. “We need to look upland and upstream and influence what’s happening there—the way cities develop and adapt and conserve.”

The watershed vision leads to these bold words in the organization’s year-old 2020 Strategic Plan: “We must help save the Bay Area as a sustainable community with a healthy Bay at its heart.”

How do you do that? “You build more and deeper relationships where the [land] development is happening, with elected officials and agency staff. You look for community organizations and businesses to ally with. And you go after the money! It doesn’t work otherwise.” Acknowledging that Save The Bay is one of many partners, Lewis notes with pride, “We are more active than others in getting more money. We endorsed ten local ballot measures in November, and nine of them passed.”

Walking back to the Bay Trail trailhead, next to the joyful dogs of the Point Isabel off-leash area, we pause at the channel that nourishes remnant Hoffman Marsh. Lewis eyes the waters for bat rays, points out the mud banks where endangered Ridgway’s rails loaf at low tide. Across the marsh is a culvert where an urban creek pours into the tide. This one, it turns out, lacks even a name: It is mapped as Fluvius Innominata. Several neighboring streams, however, have been “daylighted” here and there, reopened to the sky. It’s symbolic of what Lewis is looking for. “Daylighting helps the creeks and builds interest, awareness, stewardship.”

He speaks of the tension sometimes felt between access and preservation. “I have no patience with excluding people too much from nature.” He corrects himself: “I have patience with a lot of things, actually. But it’s not necessary to wall off all of the wildlife from all of the people. We have a big enough canvas to have strict nature preserves and recreational access areas, too.”


This article was originally written by John Hart and posted on Bay Nature Magazine’s website March 28, 2017.  


Daily Digest

San Jose’s bag ban goes into effect on New Year’s Day. “This should be the model for other cities in the Bay Area and around the country,” said David Lewis. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee called on state lawmakers to empower cities to regulate bags as they see fit. Plus, the Cosco Busan oil spill continues to harm herring in the Bay. And Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a local treasure.

San Jose Mercury News 12/25/2011
Attention, shoppers: Get ready to BYOB (bring your own bag) in San Jose stores
Don’t act surprised, San Jose. Your days of toting home everything from groceries to auto parts to doggy toys to lingerie in the beleaguered plastic shopping bag are numbered.

Sacramento Bee 12/27/2011
Viewpoints: Give cities the right to regulate use of plastic bags as they see fit
In California, many cities have banned plastic bags, but none have placed a fee or tax on them. That’s because plastic bags are tax-free here, by law.

San Francisco Chronicle 12/27/2011
Cosco Busan spill effects on herring lasting
The cargo ship accident that dumped tens of thousands of gallons of thick, tarry ship fuel into San Francisco Bay caused lasting damage to the region’s once-plentiful schools of Pacific herring, the bay’s only commercially fished species, according to a study released Monday.

Contra Costa Times 12/26/2011
Gary Bogue: SF Bay Wildlife Refuge is a local treasure
Dear Gary: This morning (Dec. 19) I was happy to see that the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge was a topic. In the Merc, you referred to an address/Visitor Center location in Fremont seen from the eastern end of the Dumbarton Bridge. The photo caption referred to the Alviso location.
Learn more about our restoration work at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge >>