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.

Shaping a green infrastructure agenda for the Bay Area

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. Photo by Matt Fabry.

Greening urban areas with street trees, rain gardens, parks, and other natural infrastructure offers many benefits to our communities. Neighborhoods become more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, getting people out of their cars. Urban heat islands—the increase in local temperature resulting from heat retention by an overabundance of asphalt and concrete—are reduced, decreasing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning during warm weather. Chemicals, trash, and other pollutants picked up by rainwater are filtered by vegetation and soil, reducing the pollution we send into our creeks and the Bay. There’s even evidence that urban greening leads to improvements in public safety.

Why, then, aren’t we greening all of our neighborhoods? If there are so many benefits to green infrastructure, what’s holding us back?

This was the topic of discussion at the Bay Area Leadership Conversation on Green Infrastructure on Friday, Dec. 9, that Save The Bay helped to plan and lead. At the beginning of the day, local and state elected officials representing the Bay Area gathered to learn from one another, sharing green infrastructure case studies and discussing the difficulties in scaling them from demonstration projects to community-wide implementation.

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While green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Photo by Matt Fabry.

The main event was attended by over 250 people representing state agencies like Cal EPA and the Strategic Growth Council, cities and counties, local clean water programs, park districts, environmental justice organizations, environmental organizations, and more. Round-table and panel discussions were held throughout the day, and keynote speakers discussed the state and federal political climate and its implications for expanding green infrastructure, funding challenges, and examples of where green infrastructure is already having an impact. Examples ranged from wetland restoration projects on the Bay shoreline to rain gardens in dense communities that allow stormwater to seep back into underground aquifers, reducing pollution and improving local water supply.

A few important messages emerged from the day. First and foremost, people are excited about greening our communities, but it takes resources. We need our state elected officials to lead the way in securing more funding for local governments and agencies to implement green infrastructure, and to prioritize its integration with housing development and transportation projects. Every time our cities approve new housing developments, or repave our roads and sidewalks, is an opportunity to weave in bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens. But current policies and funding restrictions are making it very difficult to implement projects that include all of these elements. Secondly, while green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Greening projects should be designed through a participatory stakeholder process to ensure that community priorities are incorporated. Additionally, local agencies and organizations should work together to train and retain a local workforce that can maintain our green infrastructure and ensure our ability to reap the full array of benefits from these projects.

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. We look forward to working with stakeholders and local government to transform our cities from gray to green, protecting the Bay and enhancing quality of life with each park and rain garden.

Guest post | Cleaning up South Bay Creeks

Chinook Salmon
Local cleanup efforts have made Los Gatos Creek healthier for Chinook salmon.

For the past 3 years, the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition has been a community-based volunteer effort struggling to restore our trash-clogged South Bay Creeks and Rivers, removing over 140 tons of trash. Prior to this effort, the winter storms carried much of this trash downstream and into the Bay. As this work has progressed, we are seeing nature reward us with the return of beaver absent from our creeks for over 160 years and improved habitat for steelhead and Chinook salmon.

This work is only a piece in a larger chain of an interconnected puzzle with each impacting the other. The benefit to our Bay’s health by setting aside a long term financial commitment via Measure AA is an important next step.

– Steve Holmes, South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition 

Getting to Zero Trash

Trash fills Coyote Creek in San Jose at William Street Park, Photo by Vivian Reed

Trash has plagued the Bay since landfills ringed its shoreline in the 1950’s and 60’s. Times have changed, but according to the agency tasked with protecting water quality in the Bay, not enough progress has been made.

At the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s meeting a couple weeks ago, Board members discussed the effectiveness of a 5-year-old policy that requires cities to drastically reduce the flow of pollutants into their storm drains, which connect directly to creeks and the Bay. Trash was the main topic, and the discussion focused on how to improve the policy to ensure that trash in the Bay is eliminated by 2022. Save The Bay has been tracking progress since the policy went into effect in 2010, and unfortunately we’re not convinced that much has changed.

Stronger policies needed

Part of the problem is the lack of clear requirements for determining how much trash ends up in local creeks or along the Bay shoreline. How will cities, the Water Board, or the public know if our efforts to reduce trash are working if no one is collecting data in and around the water? Another concern is the lack of consequences for cities that don’t demonstrate major trash reductions. Some cities are working very hard to reduce trash through activities like street sweeping, maintenance crews in commercial areas, promptly collecting illegally dumped materials, and organizing community trash clean-ups. Inconsistent effort among cities must be discouraged to truly reduce trash throughout our region.

Luckily, the Water Board voiced these same concerns at the meeting and asked their staff to come back with a better, stronger policy. Board Member Jim McGrath stated that the region is nowhere near a 40% reduction in trash (which was supposed to have been achieved in 2014) and the Board Chair, Terry Young, made it clear that future failures to meet mandatory reductions will not be tolerated—the next one is a 70% reduction by 2017.

While trash remains a serious threat to the Bay, the leadership demonstrated by the Water Board gives us hope. For our part, Save The Bay will continue to advocate for a strong policy while also working to support cities in their efforts. At the meeting, many city representatives spoke of the difficulty in securing resources to implement solutions—that’s why YOUR voice is so important. Tell your elected officials to do everything they can to keep trash out of our neighborhoods and storm drains. Talk to your local businesses about keeping their sidewalks clean. Take the Zero Trash pledge to stay up-to-date on future opportunities to advocate for a trash-free Bay.