Mother-Daughter Team Protects the Bay: Celebrating our Courageous Women Bay Heroes, Juliana Park and Sasha Youn

Sasha and Juliana volunteering at our Oro Loma nursery site

“You have to take the initiative for yourself — not wait for someone else to come up and ask if you want to do something.”

15-year-old Sasha Youn never needed textbooks or teachers to sense the high stakes of climate change.

“Ever since she was a little kid, Sasha always loved the ocean and the waterways – the whole ecosystem. We would walk Ocean or Stinson Beach, and she always had such a heart for the animals there.”

Juliana Park couldn’t be prouder of her daughter, but she admits: Sasha’s passion for the outdoors came as quite the surprise. “I never, honestly, thought about trying to protect the environment when I was growing up. But seeing how much Sasha cared made me ask: ‘what kind of world am I leaving for her, for her kids someday?’”

So, they started shaping that world for the better — when Sasha was just a 5th grader. They searched online for Bay Area environmental non-profits and Save The Bay popped up. After reading about our public restoration events, Sasha was excited to make a difference out in the wetlands.

“Being in nature, not surrounded by a bunch of cars or noisy cities, gives me peace. I wanted to volunteer with Save The Bay to help solve pollution and climate change, to help protect our Bay because it’s where we live.”

The first time they volunteered by the shoreline, Juliana was moved “to see people ages five to 80 all doing meaningful work. It felt like, ‘wow, no matter what age or socioeconomic background you are, you can experience and do something good for our Bay.’”

The more Juliana and Sasha volunteered in the wetlands, the more they worked to reduce pollution from home as well. “We compost, we’re very mindful of trash, and we try not to buy things we don’t need because it’ll go into landfill.”

Sasha volunteering at Palo Alto Baylands

By the time Sasha took a class on Philanthropy at The Bentley School, she knew exactly which organization she wanted to support. “Save The Bay puts lots of petitions and laws in action, and because it’s a non-profit, we have to donate to them. Otherwise, they can’t do all the things they’re doing to help the Bay stay healthy.”

Inspired by Sasha’s determination, Juliana took action, too. After attending our art gallery fundraiser and Catamaran Sail, Juliana opened up her home this Women’s History Month to honor Save The Bay’s courageous women founders. “It was great for Sasha and me to hear how they weren’t scientists or engineers, they just had the heart to keep the Bay clean.”

In spreading the word about our work, Juliana sends a message about gratitude. “On a personal level, I feel sharing Save The Bay with others, showing that we have something so beautiful here, our Bay – whatever we do to protect it is enough. It’s a start!”

This summer, Sasha took a significant step in that direction, securing her very first internship as a Development Fellow with Save The Bay. She says she enjoyed the mix of restoration fieldwork and outreach projects – plus the opportunity to learn even more about our founders.

“Knowing three women founded Save The Bay inspired me to take further steps toward environmental activism, because they showed if you’re passionate enough about something, you can do anything, no matter who you are.”


***Save The Bay is deeply grateful for all that Juliana and Sasha do to protect our beautiful Bay. Ahead of our big Bay Day celebration, we are proud to present these Bay Heroes with a special Courageous Women Award at this year’s Catamaran Sail – September 29th.

Sylvia McLaughlin, A life of impact


Touched by the news of Sylvia’s passing, reporters from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and even Sylvia’s home state of Colorado paused to write lovely remembrances of her life and legacy. Here are some notable articles and remarks from the press.

Local Bay Area News Coverage:

Remembering Save the Bay’s Sylvia McLaughlin — KQED Forum  
Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis sat down with host KQED Forum host Mina Kim for a conversation about Sylvia McLaughlin’s contributions to the environmental movement and her legacy.  Listen >

Sylvia McLaughlin, co-founder of Save the Bay, dies at 99 — San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Fimrite chronicles the life of Sylvia McLaughlin from her early years to the formation of Save The Bay and her legacy as an environmental leader. Read more >

Save the Bay Co-Founder Sylvia McLaughlin Dies — KQED
Lindsey Hoshaw reflects on Sylvia’s life and the challenges she overcame to save the Bay. The piece ends with a 2008 interview with Sylvia about why she started Save The Bay. Read more> 

Sylvia McLaughlin: Champion for San Francisco Bay (1916-2016) — Bay Nature
David Loeb, Executive Director and Publisher of Bay Nature, reflects on Sylvia McLaughlin’s leadership and thanks her for showing how to get things done. Read more > 

Sylvia McLaughlin, last living founder of Save the Bay, dies at age 99 — Contra Costa Times
Reporter Dennis Cuff recounts the history of the movement to save San Francisco Bay started by Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick. Read more >

Sylvia McLaughlin, lifelong Berkeley environmentalist, dies at 99 — Daily Californian 
Alexander Barreira writes for the Daily Californian, an independent student-run paper at UC Berkeley, reporting on the life of environmental trailblazer, Sylvia McLaughlin. Read More >

Other news:

Sylvia McLaughlin dies at 99; longtime San Francisco Bay environmental activist — Los Angeles Times 
Jill Levy reminds us that Sylvia’s activism was rooted in her love for the beauty of San Francisco Bay. That beauty inspired decades of advocacy and environmental successes. Read more>

Environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin dies at age 99 — Denver Post 
News of Sylvia McLaughlin’s passing reported in a Colorado newspaper. Read more >

Remembering Sylvia McLaughlin

Sylvia McLaughlin
Sylvia McLaughlin 1916-2016

Save The Bay is deeply saddened at the news that the organization’s last living founder, Sylvia McLaughlin, passed away at her home in Berkeley on Tuesday January 19, 2016 at the age of 99. Sylvia McLaughlin’s commitment to saving the San Francisco Bay created a lasting legacy for the region and the environmental movement.

“Sylvia and her friends just wanted to stop the Bay from being destroyed. They were so successful they launched the modern grassroots environmental movement in the Bay Area,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “We have a cleaner, healthier and more vibrant Bay because of Sylvia’s efforts. Her drive, determination and spark will remain an inspiration to us all.”

“Words are hardly adequate to convey Sylvia’s profound influence on protecting the environment, restraining runaway development around the Bay and providing a powerful role model for those who whose power is based not on wealth or inside political connections but on determination and a just cause,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

A long, full life

Sylvia McLaughlin was born December 24, 1916 in Denver, Colorado, the third of four children and the only daughter of George E. Cranmer and Jean Chappell Cranmer. Her father was the city official responsible for creating Red Rocks Theater and Winter Park, her mother a trained violinist and patron of classical music. Their house was surrounded by open prairie and commanded a view of the Rockies. She enjoyed horseback riding, skiing, and mountain climbing wtih her brothers. After her graduation from Vassar College in 1939, she returned to Denver and the family home.

Sylvia married Donald H. McLaughlin, President of Homestake Mining Company, in 1948 and moved in with him and his mother in Berkeley, California. Don had two grown sons from his first marriage, and Sylvia’s first step-grandchild arrived before her own two children. In the early years of her marriage she was active in civic and charitable activities alongside her supportive role as the wife of a mining executive and UC Regent.

Sylvia forms Save The Bay, shapes Bay Area environmental movement

Save The Bay FoundersIn 1961, Sylvia and her two friends, Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick, formed Save San Francisco Bay Association (now Save The Bay), spurred into action by the City of Berkeley’s plan to fill in 2,000 acres of San Francisco Bay and the fear that the Bay could become a river-like shipping channel if all the region’s bay fill plans moved ahead. Appalled that the filling of their beautiful natural treasure was considered “progress” and that there was very little public access to the Bay, the three women quickly mobilized their communities.

Establishing BCDCWith Save The Bay, Sylvia helped build and lead a massive citizens’ movement that won a moratorium on landfill in the Bay and then a permanent state agency to regulate filling and shoreline development, the Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC).  BCDC was the first agency of its kind, and is the model for coastal zone management world-wide. Sylvia helped ring the Bay with a necklace of shoreline parks, including McLaughlin Eastshore State Park on the very shoreline that she stopped Berkeley from filling, which was renamed in her honor in 2012. Public access to the Bay – one of the many causes she championed – has grown from only six miles in 1960 to hundreds of miles today.

A lifetime of conservation

Over the course of her career, Sylvia occupied several appointed positions – including seats on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors Advisory Planning Commission and on the Berkeley City Council Waterfront Advisory Committee.  She sat on Save The Bay’s board of directors for almost 40 years, and on the board of directors for the National Audubon Society, East Bay Conservation Corps, Save the Redwoods League, Citizens for East Shore Parks, Trust for Public Land, Greenbelt Alliance, and many others.

In addition to Save The Bay, she co-founded Urban Care, a Berkeley group, and Citizens for East Shore Parks.

Even in her nineties, Sylvia refused to retire, remaining an active and articulate advocate for the Bay and open recreational spaces – with a busy schedule of speaking engagements, board of director duties, and community meetings. At 93, she captivated an audience of Bay scientists, stewards and supporters at a premier screening of Saving the Bay – a documentary film chronicling the history of San Francisco Bay and the unprecedented work Sylvia did to save it. In 2012, the East Bay Regional Parks officially named McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in honor of Sylvia’s work to preserve the Berkeley shoreline.

Sylvia is survived by her children, Jeanie Shaterian and George C. McLaughlin; her stepson, Donald H. McLaughlin, Jr.; four grandchildren and six step-grandchildren.

“Her work and achievements are unparalleled and serve as inspiration to every individual or group working to protect and conserve the natural beauty and resources in the region and beyond,” Lewis said.

San Francisco Bay would not be what it is today without the work of Sylvia McLaughlin and we are humbled to carry on the legacy of her commitment to San Francisco Bay. May her drive, determination and spark remain an inspiration to us all to improve our region for future generations.

A public memorial service will be held Tuesday, February 2, 4:00 pm, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. We also will host a special event in honor of Sylvia’s life in the coming months, and will share more information as the details come together.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts in honor of Sylvia McLaughlin be made to Save The Bay or to Citizens for Eastshore Parks.

To honor Sylvia, we invite you to please share your memories or appreciation of Sylvia in the comments below. We’ll share this outpouring of love and gratitude with Sylvia’s family and assemble it into a fitting public tribute.

Brunch by the Bay

Brunch by the Bay
Save The Bay Board Member Lynda Sullivan enjoys brunch with Founding Members Dan Tuerk and Jan Tuerk. Click the photo to view the full album. Photo credit: Mike Oria

On Sunday, friends of Save The Bay gathered at the East Bay Regional Parks Shoreline Center to celebrate the San Francisco Bay. We were joined by over 75 guests, including our Board of Directors, Founding Members, Legacy Society, and Save The Bay’s founder Sylvia McLaughlin and family.

At the event, Redwood City Councilmember Ian Bain was presented Save The Bay’s 2015 Leadership Award. In April, Bain was the first elected official from Redwood City to explicitly oppose housing on Cargill’s restorable salt ponds. Bain spoke with guests about his opposition to Cargill’s plans and commitment to a healthier Bay.

Sylvia McLaughlin was thanked by the many members who have stood by her side since the 1960s. Many shared their stories about what it was like growing up in a time when the Bay was being filled with trash from neighboring cities. Their memories of founders Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick making phone calls, writing letters and collecting $1 membership contributions to create the “Save San Francisco Bay Association” around Sylvia’s kitchen table were surreal. Save The Bay and the entire Bay Area have these women to thank for creating the movement to save the Bay from destruction.

It was wonderful and inspiring having such close friends of the organization celebrate San Francisco Bay together.  Thank you to our long-time supporters and new friends for making the event a huge success!

Thank you to our volunteer photographer, Mike Oria for capturing these special moments. You can view the gallery of photos from the Brunch by the Bay here.

Guest Post | BCDC and the next 50 years on San Francisco Bay

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission celebrates its 50th anniversary by reflecting on the challenges that inspired the founding of Save The Bay and BCDC, while looking ahead to the future issues facing our region. Zack Wasserman is chairman of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and a real estate/land use attorney. Barry Nelson is a BCDC commissioner and the former executive director of Save The Bay. This commentary was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission is the world’s first coastal protection agency. It was created thanks to the efforts of three remarkable women who started a movement that swept across the nation and the world. This year marks the BCDC’s 50th year protecting the bay. The state commission is now taking on one of the biggest challenges the bay has ever faced — rising sea levels as a result of a changing climate.

In the early 1960s, Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick looked west from their East Bay homes and saw a shoreline and wetlands being defiled by garbage dumps and development. Together they founded Save the Bay and the successful public campaign to stop bay fill by creating the commission.

On this anniversary, it is appropriate to reflect on the remarkable legacy of those founders and to consider the new challenges that lie ahead.

Today, around the bay, we can see the commission’s accomplishments. Before BCDC was created, families didn’t stroll on bayside trails because none existed. The bay was shrinking by an astonishing 2,000 acres annually. The bay’s wetlands and wildlife were vanishing.

After 50 years of groundbreaking stewardship, the size of the bay has increased significantly. We have the nation’s largest urban wildlife refuge and thousands of acres of permanently protected diked former baylands. The bay shoreline is now fringed by hundreds of miles of trails, parks, beaches, promenades and restoration projects.

In addition, BCDC has approved billions of dollars of urban shoreline development. Restaurants, hotels and housing have been approved where appropriate. Fishing piers, kayak-launching facilities, marinas, a baseball park, museums and interpretive centers allow the public to enjoy the bay to an extent that was unthinkable 50 years ago. The bay has been woven into our families’ lives and our region’s economy in a manner that is envied globally.

Today we face a new challenge because of the rising sea levels that are resulting from our warming climate. State agencies such as BCDC expect no less than 3 feet and perhaps as much as 10 feet of sea-level rise by 2100. Absent regional planning, collaboration and action, those rising waters will inundate low-lying communities, businesses and natural habitats.

While we still need to minimize bay fill of wetlands and maximize public access to the bay shore and waters, our charge now includes protecting our natural and built environments from rising tides. Rising sea levels threaten our roads and highways, airports, transit systems, water treatment plants and power plants. Rising sea levels also threaten the wetlands and wildlife BCDC has worked so hard to protect and expand.

Meeting this challenge may seem as daunting a task as stopping bay fill in 1965. Inspired by the Save the Bay founders, we must begin with a shared vision for a healthy and accessible bay that is treasured by the communities that surround it. We must tap into the creative spirit for which our region is world-renowned. And, finally, we must work together — public agencies and communities of all types and located all around the bay — to ensure that all of us are protected from rising tides.

We can also work as individuals to protect ourselves and our neighbors from rising waters due to a likely El Niño, which could cause significant Bay Area flooding. Close to home, we can organize or volunteer for creek cleanups so our waterways can better direct water away from our homes.

On a larger scale, we can encourage our cities and counties to participate in BCDC’s groundbreaking community-based Adapting to Rising Tides program and to authorize new Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts to fund local climate change adaptation efforts. The districts, new community mechanisms that replace old redevelopment agencies, can fund local climate change adaptation efforts.

The three women who founded Save the Bay launched a movement that resonated across the nation and the globe. We have a new opportunity today. If we meet today’s challenge with a shared vision, the creativity that befits our region, and a spirit of public, private, and nonprofit sector collaboration, our children and grandchildren will be able to look out and see a vibrant bay transformed once again, thriving communities surrounding it, and a Bay Area that remains a global leader in meeting the challenges that face us all.

Zack Wasserman is chairman of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission and a real estate/land use attorney. Barry Nelson is a BCDC commissioner and the former executive director of Save The Bay.