Quiet Confidence: Why Beckie Zisser Thrives Talking Politics

Beckie takes her boys to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

“Being a quiet, shy person, I hated swim meets as a kid – found them really nerve-racking. But once I was in the water, I knew exactly what I was doing. I loved it.”

Beckie Zisser knows well: she isn’t like most lobbyists.

And that’s precisely why Beckie strikes a chord with politicians. “I’m not naturally extroverted, but I always have that drive underneath to compete.” When it comes to water issues, Beckie’s never afraid to enter the ring. In fact, she’s taken on this fight for most of her career.

Beckie’s childhood in Seattle shaped much of the story. “I lived at the top of a hill, and you could see water on both sides. There were lakes around me, mountains. Being outside was an extremely important part of my upbringing.”

Beckie enjoys a family hike at Mount Rainier

As a kid, Beckie went camping with friends and family; she played soccer and swam for her club team. And, when Seattle’s downpours overwhelmed? She honed her skills at crossword puzzles. Beckie still loves “word games of all kinds,” though she’s recently pivoted toward Settlers of Catan. “I like building cities and getting all my resources, and my husband and I get pretty competitive about it.”

Then, Beckie takes what she’s learned back to work. “I do find pitching to legislators is like playing a game. You have to put the pieces together, find which ones will appeal to a person.” True to her roots, Beckie does her homework for these meetings outside.

“The best lobbying preparation is participating in a staff planting day [with Save The Bay]. I love having a real sense of the work that needs to be done — getting on the ground and seeing the kinds of projects we’re trying to promote. Then, when I’m talking to legislators, I can really picture the wetlands in my head.”

During those conversations, Beckie finds elected officials are typically disarmed by her calm demeanor. “I have a different temperament from a lot of lobbyists – non-confrontational, quietly confident. So, when I ask for something, it’s harder for politicians to say: ‘no.’”

Beckie’s glad for that. After all, our Climate Change and Restoration Policy Program Manager sometimes struggles to sleep worrying about… climate change. “When people ask: ‘What keeps you up at night?’ It’s climate change. I have two little kids, and I’m so worried about what legacy I’m leaving them.’”

Family trip to the Marin Headlands

As someone who uses exercise to “wind down,” Beckie finds that “the slow pace of legislative work can be extremely frustrating.” Still, she works tirelessly to secure funding for projects that will restore and protect San Francisco Bay. Beckie stresses: “It’s such an important task because the clock is ticking. The longer we wait to restore the Bay and adapt to sea level rise, the greater cost we’ll all pay down the road.”

In pushing for new policy initiatives on behalf of Save The Bay, Beckie always keeps her two young children in mind.  “My older son now has some idea of what I do. I tell him I ‘help nature.’ He understands our Prius is ‘better for nature’ than other cars, for example. And when we drive over the Bay, he knows that ‘Mama’ is working to keep it clean and healthy.”

And when Beckie thinks of her favorite views around San Francisco Bay — from Tilden Park to the Marin Headlands to Crissy Field — she reminds herself to keep teaching her boys about our region’s natural beauty. “I want them to spend as much time as possible seeing nature. I want them to have nature built into their character from a young age, just like I did growing up.”

For more on Beckie’s fight for Bay funding on a state level, you can read her 2018 Legislative Agenda here.


Celebrating Bay Heroes: Meet The Family Behind “Drain Robot”

Ocean Beach cleanup, photo: Aaron Hazlewood

“I’m not sure how Will came up with ‘Drain Robot.’ We have fish named Sharky and Stripey? I think 5-year-olds just have a really good knack for names.”

Eva Holman’s voice lifts when she describes her son’s passion for sweeping up trash in their neighborhood, his decision to “adopt” a nearby storm drain and name it: “Drain Robot.” But she deserves at least a little credit for these accomplishments.

Eva, after all, has two undeniable talents: naming campaigns and preventing pollution. A recent example blending both? “Plastic Straws Suck.”

A San Francisco native, Eva has “always been a beach person.” But she didn’t catch the “beach cleanup bug” until her 30th birthday. Eva was celebrating with friends in Indonesia when she spotted something she’s never been able to shake: “cows living on piles of plastic water bottles.”

“Message in a Bottle” artwork made by Bay Area students

Eva headed back to the states intent on sparking change. For two hours every morning, Eva walked Baker Beach with her dog Guinness and picked up every piece of garbage she could find. “Soon, I’d be carrying a huge black plastic bag full of trash, like Santa Claus.”

From the get-go, she and her husband, John, taught Will about the consequences of littering. At a very young age he grew fond of sweeping debris away from the storm drains along their block. Eva recently learned Will could adopt a drain through Adopt-a-Drain San Francisco. “They gave him some training, a vest, and tools. I was delighted to see Will empowered, almost like having a policeman or fireman outfit on. He feels like a pro when he’s out there.”

Eva also gives presentations in Bay Area schools to ensure many more children feel capable of making a difference. During a visit to a largely Spanish-speaking school, a teacher translated as Eva discussed the dangers plastic straws pose to local wildlife. Afterward, Eva chatted with a student whose dad was a restaurant worker, and “you could see a light bulb go off: ‘oh, I could talk to my dad and maybe… they won’t use those at his restaurant!”

William sweeps San Francisco City Hall!

A few weeks ago, as part of her work with Surfrider San Francisco, Eva joined colleagues and volunteers to host Message in a Bottle, a 3-day event featuring 1,000 pieces of art (made partly or wholly from trash!) created by Bay Area students. The works were displayed in the Venue at the Palace of Fine Arts, where, Eva admits: “my favorite part was actually seeing tourists” wander in. “I watched them go: ‘I think this show’s about the ocean. Oh, no, it’s about plastic pollution.’ Tourists use plastic to-go cups, lots of plastic, not thinking about it. So, to hear that narrative change – we really met our mission.”

Needless to say, Eva and William have a little trouble relaxing with so much trash pollution to tackle. When Will received a commendation from a San Francisco Supervisor for his work around “Drain Robot,” he saw his prize — a broom — as a tool. Eva says it was “pretty hilarious” to watch her 5-year-old suddenly take his broom, “and, this is a real symbol of what Will does, he went around city hall sweeping up the floors.

But mother and son have much in common. Describing her walks down Baker Beach, Eva confesses: “I would love to say my brain quiets down, but actually it’s when sparks go off – the need for revolution and change occurs.”

The Next Leap Forward for San Francisco Bay: Restoration Funding and Other 2018 State Legislative Priorities

With the 2018 state legislative session now underway in Sacramento, we are working hard to advance our top priorities for protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay. Our ambitious agenda is focused to achieve meaningful progress on our most important issues – from wetlands restoration funding to reducing stormwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – so that our Bay and Bay Area communities remain clean and healthy for future generations.

Bay Restoration Funding

Two years ago, we did what no one thought possible – we led an overwhelming majority of Bay Area voters to pass Measure AA, a $500 million investment in restoring the health of San Francisco Bay. Despite this momentous victory, Measure AA will cover only a third of the estimated cost to restore the tidal wetlands awaiting action around the Bay. It is now the state’s turn to step up and invest in San Francisco Bay restoration, ensuring that this natural treasure remains clean and healthy for future generations. Securing a significant investment in Bay restoration from the state is our top legislative priority.

Funding the full cost of restoration has long been a priority of Save The Bay, and there is more urgency than ever to get it done. As prospects for winning federal funding are currently poor, state matching funds are crucial to accelerating the pace of restoration so that the wetlands have adequate time to accrete ahead of rising sea levels that threaten to swamp them and make restoration impossible. Restoration projects can take years, and the pace of our changing climate compels us to act now.

We have a tremendous opportunity to win significant funding in 2018, working closely with our state elected officials to put together a financing package of $50 million in dedicated funding for Bay restoration projects. With a strong groundswell from you, our supporters, we are confident we can make real progress this year.

At a glance, here are our other major legislative priorities:

Bay Smart Communities: Restore Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Funding

The Governor’s 2018-2019 Budget proposes zeroing out GGRF funding for key programs that support the establishment of Bay Smart Communities – environmentally just communities with housing and infrastructure that is ecologically sound, climate resilient, and improves access to the Bay. Urban greening, urban forestry, and climate adaptation programs play a vital role in advancing Bay Smart projects around the Bay, which produce multiple benefits like pollution reduction, water conservation, and urban open space for public recreation and public health improvement. We will work to ensure that the Legislature fully restores these funds in this year’s budget.

Keeping Trash Out of the Bay: Holding Caltrans Accountable

As cities across the region do their part to reduce the amount of trash that flows into the Bay, Caltrans is shirking its responsibility to keep litter out of our waterways. This state agency, which is responsible for maintaining California’s state roads and highways, has failed to address the trash problem in its jurisdiction, placing the burden of compliance on cities. Save The Bay is demanding the Regional Water Quality Control Board force Caltrans to comply with the Clean Water Act and clean up littered roads and install trash capture devices before the garbage piled up on its thoroughfares pollutes our Bay.

Reducing Plastic Pollution in Our Waterways

Each year during beach and river cleanups around the state, the biggest sources of trash are plastic items like cigarette butts and plastic beverage caps. If we can target the problem at its source, whether by discouraging smoking in places where cigarette butts can end up in our waterways or reducing the amount of single-use plastic straws we use, we can reduce this plastic trash that pollutes the Bay and threatens wildlife. For this reason, Save The Bay supports a package of plastics bills that would reduce source pollution keep it out of our waterways.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Committing to Renewable Energy

California has led the nation in passing aggressive climate change mitigation and clean energy policies, and we’re looking to make big progress once again in 2018. The Legislature will consider two groundbreaking bills to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and particulate emissions that pollute our Bay and threaten the health and quality of life of Bay Area residents:

  • Senate Bill 100 (de León), which would commit California to 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • Assembly Bill 1745 (Ting), which would ban all new gas-powered cars in California after 2040.

November 2018 State Water Bond Ballot Measure

Save The Bay strongly supports the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, a citizens’ initiative expected to be on the statewide ballot in November. The proposed bond measure includes nearly $200 million in funding for the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to accelerate regional wetland restoration projects, in addition to funding for projects that improve water infrastructure, ensure reliable delivery of drinking water to underserved areas of the state, and restore critical fish and wildlife habitat. This bond would be the state’s largest investment in water infrastructure and wildlife habitat restoration projects since Proposition 1 passed in 2014. We are seeking legislative endorsements for its passage.

To read our full 2018 State Legislative Agenda, click here.





The Quest for Zero Trash in the Bay: Local Spotlights

On Tuesday, I wrote about the Bay Area’s overall progress in reducing trash flows to the Bay. I noted that some cities are doing well at addressing their portion of the problem, while others are falling far behind requirements and are in violation of their stormwater permits. Today I’m digging a little deeper, with a detailed overview of six cities and one county which have made varying progress to reduce trash in their communities and storm drains.

Vallejo (population 120,228)
Vallejo claimed to have achieved a 34.8 percent reduction in stormwater trash in 2017, which is actually a step backward from their 44 percent estimate in 2016 and is well below the required 70 percent reduction by 2017. This adjustment—the result of more accurate calculations—means that the city is further behind schedule than expected to meet the zero trash requirement by 2022. Vallejo claims that fiscal constraints, along with outdated trash data, resulted in the city’s failure to reach the 70 percent requirement. The city has recognized these issues and published a report on how it will come into compliance with the trash requirements. Vallejo plans to install trash capture devices in city storm drains in 2018, but did not specify how many. Other actions include more accurate trash monitoring, increasing street sweeping, and partnering with local businesses including Six Flags to clean and maintain highly visible public areas.The city’s report admits that it will continue to be behind reduction schedule for the next three years, aiming to reach 70 percent trash reduction by 2019 and 80 percent by 2020. Nevertheless, it plans to meet the 2022 zero trash requirement. Vallejo has been able to secure $1.4 million for trash capture devices and other trash reduction strategies, but it is unclear whether this will fund all necessary activities. Save The Bay is very concerned about Vallejo’s lack of progress on trash.
Alameda County (unincorporated) (population 140,800)
The incorporated areas of Alameda County (i.e. Castro Valley, San Lorenzo) claim an 18.5 percent reduction in 2017, up from 12 percent in 2016. This figure is among the lowest trash reduction rates in the region and is of great concern given the size and population of this area and the fact that little has been done by the county government for seven years. The only trash reduction measures so far have been bans on single-use plastic bags and take-out Styrofoam containers, as well as trash capture devices that cover only a small area.The county has plans to install three trash capture systems in specific high trash areas and smaller devices in other areas by the end of 2018. If these systems are installed this year, Alameda County expects to have achieve an 84 percent reduction by the end of 2018. Any additional delays, however, could put them even farther behind schedule and place the county at risk of enforcement action by the Water Board.
Oakland (population 420,005)
Oakland claims a 74.7 percent reduction in trash for 2017, up from 44.6 percent in 2016. The city identified areas with the most street trash and areas with homeless encampments as two major priorities. Oakland has cooperated with business improvement districts (BIDs) that have full-time staff to remove litter and manage trash containers. Increased cooperation with BIDs, along with business inspections to ensure they are managing trash effectively, resulted in an over 20 percent reduction in its highest trash area. In addition, as part of the city’s Homeless Encampment Program, over 48,000 gallons of trash were removed from 390 encampments.Oakland has not completed an adequate amount of trash monitoring to ensure their results are accurate, but city staff have indicated their intent to continue monitoring and adjust their reported trash levels appropriately. Save The Bay will follow up with the city soon to find out the results.
San Jose (population 1,042,094) San Jose claims a 79.2 percent reduction in 2017, up from 53.3 percent in 2016. Full capture systems have been installed in various neighborhoods and the city has implemented the Business Intelligence Data Tracking System to track trash collection activity. San Jose has also launched an aggressive cleanup campaign to remove trash from homeless encampments by its Homeless Response Team, focusing on encampments along creeks. Homelessness continues to be a major social and environmental crisis for the city and its residents, and arguably its largest source of trash in local rivers and creeks. San Jose plans to address the problem from multiple angles while conducting cleanups and outreach to encampment residents to prevent more trash from flowing into local waterways.
East Palo Alto (population 31,000)
East Palo Alto claims a 59.7 percent reduction in 2017, up from 29.2 percent in 2016. Despite this large jump, the city still failed to meet the 70 percent reduction requirement by 2017. Most of this reduction has come from storm drain cleaning, illegal dumping enforcement, and better management of trash bins to prevent overflows into storm drains. In 2016, the city acknowledged that it was behind schedule for trash reduction due to ineffective strategies and aimed for 50 percent reduction in 2017.Moving forward, East Palo Alto plans to improve street sweeping methods and has contracted engineering firms to install a full trash capture system by summer 2018. The successful implementation of these strategies is expected to bring the city to 80 percent compliance next year, but any additional roadblocks threaten to keep the city in violation of its trash requirements.
Richmond (population 109,000)
Richmond claims an 81.8 percent reduction in 2017, a gain from 27.3 percent in 2016. This increase was among the region’s highest improvements in trash reduction in 2017. Richmond’s success is largely attributed to the city installing new full capture devices that cover an area of over 800 acres. The city also continued to increase street sweeping frequency in its worst trash areas and has launched a neighborhood beautification and liter control program called Love Your Block. Richmond’s success in spite of its resource struggles can serve as a model for other Bay Area cities covered by the storm water permit that are having trouble meeting trash reduction requirements.
Mountain View (population 80,477)
Mountain View claims an 84.6 percent reduction in 2017, up from 48.4 percent in 2016. In contrast to most Bay Area cities, Mountain View’s trash reduction strategy has focused more on control measures other than installing trash capture systems. Due to the large corporate presence in Mountain View, the city conducts annual trash inspections of office buildings to ensure trash is being contained and bins are not overflowing into storm drains. The city has also installed rain gardens and other nature-based stormwater filtration elements to treat runoff from developed areas. Mountain View has plans to install additional full capture devices between now and 2022. The city was falling behind on trash requirements for many years, but has shown significant progress in 2017.

A Note About Caltrans

Many cities identified state roads and highway corridors—managed by Caltrans—as trash hot spots, some having higher trash levels than any other areas in the city. While cities and counties are not responsible for trash on these roadways, much of it is blown onto city streets. This is a major problem for our cities, who are already struggling to achieve their own reduction requirements. Caltrans is not taking responsibility for keeping trash out of the Bay, which is why we are calling upon the Regional Water Board to take enforcement action against the agency. Read more and sign our petition here.

What’s Next?

As I noted on Tuesday, municipalities that fail to meet the Regional Water Board’s trash reduction targets are required to provide detailed plans for getting back on track and meeting future targets. After Oakland failed to achieve the 60 percent trash reduction deadline in 2016, the city developed a detailed plan with strategies for tackling the city’s diverse trash problems, which helped Oakland make significant progress on trash reduction in the past year. Save The Bay then fought hard for funding in the city budget to implement certain elements of the plan, including cleaning up illegal dumping and installing trash capture devices. Without resources, plans will simply sit on the shelf. Each city that hasn’t met the 70 percent requirement and those who are at risk of falling behind should produce detailed plans for getting to zero trash that include secured funding sources for each project.

Save the Bay will continue to work with local communities and the Regional Water Board to ensure our region achieves zero trash by 2022, but we need the help of Bay Area residents in order to do so. You can help by organizing and participating neighborhood cleanups, adopting your local storm drain, urging local officials to prioritize projects that reduce stormwater trash and other pollution, and staying engaged with Save The Bay for other opportunities to take action.

Owning Her “Seat at the Table:” Meghan Macaluso Champions Women Leaders, Nature Experiences

“People from Colorado are just like folks from the Bay Area: we love to get outdoors.”

Hailing from Denver, our Chief Development Officer is well-versed in breathtaking views. Every summer, Meghan Macaluso and her family would go hiking, biking, and camping in the Rockies. With her wonderfully dry humor, Meghan stresses: in working for Save The Bay, “the irony I had a landlocked upbringing is lost on no one.”

Yet, she fits right in here as a powerful woman leader pushing for change. Save The Bay was founded by three East Bay women who read a troubling piece in The Oakland Tribune and changed the narrative themselves. Outraged about the fate of our Bay should reckless development continue, this trio confronted wealthy landowners, massive companies, and influential politicians.

Meghan knows what it’s like to challenge the system. “I had my ‘a-ha’ moment in middle school. A really creepy outside group came and gave an abstinence-only presentation to our class. My mom was super upset when I told her, and we went down to the principal’s office. We made clear that the presentation was ‘wholly unacceptable,’ and that group never came back to our school.” That was Meghan’s first taste of what it meant to advocate for change and win.

But Meghan didn’t stop there. After college, she carved her own path in the non-profit world, eventually moving up to a leadership position with NARAL Pro-Choice America. It’s where Meghan learned the importance of “empowering women, giving them the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

Meghan speaking at a Save The Bay event
Meghan speaking at Blue 2017

Not surprisingly, Meghan was thrilled to switch gears and lead Development at an organization that champions strong-willed women. She’s moved by all that Save The Bay’s founders, “a small group of caring people,” accomplished to protect our Bay. She finds it “so unusual, too, for women to have a seat at the table at the time they did.”

Now, Meghan truly owns her “seat at the table.” “I’d say I’m a strong leader, generally – but by leading with compassion and inclusivity.” Meghan says our Executive Director deserves some credit for this. “I have an extraordinary relationship with David Lewis, a really special one where he mentors me as a female leader.”

Whether the issue is women’s rights or environmental justice, Meghan firmly believes: “the only times in history when we’ve seen change are when people put aside their differences and work together.”

She feels one of the best ways to inspire advocates for our Bay is to bring them right to the water’s edge. During last year’s Blue cruise, Meghan was glad to see “people breathing deeply, snuggling up with their partner,” having “a powerful experience” on the Bay. “It’s a recharge moment — you breathe in fresh air and it cleans out your system, mentally and physically.”

Meghan's son enjoying the beach
Meghan’s son enjoying the beach!

It’s why Meghan and her husband work hard to show their three-year-old son our Bay’s natural beauty. “We’ve been going on ‘nature walks’ since he was in a carrier, like a little monkey in front of me.” One of their favorite spots? Alameda’s Crowne Memorial Beach, where the water is “super gentle and kids of all ages can splash around.”

But inspiring her own son to value our Bay isn’t good enough for Meghan. She works tirelessly to raise funds for Save The Bay so that every Bay Area family can enjoy the outdoors. “What’s really driving me? Ensuring all children have a clean, healthy environment where they can thrive.”

This Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the courageous women leaders of Save The Bay, past and present. In 1961, Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick challenged the system and formed a movement to Save The Bay. Decades later, determined women scientists, educators, and policy experts move our mission forward.