A vision of Bay Smart Communities for a Sustainable Future

As the Bay Area continues to grow and change, and the Bay faces new threats, we know we need to take an expanded view of how to protect and restore the Bay for people and wildlife. Creating “Bay Smart Communities” is essential for creating a healthy Bay, because pollution and climate change aren’t limited to the shoreline.

Threats to the Bay originate inland and upstream. So how our cities choose to accommodate more people and businesses will have a huge impact on the Bay. We must shape those choices to make the Bay better.

That’s the discussion we’re having this month with forums in Oakland and Mountain View about our vision for how Bay Area cities can become Bay Smart.

Save The Bay was founded in 1961, with what looked like an impossible mission: stop the Bay from being filled in. It was considered impossible then to stop cities building into the Bay — that was the inevitable march of progress, considered essential to create room for commerce and a growing economy. But when we stopped filling the Bay, the opposite happened. The Bay Area has boomed because protecting nature in our midst made this a more desirable urban area to live, work and play.

In all of this work, Save The Bay will ensure the Bay’s voice is heard. We will leverage the power of our membership, resources, and reputation. We will collaborate with partners who share our concerns and goals. We are eager to learn from those who’ve already devoted years of effort to this work, and we will also bring new perspective and energy to the process.

This month we’ve added more details to our vision of Bay Smart Communities, and made recommendations for protecting the Bay by tackling the big challenges facing our region:

  • How do we live, work and move around the Bay Area in ways that are sustainable and resilient in a time of rapid climate change?
  • How do we accommodate growth in the Bay Area in ways that reduce water and air pollution, including greenhouse gases?
  • How do we reduce water and energy consumption, and improve equity and environmental justice?

We can’t save the Bay without addressing these pressing Bay Area challenges. We can promote Bay Area planning and development policies and decisions that help create Bay Smart Communities — where sustainable growth in our cities actually enhances the Bay, reduces pollution, is more resilient to climate change, advances environmental justice, and promotes equity.

Read Bay Smart Communities for a Sustainable Future here

View of the Bay Area, Photo By Jill Zwicky


Hacienda Avenue Green Street Improvement Project, Campbell CA

Proposition 68 Park Bond Boosts Bay Wetlands

Tidal Wetlands by Paul Crockett

In this series of 5 posts, we examine the different June ballot measures that affect San Francisco Bay

Voters in June will have a chance to vote for San Francisco Bay when they consider Proposition 68, the first statewide parks and water bond since 2006.

Prop. 68 would authorize $4.1 billion in general obligation bonds for state and local parks, environmental protection and restoration, water infrastructure, and flood protection.

This includes $20 million for San Francisco Bay to match funds from 2016’s regional Measure AA and accelerate restoration projects around the Bay, creating vital wildlife habitat and increasing our ability to adapt to rising seas.

In addition to matching Measure AA funds, Prop. 68 will do the following:

  • Deliver $725 million to provide more equitable access to parks. Creates and improves parks in park-poor neighborhoods, and dedicates up to 20 percent of its funds for communities with median household incomes less than 60 percent of the statewide average.
  • Invest $1.3 billion in local and state parks to ensure all Californians have safe, accessible places to play, and preserves California’s natural treasures. Focuses on new recreational opportunities for people living in underserved communities.
  • Allocate $1.6 billion to ensure the availability of clean drinking water. Secures water supplies, including support for groundwater cleanup and recharge, water recycling, pollution prevention, and flood control.
  • Provide $1.2 billion to protect and restore California’s open spaces, and make them more resilient to wildfires, floods, and drought.

Prop. 68 is endorsed by: Save The Bay Action Fund, Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sierra Club, Audubon CA, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, CA State Parks Foundation, State Building and Construction Trades Council, CA Chamber of Commerce, and all of the Bay Area’s major parks advocacy and open space preservation groups.

For details on all measures affecting the Bay, read the full June voter guide from Save The Bay Action Fund.

“Just Do It”: How Powerful Women Shaped Jessie Olson’s Courage

Jessie using gardening tools

“Growing up, I saw my mom use a lot of power tools. She made me feel it was possible to live outside gender roles – that being tough and getting dirty was for everyone.”

But Save The Bay’s Associate Director of Native Plant Nurseries didn’t come to this conclusion in her twenties – or even her teens. Jessie Olson started shattering expectations as a toddler.

“When I was about one and a half, I ran into a neighbor’s yard and picked some flowers. My grandma said to my mom: ‘don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.’ My mom knew even then: ‘she never will.’”

Jessie grins, admitting: “I was always a plantgeek.” From a very young age, she “found a lot of joy being in nature, with plants and animals.” Bliss, for Jessie, meant “toiling away in a garden.”

When it came time for college, Jessie applied to plant science programs where she’d have plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors. As an undergrad at UC Davis, Jessie fell into the plant community she’d always dreamed of: “it was just wonderful, to go to a school with science nerds of different kinds – ones who embrace their appreciation of the natural world.”

Jessie sanitizing soil

After graduating, she took an internship with the Presidio Trust’s Compost, Community Garden, and Integrated Pest Management Teams. Between helping develop community gardens and supporting a native plant nursery, “getting dirty” was a given. Jessie was especially pleased to have several women supervisors who were “so smart and strong.”

She would later learn – women leaders weren’t the norm. As Jessie moved up in the restoration ecology scene, she found: “it was similar to many fields: tons of women in the lower circles, but higher positions were largely men.” Still, Jessie never felt discouraged.

After all, “that ‘just do it’ attitude – I got that from the women in my life. My mom is a really brave person, and she always encouraged me to try and find solutions to problems. If you believe something needs to be changed – that you’ve got what it takes to make it work.”

That’s just how Jessie proved successful starting out with Save The Bay. She joined our Habitat Restoration Team doing contract work on one of its largest undertakings: building an on-site nursery and ensuring thousands of plants got installed for an experimental horizontal levee project at the Oro LomaSanitary District. “I had never taken on a project that large, and I was terrified. But no part of me thought I couldn’t do it.”

Soon enough, her drive and resourcefulness spelled a full-time role with Save The Bay, and she only moved up from there. Now, our Associate Director of Native Plant Nurseries works tirelessly preventing a deadly plant disease, Phytophthora, from reaching our seedlings. The daunting task entails tremendous coordination of staff and volunteers to make sure 35,000 pots a year are scrubbed and sanitized.

But Jessie thrives when the stakes are high. “It’s important for us to be well-respected as a nursery, to say: ‘as scientists, this is the knowledge we have, and this is how we’re acting on it.’”


First Measure AA Funds Start Flowing

Funds from measure AA will help accelerate Bay marsh restoration

Measure AA is accelerating Bay marsh restoration – realizing a vision Save The Bay first had more than a decade ago.

On April 11, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority voted to spend the first tax receipts from the nine-county ballot measure Bay Area voters overwhelmingly approved in June 2016. The first nine recommended project grants invest $23.5 million to restore tidal marsh habitat for wildlife around the Bay. Many of these projects also will provide trails and other public recreation, and help protect shoreline communities against flooding.

The Authority received a lot of proposals to fund restoration projects. “There was twice as much money requested as was available. There’s a lot of demand,” Save The Bay Executive Director Lewis told The Mercury News.

Scientists have told us for decades that the Bay needs at least 100,000 acres of restored tidal marsh to be healthy, after development reduced tidal marsh to only 40,000 acres. Many diked salt ponds and hay fields were acquired and protected for restoration over the last 20 years, bringing that goal within reach, and we identified the missing ingredient is sufficient public funding.

Recognizing how much local residents love the Bay, Save The Bay and other key stakeholders worked for years to create a way all of us who live here can help invest in a healthier Bay. We convinced the state legislature to create the Restoration Authority, a regional special district that could propose new funding mechanisms for the Bay. Eight years later, the Restoration Authority finally put Measure AA on the ballot, and voters agreed to pay a modest $12 annually for 20 years.

To maximize the impact of these funds, this first round of AA grants supports large and smaller restoration projects all around the Bay, including several in economically disadvantaged communities. (see the full list at www.SFBayRestore.org )

One of the most visible recommended projects is Phase 2 of the Ravenswood Pond restoration from East Palo Alto to Menlo Park. Part of the huge South Bay Salt Ponds complex, this project will convert more of the former commercial salt production ponds back into tidal wetlands. Drivers on the Dumbarton Bridge and California highway 84 have seen these huge brown areas for years, and soon that brown will begin turning green. Save The Bay worked to restore other Ravenswood sites in the past, and we will be creating transition zone habitat there with volunteers at the edge of Bedwell Bayfront Park. Read more about this project in The San Francisco Chronicle.

These grants are a major milestone in the effort to accelerate Bay restoration, but it is only the beginning. The Bay needs more funding to address the serious strain that growth and climate change are having on the Bay and Bay Area communities. There was more demand for the first AA funds than supply; matching funds will be needed from the state and federal governments to create all the wetlands needed. Proposition 68 on the June statewide ballot is the next opportunity to boost resources for the Bay, as it includes another $20 million in matching Measure AA funds.

Through Measure AA, Bay Area residents are funding the largest urban climate adaptation effort in the country, using green infrastructure to make our region more sustainable and resilient to the expected impacts from more extreme storms and rising seas. We look forward to seeing this important work progress in the coming years.

Celebrating David Lewis’ 20 Years of Battles for our Bay: Beating the Odds to Prevent Bay Fill at SFO

“If we don’t allow this, the economy is going to die.” That was the common pitch to fill in more of the Bay for development in the 1960s. But the Bay Area has thrived without shrinking the Bay and become an even more desirable place.

Executive Director David Lewis heard an echo from the 1960s when San Francisco International Airport proposed a major Bay fill project back in 1998. With flight delays rising from El Niño storms, and a tech boom boosting air travel, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown pushed a plan to pave two square miles of  the Bay to move the runways farther apart.

David Lewis was brand new to Save The Bay, but he understood this fight was a must-win for local wildlife, and it wouldn’t be easy. “It was exactly what Save The Bay was founded to stop, but there hadn’t been a proposal this large in 35 years.”

Brown gathered  federal and state legislators to back the project. But David sensed he could turn the tide by publicizing the projects  scope and impacts on the Bay. “We decided to make clear it a regional issue for the Bay Area – not just a local one for San Francisco.”

In contrast to the airport’s staged events where attendees  couldn’t speak, Save The Bay hosted educational events that encouraged conversation. “At San Francisco City Hall, we just took  the mic from SFO’s emcee and  turned it into a public hearing.”

Slowly but surely, Save The Bay and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission created enough pressure that SFO paid for an independent science panel to look at project impacts on the Bay before completing an environmental impact review. New San Francisco Supervisors were elected who were independent of Mayor Brown. David worked with Supervisor Aaron Peskin to put a measure on the November 2001 city ballot  requiring voter approval for large Bay fill projects in San Francisco,  which  won 75% support. With mounting public opposition, and mushrooming cost estimates, SFO terminated its runway project and focused instead on technology and flight management to limit delays.

It was a David and Goliath style victory for Save The Bay and its determined Executive Director. But David says Bay Area residents deserve the most credit:This win simply reaffirmed that the public loves the Bay and will stand up to protect it against threats.”

This year marks David’s 20th anniversary with Save The Bay. Will you donate today to support our work protecting this beautiful place we call home?