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.”

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.

CHAMPION COURAGEOUS WOMEN - DONATE TODAY!

 

Bringing Nature to Neighborhoods: Meet Josh Lankford, Save The Bay Volunteer

Josh Lankford knows numbers. A mechanical engineering student at the University of Rochester, this Oakland native estimates he travels by bike about 90% of the time when he visits the Bay Area. But digits can’t describe what he senses each ride.

“On a bike, I don’t block out the world listening to music. So, I really feel like part of the ecosystem, going through neighborhoods — seeing how people interact, taking in smells, breathing in air, I experience all of that, everything around me.”

Josh grew up in East Oakland, and as a kid, he “never really had the opportunity to see the ‘grandeur’ of California.” He didn’t go “snowboarding in Tahoe” or “hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Yet, he never felt deprived of nature. “I was around green spaces every day living in Oakland. So, though I didn’t see the grandest places, I was still exposed to the idea of what it’s like to be in a foreign land. Being in [Redwood Regional Park] is like living in another world.”

Indeed, Josh developed his fondness for the outdoors at a young age, flying kites along the MLK Shoreline. It’s why he now bristles at the assumption that cities inherently spell problems for the environment. “[Many think] of the city as the heart of the battle for conservation. But people who grew up in suburbs, sometimes all they know is development and they never question it. Whereas in cities, it’s about efficiency, it’s about using spaces wisely.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that public transit is near and dear to Josh’s heart. “Having AC Transit, BART, allowed me to access parts of the city with more opportunities.” Buses and trains enabled him to intern at Kaiser; they brought him right to UC Berkeley for the university’s Upward Bound program.

One of his most formative experiences growing up? Volunteering with Save The Bay during high school. “I did my senior project on mental health, about green spaces in the city and volunteering. I thought Save The Bay would be a good [aspect to include] – connecting environmental preservation and mental health.”

Having pulled weeds and installed plants with us a few more times since then, Josh now feels strongly about the power of our programs. “I think Save The Bay can play an important role in people’s lives – not just by making a difference physically [in the wetlands]. It causes us to question the impact of our lives on land.”

Still an undergrad, Josh has already decided: “Save The Bay is one of my favorite organizations. Once I get a job, I’m going to donate every year.” For now, he’s hoping to secure a summer internship with BART to help people get where they need to go.

There’s also something simmering on the back burner for Josh: “My hope is that we transform our perception of wilderness. We need to stop designating things as ‘wilderness.’ We need to incorporate greenery into our neighborhoods.”

This weighty goal keeps him recalling his childhood and high school years exploring the outdoors right from Oakland. “I think the most powerful thing of all for me was hiking in my own backyard in the Redwood Regional Park – it made me see nature on a regular basis. Now, it’s something I want to see everywhere because I saw it in my own backyard.”

Reading in the Fog, Sailing in the Wind: Introducing Wai Leng Baker

Fog over San Francisco Bay, photo by Kathryn Barnhart

Foggy days never dampen the mood for Wai Leng Baker. “I read, I have a cup of tea and a couple cookies, and… it’s great!” Occasionally, Wai Leng introduces a bit of sound into her peaceful pastime: “Sometimes, I play music too in the background – Mozart or Vivaldi – nothing too terribly intrusive.”

Our recent Alaska Airlines ticket winner has lived in the Bay Area for more than 40 years, and even in its coldest weather, she finds contentment. “Even if I don’t want to go out, I look at the trees and I feel it’s beautiful. It’s uplifting, even when it’s foggy and rainy.”

A long-time donor to Save The Bay, Wai Leng admits she and her husband aren’t too active outdoors anymore. But her memories of their sailing trips around San Francisco Bay have inspired a firm commitment to protect this “treasure” for generations. “We used to see seals, then there’d be birds – just a wonderful sense that there’s something really fresh out there. I’m hoping Save The Bay will keep it really clean and nice.”

Wai Leng says she donates to Save The Bay because the gift always “goes to something concrete. It’s spending money on the Bay itself – saving it.” Our emphasis on education is the biggest reason why Wai Leng writes checks. She says it’s critical that we: “spread the word among the little ones, because the children are going to conserve the Bay in the future.”

Indeed, she’s seen firsthand how exposure to the outdoors at a young age can fundamentally shape a person’s appreciation for nature. Her niece was a little girl during the family’s sailing trips years ago, and she was always thrilled to “scatter popcorn around for the seagulls, who would follow in a big group.” As a grownup, this relative “now runs short marathons [around the Bay Area]. She got involved in the outdoors because of that.”

Wai Leng admits she’s still pretty amazed her recent $250+ gift to Save The Bay scored her four tickets to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. Our prize winner stressed: “I was really surprised! I have never won anything in my life! I was so shocked! I said, ‘are you sure? You’re really from Save The Bay?’”

As she charts out her travel plans, Wai Leng is glad to know her gift will help protect the place she’s called home for decades. “I live here. I want to keep my whole environment as beautiful as possible. I am a strong believer that when I finally do pass through the Earth, I should leave it better or at least as good as how I found it.”