Saving The Bay with Local Companies: Why a Former Staffer Got us Outdoors with Autodesk

Seth goes fishing off the coast of Marin County

“I’ve always had a love of nature, but my work at Save The Bay introduced me to the wonder of wetlands, which were off my radar before.”

A native of Marin County, Seth Chanin grew up just a block away from San Francisco Bay. As a kid, this former Save The Bay staffer spent weekends roaming the beach, kayaking the Bay, and biking rugged hillsides.  As an adult? Nothing’s changed for Seth. “Water really is a place of reflection, of solace for me.”

It’s why Seth spent his college years studying Environmental Science and Economics, the ideal combo for a self-described “business hippie.” Yet, Seth says it was his former role as Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Program Manager that inspired him to “always look at the landscape through ecologist’s glasses – understanding that we have increasing human populations, increasing demands on the land, and new challenges posed by climate change.”

Now, as Autodesk’s Employee Impact Engagement Manager, he seeks volunteer opportunities for his colleagues that are bound to spark a “high-impact experience.” Seth hopes these volunteer events “will open their eyes to important work being done in their communities, so they come back and do skill-based and pro bono volunteering with organizations like Save The Bay.”

Autodesk employees get outdoors to transplant seedlings

He’s convinced non-profits and leading Bay Area companies have much to gain from connecting – when they actually do connect. “There’s a huge need on non-profit side, resources and good intentions on the corporate side, but they’re often like ships passing in the night.”

Yet, Save The Bay and Autodesk recently broke through the barriers, proving these partnerships don’t just spark change – they get people smiling.

Of course, there was plenty of prep involved to share our work fighting threats from climate change. Save The Bay’s Restoration team essentially brought an entire nursery to the Autodesk campus. It meant sterilizing all the soil and pots it would take to transplant 10,000 seedlings.

Somehow, they got it done in time for 200 Autodesk employees to head outdoors last Thursday and help us transplant all 10,000. Their hard work translates to roughly 25% of the plants we’ll install for the year. Save The Bay’s Restoration staff was thrilled to share the science and importance of wetland restoration with so many new faces.

Seth pitches in with a former colleague at Save The Bay, Kristina Watson (photo credit: Ray Mabry)

The event fit right in to Autodesk’s Global Month of Impact and their offices happen to be just 15 minutes from our Bel Marin Keys restoration site where we’re using cutting-edge technology to build up more than 40 acres of wetland habitat.

Better still, Seth says he can already envision some long-term opportunities for both parties. “It’s exciting to expose our employees to something new and get them thinking about the design aspect of ecological restoration – because they make the tools used to design and make just about anything, including the barriers that will help protect Bay Area communities from rising waters.”

Save The Bay, meanwhile, looks forward to even more volunteer partnerships with Bay Area companies. We couldn’t agree more with Seth when he stresses: “it’s an important time to think about what’s happening in our backyard – and to apply our skills right here to solve those problems.”

“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.’”

 

Gratitude from the Ground Up: Meet the LightHawk Pilot Saving the Bay

Mike delivering flood relief supplies in Bangladesh

“I don’t like to climb mountains or go up walls. I just like to fly. It’s a neat feeling – controlling a plane in three dimensions. You get a neat view of the world.”

Mike Venturino has enjoyed this “neat feeling” for more than fifty years, and he recently won the highest honor in his industry: the Wright Brothers FAA Master Pilot Award.

Save The Bay couldn’t be prouder to have Mike at the helm of our LightHawk flights, ecological tours that highlight San Francisco Bay’s pressing threats from an aerial perspective.

Modest to the core, this Berkeley native would never boast that he pulled off his first solo flight at age 16 – before he got his driver’s license. Mike wouldn’t show off about holding two degrees from M.I.T. He’d be the last to mention his volunteer work with Angel Flight: regularly flying people hundreds of miles, free of charge, so they can receive much-needed medical treatment.

Mike with his stepdad, John Sparks

Mike caught the flight bug back in the 1960’s. It started when a man named John Sparks was pulling out every stop to woo Mike’s mom, a stewardess. John was so intent on marrying her, that he actually bought a small plane and took flight lessons. But once the couple said: “I do,” John no longer had an eye for his Cessna-175.

A teenager at the time, Mike felt differently from his stepdad. He couldn’t wait to take the small plane for a spin. “It just seemed like a cool thing you do – thought I’d give it a try. You ride bicycles, you drive things – obviously people fly planes.”

Mike started taking lessons, and he rapidly made his way from eager rookie to Air Force pilot to flight engineer, instructor, and consultant. Looking back on his 50 years of flying, Mike is glad the industry values collaboration more and more.

He says pilots are now “expected to put a lot more thought into acquiring data to solve problems. Your job isn’t to turn info off, but to solicit information [from the crew.]”

Mike has flown his wife across the U.S. four times!

Mike really enjoys learning from his LightHawk passengers. “Over King Tides, you can tell when you talk to people you’re flying with – this is important. I’m certainly now more aware [of environmental threats to the Bay] than I was ten years ago.”

Mike and his wife Michelle, a retired journalist, often walk Redwood City trails and express gratitude for their rewarding careers. “We both had jobs that made us happy to get up in the morning.”

But when Mike’s not “flying a massive machine through the sky for fun,” he still finds plenty of contentment at ground level. Indeed, it’s the simple moments that make Mike feel most grateful: “singing in church choir, playing ‘amateur’ music, going to Disneyland with my grandson, and, right now, I have a cat on my lap, and she’s been with us for 16 years, so… that’s pretty satisfying.”

 

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.”