Clean Roads Start with YOU: Simple Ways to Reduce Pollution

Photo Credit : Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal

By: Vicki Dehnert

The debris you see on the shoulders of our Bay Area roads is more than just unsightly. It’s also a threat to our environment and natural habitat.  I co-founded Marin Clean Highways to help address this issue in Marin County. I’m also excited to partner with Save The Bay to highlight the failure of Caltrans—the agency in charge of our state highways—to keep Bay Area roads clean and prevent trash from polluting the Bay.

There are actions your community can take to improve areas that are not under Caltrans’ control.  In Marin County, we created a consortium, “Clean Marin” comprised of many other local organizations concerned with the environment (my organization, Marin Clean Highways, is just one of several).  By banding together, we now have a more powerful voice when we speak with our elected officials about our environmental concerns. We were so successful in growing our base of organizations that Marin County Department of Public Works now spearheads our efforts — a perfect example of private-public collaboration.

Our Successes are a blueprint for your successes.

Here are four strategies to rid your community of trash and save the Bay.

  • Push to get highway shoulder areas adopted through Caltrans’ “Adopt A Highway” program.

Keep a close eye on the adoptee areas—we found a few were underperforming with minimal cleanups and asked Caltrans to intervene. We are happy to report that things have improved.

  • Sound off about illegal unsecured loads being carried in the back of pickup trucks.

Debris spills out of trucks daily, and although state law requires loads to be secured, the law is often not enforced by local CHP due to workforce shortages. Our community is looking at ways to raise funds needed for hiring off-duty CHP patrol officers to specifically enforce these laws. Also, through our efforts, our local waste management company allows us to distribute tarps and educational materials to unsecured trucks entering their facility.

  • Rally local businesses and residents to raise funds that will help remove weeds and trash from highways and frontage roads.

In Marin County, many of the frontage roads to Highway 101 are full of trash and weeds. Marin Clean Highways raised funds from businesses and residents to contract with the San Rafael Downtown Streets Team to pick up frontage road litter on a weekly basis. What a difference this has made!

  • Attend city and county meetings to let your elected officials know how important clean highways are to your community.

In recent years, city and county budgets were pared down, and litter cleanup is not a priority. Share your sentiments and concerns with elected officials that serve your community.

We have a long way to go to get the clean roads and environment we want. But when we work together, across the nine Bay Area counties, our local success, however small, can become something much greater and help make the Bay Area better.

As Co-Founder of Marin Clean Highways, Vicky Dehnert is on a mission to reduce trash pollution across the Bay Area. She is a former educator who switched gears to high tech. Vicky has called Marin home for the last eight years.

Taking a Stand for San Francisco Bay

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My name is Ian McKernan and I am a 7th grader at Shorecliffs Middle School in Orange County. Although I live in Southern California, I have visited the Bay Area many times and am always impressed with how clean and good the Bay looks. It’s always fun for me to see how many people enjoy it too. Personally, I like to sail around Dana Point Harbor, so I always look for people sailing on the water.

After hearing about Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick’s fight to save San Francisco Bay in the 1960s, it inspired me to build a website to share their story as my National History Day project. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.”

National History Day (NHD) is a year-long school program where students do research on historical topics that they choose and develop projects about them. The projects are then entered into contests at the local and state levels and the top projects from each state advance to the national contest in Washington D.C. at the end of the school year. More than half a million middle and high school students participate in NHD annually.

While researching the story of saving the Bay, I was most surprised to learn that San Francisco Bay was not protected by environmental laws in the 1960s like it is today. At that time, landowners, cities, and factories could build on the Bay and dump their toxic trash directly into the Bay. And they did just that! I was also surprised to learn that the laws that we have today resulted from the efforts of Save The Bay’s founders, not from the existing environmental groups or politicians at that time.

I was also impressed by how enthusiastic the people I interviewed for my project (Save The Bay’s Executive Director David Lewis, former Chief Engineer of the Bay Model William Angeloni, Sylvia McLaughlin’s daughter Jeanie Shaterian, and Senator McAteer’s son Dr. Terry McAteer) were when talking about an event that happened over 50 years ago. Their enthusiasm showed me how the women’s fight had a huge impact on the San Francisco Bay we enjoy today, and the importance of continuing their legacy of conservation into the future.

Click here to learn more about Save The Bay’s early history and view Ian’s website.


We are inspired by Ian. His passion for conservation shows that the youngest generation has the desire and drive to advocate for the Bay now, and far into the future.

You can inspire students like Ian by graciously giving to Save The Bay’s education programs. Our award-winning restoration education programs reach more than 2,000 kids each year. Your generous donation allows us to develop bay nature lesson plans for teachers, provide professional development for educators, organize school field trips to wetland restoration sites, and so much more. We can’t wait to teach a whole new group of students this year!

Thank you for supporting our work and for providing the resources needed to inspire the next generation of Bay stewards.

Sincerely,

David Lewis

Executive Director, Save The Bay

Oakland targeted in bid to cut trash flow into SF Bay

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A deluge of trash is flowing through Oakland’s storm drains and depositing so much litter in San Francisco Bay that regulators are threatening to levy fines if the city doesn’t do something to tidy up.

Despite spending millions of dollars over the years on garbage cleanup, Oakland has the Bay Area’s worst record for limiting the rubbish that pollutes creeks, lakes and the bay, according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The flow of waste violates mandates set by the board to reduce storm drain litter this year by 70 percent compared with 2009, a goal that Oakland is far from meeting. If the city is still in violation on the July 1 deadline, it could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

“They have one of the worst problems per capita,” said Thomas Mumley, the assistant executive officer for the water quality board, which sent a warning letter to Oakland this month. “The problem isn’t Oakland. The problem is all the people who dump the trash in Oakland.”

Oakland’s public works committee, made up of four council members, met last week to discuss ways to address the issue. Mayor Libby Schaaf said recently it would cost $20 million to $25 million a year to add trash capture devices to the storm drain system and regulate illegal dumping enough to meet the 70 percent target.

“I don’t believe we’re going to meet that requirement by this July,” said councilman Dan Kalb, who chairs the public works committee and is president of Stop Waste, a countywide recycling program. “We agree, they are important goals and we have been making some progress over the years, but it’s just not enough.”

Oakland isn’t the only city struggling to comply with the regulations, which apply to the labyrinth of curbside drains, gutters, underground concrete channels, pipes and catch basins that take water off city streets and direct it toward the sea.

Last July, 26 of the 70 cities and other municipalities in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Solano counties fell short of the reduction target, which was then 60 percent.

Oakland had cut its output 44.6 percent by last year. Collectively, the Bay Area had achieved a 50 percent reduction compared with 2009 — the equivalent of a million gallons of trash.

The goals were set eight years ago after the water quality board required local agencies to measure the garbage flowing from storm drains. Regulators were concerned about the 2 million gallons of trash found bobbing in Bay Area waterways, about half of it plastic grocery bags, candy wrappers, lids, straws and chip bags.

For each city, compliance is calculated by measuring how much detritus local cleanup programs pull off the streets or out of the drains. More weight is given to the most effective measures, like installing hydrodynamic separators, which capture all garbage flowing down a drain. The amounts cleaned are subtracted from the 2009 baseline.

The crackdown is important, conservationists say, because the waste leaches toxins, flows into the bay and winds up in the ocean, where the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that are ingested by marine mammals, fish and birds.

It was an indifferent attitude about litter, experts say, that created the enormous floating garbage patch in the North Pacific, a stew that marine biologists consider an ecosystem catastrophe.

In Oakland, where 8,000 storm drain inlets dump into a myriad of creeks, channels and the Oakland Estuary, one of the trashiest waterways is Damon Slough near the Coliseum complex.

The muddy banks were strewn last week with aerosol cans, juice bags, hypodermic needles, straws, tennis balls, liquor bottles, candy wrappers and numerous plastic bags.

“All of the trash in here is from storm drains at the Coliseum or wind blown from the parking lot,” said David Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Bay, as he stood next to the foul-smelling slough. “There are five or six creeks that all empty into this area here. It is the pathway, the water column, and it circulates all over.”

The stepped-up mandate this year is likely to trip up at least as many cities and agencies as last year, including San Jose, Richmond, Vallejo, San Leandro and Berkeley.

San Francisco is exempt from the guidelines because, unlike other cities in the Bay Area, it funnels storm water runoff into its sewer system, which removes the trash before it is discharged.

But Oakland’s failure has gotten special attention because it has a larger deficit to make up than any other city, according to a compliance summary prepared by the control board. San Jose is a distant second.

“Oakland is the largest source of trash from a city that is not close to compliance,” Lewis said. “It is heavily urbanized, right next to the bay, and the city is not doing what it needs to do to address the problem.”

Oakland spends $6.5 million a year on street sweeping and $5.5 million regulating dumping. The city also bans businesses from using foam packaging and plastic shopping bags, but workers still can’t keep up with the litter on the streets, said Lesley Estes, the city’s storm water manager.

She said 12 hydrodynamic separators have been placed in storm drains around the city, but that the devices’ price tag of $400,000 to $1 million makes them too expensive to install throughout the system.

Oakland’s strategy, she said, is to place mesh pipe screens, which must be cleaned out more often, in all of the drains not covered by the separators. Some 200 screens have been installed during public works projects in high-use areas.

Estes, who believes Oakland can reach a 60 percent reduction this year, said she’ll have a clearer picture of the city’s progress when she analyzes data after the fiscal year that closes June 30. She plans to prepare a compliance report and present it to the water quality board by Sept. 30 in the hope that regulators give the city credit for, among other things, its foam and plastic bag bans.

No additional money is set aside for storm drain cleanup in the mayor’s proposed budget for 2017-19.

“Not all other cities are faced with the same degree of issues that Oakland faces,” Estes said, referring to high priorities like fighting crime and homelessness. “The staff’s commitment to this effort is wholehearted and gung-ho, but it’s a difficult problem, and we just need to figure out the best pathway.”

A path Estes would like to avoid is one followed by San Jose, which last June agreed to pay $100 million over the next decade to settle a lawsuit by the nonprofit group Baykeeper for failing to reduce sewage and trash in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

San Jose officials, who said they settled to avoid a lengthy court battle, agreed to clean 32 trash hot spots, including homeless encampments along Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River, at least once a year. According to regulators, there is a lot less trash emerging from San Jose since the settlement.

The storm drain proviso will only get tougher in July 2019, when Bay Area jurisdictions regulated by the water quality board will be obligated to cut garbage output 80 percent. The goal is zero waste by 2022.

The board’s Mumley said cities like Oakland could be given more time to meet the coming July 1 deadline, if they outline specific efforts to reduce trash.

“My preference would be to give them a chance to solve the problem,” he said, “but ultimately the solution has to be changing public behavior.”

 

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This article was originally published online in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 30, 2017. 

Trump budget plan would cut many billions from domestic programs

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WASHINGTON — A Trump administration budget proposal released Tuesday that even some Republicans dismissed as too draconian would slash hundreds of billions of dollars from programs that provide health coverage to low-income people in California and the rest of the country.

The $4.1 trillion budget proposal, called “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” takes an ax to domestic programs nearly across the board, from health care to education, science to environmental protection, food stamps to farm programs. The budget would hit Trump voters in poorer red states especially hard by severely reducing the safety net for the poor and working class.

Democratic-leaning states such as California fare no better. The budget seeks $600 billion in cuts to Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California that 1 in 3 people in the state rely on for health coverage. The proposed reductions add to the $840 billion in Medi-Cal cuts proposed in the Republican health care plan that passed the House last month. All federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to many women without insurance, would cease.

The plan, released while Trump is on a tour of the Middle East, seeks to balance the federal budget over the next 10 years by cutting federal spending by more than $3.6 trillion, but would boost military spending and cut taxes. It assumes a sustained 3 percent annual economic growth rate for the first time in two decades, although the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects 1.9 percent growth, which many analysts said is far more realistic.

Democrats universally panned the budget document. California Gov. Jerry Brown dismissed it as “based on utterly bogus economic assumptions,” saying it provides “a massive tax break to the wealthiest, while imposing painful and debilitating burdens on tens of millions of decent and hard-working people. It’s unconscionable and un-American.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Trump’s budget “perfectly reflects what Republicans in Congress have been trying to inflict on America for years.”

But it was also met with unusual skepticism and even scorn by some Republicans in Congress, which controls spending, and often rewrites or ignores presidential budget plans.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees spending, urged caution.

“We must balance our duty to reduce spending with the needs of communities,” Valadao said. “It’s important to adequately fund the critical programs and services many Americans, like my constituents in California’s Central Valley, rely on every day.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield described the document as a “starting point.”

“It puts an investment into the military,” McCarthy said in television interview Tuesday. “He balances the budget over 10 years. He reforms welfare. So he puts people back into work. I think this is a framework that people are looking at, as we start the budget process going forward.”

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas called the budget “dead on arrival.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had a more optimistic outlook. “President Trump has proven his commitment to fiscal responsibility with a budget that will grow the economy,” he told the Associated Press.

The budget plan is an amplification of a preliminary “skinny budget” the White House released in March. That plan also met heavy resistance in both parties, and stunned scientists and environmental and health groups.

In California, under the plan released Tuesday, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab would see a $190 million cut and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab a $123 million cut.

A $5 million-a-year program that has helped restore San Francisco Bay’s tidal marshes would be eliminated, along with far larger programs to restore the estuaries of Puget Sound in Washington, the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the Great Lakes in the upper Midwest. The San Francisco Bay restoration provides habitat for endangered species, protection from sea-level rise and improves water quality.

Similarly, the Sea Grant program, which spends around $70 million a year to protect California’s coast, is among hundreds of other proposed eliminations.

“This is a huge cut to a tiny slice of federal budget and it doesn’t make sense to balance the budget by hurting public health and environmental protection in San Francisco Bay or anywhere else in the country,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, an environmental group focused on San Francisco Bay.

Nationally, the administration would cut funding for disease research at the National Institutes of Health, including a $1 billion cut to the National Cancer Institute and similar cuts for other diseases, along with a 17 percent cut at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which its director, Tom Frieden, said would increase health risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget would be reduced by nearly a third. Grants to state and local governments for pollution cleanup would be slashed, dozens of pollution programs terminated, and climate research gutted.

Other departments, including Interior, State and Labor, would get double-digit percentage cuts.

While often ignored by Congress, a president’s budget provides a detailed framework for an administration’s governing priorities. But unlike predecessors for whom the budget release was an elaborately choreographed event, Trump left the release to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Mulvaney said the thrust of the budget is to “put the taxpayer first,” and cut social safety net programs as a way to get people back to work to speed economic growth.

“We need people to go to work,” Mulvaney said. “If you’re on food stamps, and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be — if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.”

Seven of the 10 states with the most residents on food stamps are states that Trump won in November. The budget also proposes big cuts to crop insurance and other subsidies that go primarily to large farming operations in rural states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The budget seeks to increase Pentagon spending by $52 billion and increases Homeland Security spending by at least 5 percent, with an emphasis on immigration enforcement.

Conservative-leaning budget hawk groups such as the Concord Coalition dismissed the budget document as “not credible” in terms of deficit reduction, while the conservative Heritage Foundation noted a double counting of the revenue that the administration claims a tax cut would deliver. The double-counting error would amount to $2 trillion in higher deficits over 10 years.

Effect on the state

Examples of how President Trump’s budget plan would affect California and Bay Area:

Bay Area

Loss in aid to help cities prevent and respond to terrorism threats: $7 million

California

Loss in aid to local emergency food and shelter boards: $18,291,648

Loss in legal aid to the poor: $43,598,18

Loss with proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts: $47,716,874

Loss with proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities: $47,597,874

Loss in grants from Environmental Protection Agency: $30,889,589

Loss of block grants to produce affordable housing: $129,452,836

Loss in loans and grants to poor rural communities to improve drinking and wastewater treatment: $23,682,504

Loss from proposed elimination Low Income Energy Assistance program for the poor: $176,127,000

Source: House Budget Committee

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This article was originally published online in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 23, 2017. 

2017 Conservation Action Award Winner David Lewis: With Ballot Measure Passed, What’s Next for Save the Bay?

DavidLewisPortraitILLO-1_squareI wonder at first why David Lewis has chosen to meet at Point Isabel, a somewhat nondescript stretch of filled Bay shoreline at the south edge of Richmond.

“What we’re standing on shouldn’t be here,” Lewis admits. “But look around!” He gestures toward the hills. “Up there is where Kay Kerr lived.” Kerr, one of the three founders of Save The Bay, the organization Lewis now heads, looked down on this shore when it was a row of active landfills pushing into the Bay—and knew she must take a stand. At home in Kensington, Lewis enjoys a similar but now less alarming view.

He gestures toward the Golden Gate. Under a streaky gray December sky is the glimmering reach of the Central Bay, bounded by its three big bridges, cradling its four big islands. In the campaign for Measure AA, the wetland restoration measure, “we learned what people see in their minds when they hear the word ‘Bay’.” It’s this: the bridges, the islands, the cities next to the water. Other stretches of bayshore are wider, wilder than Point Isabel. There are better places, north and south of here, for marshland restoration; there are better places to be alone with a big sky. Lewis is especially fond of China Camp in Marin and the vast expanses near Alviso. “But people like nature with people. That’s what we learned.”

Lewis grew up on an urbanized bayshore not unlike this one, in Palo Alto. The waterfront the family liked to visit had everything proper to such a shore: a duck pond, a sewage treatment plant, an airport where they went “to watch planes land,” and a dump. “Of course we went to the dump. The dump was a destination.”

His parents “sent in their dollar a year to Save The Bay,” the organization’s original and symbolic membership fee, but Lewis’s activism came home with him from school. During the 1976-77 drought, “I was the water police,” the monitor of running taps and lengthy showers. A summer class in natural history also planted some seeds.

These would not sprout, however, for 20 years. After high school, instead of following in his parents’ footsteps to Berkeley, Lewis chose the other coast, winding up at Princeton. He majored in politics and American studies, writing his senior thesis on the evolving nuclear freeze movement in the early 1980s. This interest led him to the arms control field and to Washington, D.C., where he worked successively for Friends of the Earth, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), and the League of Conservation Voters. But the Bay kept pulling him back. He and his family had already decided on the move when, in 1998, Save The Bay tapped him as its second executive director.

It didn’t take long for lobbying skills honed in Washington to come into use in California. In 1998, San Francisco International Airport released a plan to add runways on Bay fill, the first big Bay encroachment proposed since the 1980s. The powers that be lined up in unanimous favor. “It looked unwinnable,” Lewis recalls. Some conservationists toyed with the thought of a grand bargain: SFO would get its expansion but fund the purchase of all the restorable former wetlands around the Bay rim. Lewis wasn’t tempted. “If there was going to be any accommodation, it should be at the end of the environmental review process, not the beginning. Even if we lost, we would have represented the Bay well.” The ensuing campaign followed the classic Save The Bay model—factual, science-based, polite, equipped with reasonable alternatives, implacable—arguing that the airport could clear up its rainy-day delays with gentler, cheaper, more sophisticated means. That would prove to be the case. “Later,” says Lewis, “SFO Director John Martin thanked me.”

Lewis would gladly declare victory in the generation-long battle against Bay fill, but “an old-style fight” continues at Redwood City, where Cargill hopes to develop 1,400 acres of crystallizer beds once used for salt production with 12,000 homes. Opposition has slowed down this new juggernaut, and the public is increasingly skeptical of the plan. “Meanwhile, the sea level keeps rising and the traffic gets worse.”

The restoration of the wetland rim, more urgent than ever as sea level rise gains speed, is proceeding without Faustian bargains. Lewis threw himself into the campaign to pass Regional Measure AA. Now the citizens of nine Bay counties are taxing themselves to plow ahead with the restoration job.

Save The Bay has recently raised and widened its sights, from the here and now to the long-term future and from the immediate shoreline to the wider Bay watershed. The streams that feed the Bay are carrying too much pollution, too many plastic bags, and often too little sediment to help rebuild marshes, Lewis says. “We need to look upland and upstream and influence what’s happening there—the way cities develop and adapt and conserve.”

The watershed vision leads to these bold words in the organization’s year-old 2020 Strategic Plan: “We must help save the Bay Area as a sustainable community with a healthy Bay at its heart.”

How do you do that? “You build more and deeper relationships where the [land] development is happening, with elected officials and agency staff. You look for community organizations and businesses to ally with. And you go after the money! It doesn’t work otherwise.” Acknowledging that Save The Bay is one of many partners, Lewis notes with pride, “We are more active than others in getting more money. We endorsed ten local ballot measures in November, and nine of them passed.”

Walking back to the Bay Trail trailhead, next to the joyful dogs of the Point Isabel off-leash area, we pause at the channel that nourishes remnant Hoffman Marsh. Lewis eyes the waters for bat rays, points out the mud banks where endangered Ridgway’s rails loaf at low tide. Across the marsh is a culvert where an urban creek pours into the tide. This one, it turns out, lacks even a name: It is mapped as Fluvius Innominata. Several neighboring streams, however, have been “daylighted” here and there, reopened to the sky. It’s symbolic of what Lewis is looking for. “Daylighting helps the creeks and builds interest, awareness, stewardship.”

He speaks of the tension sometimes felt between access and preservation. “I have no patience with excluding people too much from nature.” He corrects himself: “I have patience with a lot of things, actually. But it’s not necessary to wall off all of the wildlife from all of the people. We have a big enough canvas to have strict nature preserves and recreational access areas, too.”

 

This article was originally written by John Hart and posted on Bay Nature Magazine’s website March 28, 2017.