Garden Club of America Honors Save The Bay

Executive Director David Lewis is quick to praise the Garden Club of America, a volunteer non-profit, for its perseverance protecting the environment. “Garden clubs have a long history of involvement in conservation. They made a huge push to advocate for the creation of the Clean Water Act, and their members have continued to be leading advocates in local communities.”

The GCA made clear recently: this admiration is mutual. Save The Bay has earned one of the Garden Club of America’s highest honors, the Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal for “outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life.”

In a recent newsletter, the GCA touched on six decades of Save The Bay’s history, highlighting why the organization deserved national recognition. Writer Karen Gilhuly of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club starts the story in 1961, when Save The Bay’s three women founders, Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick, charted a new course in environmentalism.

Gilhuly illustrates how their move to organize around preventing Bay fill “quickly became a model for others fighting to protect natural habitats in urban environments. Up until this time, conservation efforts had largely focused on protecting remote areas of wilderness and creating our natural parks.”

Save The Bay’s groundbreaking partnerships didn’t go under the radar, either. Gilhuly highlights the 1965 launch of Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), “made up of representatives from private, public and non-profit sectors.”

Uniting diverse interests, the BCDC “inspired other organizations to spring up across the United States to protect critical bodies of water.” In 1995, Save The Bay once again demonstrated a collaborative spirit, partnering with eight Bay-oriented organizations to form Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE). To this day, RAE “brings more than 1,000 students, activists and citizens together every other year to share best practices.”

The Garden Club of America also championed Save The Bay for its political effectiveness. Gilhuly sheds light on two of our most successful collaborations: banning single-use plastic bags across California and advancing a historic parcel tax to bring $500M in Bay restoration funding over 20 years.

By chance, this national recognition from the Garden Club of America coincides with David Lewis’s 20th Anniversary as Save The Bay’s Executive Director. David says he’s humbled to build on the work of our brave women founders, and moved to see Save The Bay awarded for: “decades of dedication to the protection of San Francisco Bay from industrialization, pollution, and shoreline development.”

He was also inspired by fellow GCA awardees, environmental advocates such as Former First Lady Laura Bush, honored for her work preserving national parks. In the end, David says he was especially grateful to be recognized by the GCA as “garden clubs really are kindred spirits to Save The Bay because they appreciate – and preserve – natural beauty.”

Celebrating David Lewis’ 20 Years of Battles for our Bay: Stopping Cargill from Paving Bay Salt Ponds

“Their proposal was out of touch and out of time with what the Bay Area wants and needs.”

David Lewis doesn’t mince words when it comes to Cargill’s “Saltworks” project. Back in 2006, America’s largest private company had grand plans: fill in 1,400 acres of Redwood City salt ponds to build 12,000 homes. Cargill’s agenda represented precisely the kind of reckless development Save The Bay was formed to fight.

So, David took them on – and won. In celebrating his 20th anniversary as Save The Bay’s Executive Director, we’re proud to look back on one of his biggest victories for San Francisco Bay.

For David, stopping Cargill’s plan hinged on a simple message: “We don’t do this anymore. We stopped filling the Bay decades ago. This was a Minnesota-based company completely out of touch about what is legal or supported by the public here.”

Early on, he also emphasized this project’s threat to the Bay as regional, not just local: “The Bay belongs to all of us. Today, residents understand that an attack on one part of the shoreline can affect the whole Bay, its fish and wildlife. That means we won’t leave this up to just Redwood City to decide.” Save The Bay launched a public campaign – Don’t Pave My Bay –  showing how building a new city in these salt ponds would harm both people and wildlife. David raised awareness in the media about how it would destroy wetland habitat, worsen traffic, threaten port jobs, and endanger residents as sea levels continue to rise.  Save The Bay secured signatures from 150 Bay Area elected officials urging the Redwood City Council not to permit the project, including leaders from neighboring Menlo Park, Atherton and San Carlos.

Federal and state laws, and Redwood City’s own zoning and general plan, prohibit development in the ponds, and Save The Bay showed the legal case against Saltworks was strong. David encouraged state and federal regulatory agencies to voice their concerns at the very beginning of the Environmental Impact Review, instead of waiting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified the Redwood City ponds as one if its already-authorized acquisitions to expand the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, should Cargill become a willing seller.

With David’s encouragement, local activists proposed Measure W, amending Redwood City’s charter in 2008 to require a vote of the people for rezoning any open space. Though that Charter Amendment lost at the ballot box, it forced a public debate about the negative impacts of Saltworks, not the benefits Cargill and its development partner DMB Associates were promising the city. Meanwhile, marsh restoration was accelerating at Bair Island just north of the Saltworks site, demonstrating to city leaders and residents the benefits of restoring nature to salt ponds instead of paving them for development.

The Measure W campaign also led Redwood City residents to organize their own power as a new group. Redwood City Neighbors United quickly became the largest community organization in town, with hundreds of supporters. Over the next four years, with encouragement and support from Save The Bay, these residents relentlessly lobbied their own councilmembers to focus on redevelopment in downtown Redwood City, near Caltrain transit – not on restorable salt ponds in the Bay.

“We knew that even though Cargill and DMB had tons of money, lots of consultants and influence in Washington, DC, they couldn’t move forward without local approval in Redwood City.” By 2012, the Council was growing weary of the controversy and opposition. Rather than extend the environmental review of a project too big and destructive to approve, the Council signaled the developer to withdraw its application. Cargill promised it would soon submit a revised proposal, but never has. The company tried to convince federal officials to declare the ponds are not regulated “Waters of the United States,” but at David’s encouragement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency blocked that effort, and the Clean Water Act protections for that Bay shoreline remain strong.

“Those salt ponds remain at risk of development until Cargill sells or donates them for habitat restoration and wildlife protection,” says David, “so we’ve repeated our call on Cargill to do that. It’s the last sizeable parcel on the shoreline that needs to be secured, so we don’t ever have to wage that kind of battle there again.”

Will you celebrate David’s 20th year at Save The Bay by supporting all we do to protect this beautiful place we call home?

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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? 

From Architecture to Access: Meet Nancy Fee, New Board Member

Wetlands at Bair Island

Mention the word “architecture” and Nancy Fee glows. She lifts her elbows. She extends her arms. She broadens her smile. Then, our new board member says something bound to linger with her listener, like: “the Bay Regional style? It’s particularly residential, making the boundary between interior and exterior more permeable.”

A self-described “design buff,” Nancy can’t help but gaze at a structure and consider what its features suggest of “builders and users.” Yet, this San Francisco native undoubtedly has the credentials to back up her conclusions. Nancy earned a PhD in Art History from Columbia University before teaching architectural history at several colleges and universities, including Mills College and UC Davis.

Having returned to San Francisco, Nancy now ponders a question most relevant to the place where she grew up: “one of the most interesting challenges we face is how to deal with the intersection of the built environment and the natural environment.”

For Nancy, this dynamic was on full display during the breach of San Pablo Bay wetlands. She found it truly captivating to watch a crew open up a dike, digging and digging until bay water came “gushing in.” In the same vein, Nancy remembers well when Crissy Field was opened up significantly to the public during her childhood. She recalls how excited she and her friends were at the time; they “would go down there and put our feet right in.”

Now, as Save The Bay’s newest board member, Nancy wants to ensure people of all backgrounds and from all parts of the Bay Area can relish the beauty of our Bay – up-close. Her vision is to reach people who “don’t really have access to it, can’t see it from where they are, don’t necessarily understand how their lives are so connected to it.” Nancy, after all, is a firm believer that small acts can spark major change.

Avocet in the wetlands. Photo by Hank Christensen

During her strolls in San Francisco, she sometimes finds herself “picking up pieces of soft plastic on the street.” She brings them to Recology or Trader Joe’s to ensure they don’t harm wildlife. Nancy says she can’t help but: “think about [them] ending up in the digestive tract of a bird or fish or a sea lion down on Pier 39.” She’s optimistic that with exposure to Save The Bay’s programs, communities around the region can develop the same drive to protect our awe-inspiring Bay, bit by bit.

Indeed, it’s why she puzzled over friends in New York expressing a mix of curiosity and bewilderment over her leaving Manhattan: “What is it about San Francisco?” “Nothing happens in San Francisco.” Nancy’s epiphany came on Treasure Island shortly after her return to the Bay Area – it was the bay. “I find the Bay grounding, uplifting. I breathe a little deeper when I’m near it. It makes me feel hopeful.” Now, she wants everyone who calls the Bay home to experience the same sensation.

Help Cadence Protect the Heart of our Home

Why does San Francisco Bay need your support before the clock strikes midnight on the last day of the year?

We can’t put it better than Cadence: “The Bay needs our help because it’s getting polluted and creatures are endangered.”

Time is running out to protect our Bay, the heart of our home.

But if you make a generous donation before 2018, Save The Bay can keep working to reduce pollution, create habitat, and inspire thousands of students (like six-year-old Cadence!) to dig into science right by the shoreline.

We wish you a safe and a happy new year, and we’re grateful that you’re part of our caring community.