Guest Post | Share the Local Love for the South Bay

Carlsen Subaru Todd Parksinson San Francisco Bay
A vintage photo of Carlsen Subaru’s Todd Parkinson on the SF Bay

The “Share the Love” promotion is Subaru’s 7th annual holiday charity event where Subaru of America will donate $250 per new vehicle sold during the promotional period (November 20, 2014 to January 2, 2015) to one of the customer selected national or local charities. This year, individual dealerships, depending on their sales volume, had the option of also partnering with a local “hometown” organization that would then be added to the list. Carlsen Subaru in Redwood City chose Save The Bay as their local charity. General Manager Todd Parkinson talks about his connection to San Francisco Bay.

I approached Save The Bay to be Carlsen Subaru’s hometown charity for several reasons. First of all, Subaru owners in general tend to be environmentally conscious people who enjoy wildlife and the outdoors. I think that most of our local Subaru customers would agree that San Francisco Bay, its estuaries and the Delta, are all treasures that should be safeguarded and protected. Therefore, I felt confident that Save the Bay’s mission would resonate well with our present and future customers. In addition, I have a very personal connection with the bay as I have spent quite a bit of time exploring the waterways, marshes, and levees surrounding San Francisco Bay and the delta.

Forty years ago, I was introduced to the wonders of the South San Francisco Bay by my father George. Alviso, the ghost town known as Drawbridge, the miles of Leslie Salt levees, and the sloughs and marshlands of the surrounding south bay area was my playground growing up. Almost every weekend, I would accompany my father exploring these areas. In the early years, we would ride motorcycles out the salt pond levees to the end of Alviso slough and fish for sharks, sturgeon, striped bass and sting-rays.   Later we would launch our various trailer-able boats from Alviso, Redwood City, and San Mateo to fish and explore the bay. During my teenage years, my family had a large boat berthed in Alameda. Several weekends a month were spent motoring around San Francisco, Angel Island, Sausalito, and occasionally making the long trip to the fresh water of the Delta.

As far as my favorite memories or San Francisco Bay experiences, there are many. My father and I used to ride our motorcycles from Alviso down the railroad tracks (yes down the middle of the railroad tracks as it’s the smoothest place to ride) to the remnants of the town of Drawbridge. As a youngster, exploring the old abandoned buildings perched on the marshes made a lasting impression. This trip also made for many exciting close encounters with the trains, especially at high tide when there was very little room on either side of the tracks to escape the approaching train. More than once, we were forced to crouch just off the tracks while the train whizzed by at 50mph plus. Thankfully, my mother did not get the full details of these adventures until years later. Throughout the years, there were also countless successful fishing trips with my family and friends from the South Bay to outside the Golden Gate. Fleet Week on the water was always a special treat. Being able to get close to the war ships and watching the Blue Angels fly over the bay were true highlights that I will never forget.

As a father, I have retraced some of the same south bay levees with my children. Instead of motorcycles and fishing poles, we now set out with mountain bikes and energy bars. I am happy to say that the geography remains much the same as I remember it from years ago. The trail systems that now border the bay have increased public access. However, I don’t take this fact for granted. Without the efforts of multiple governmental and private partners who have worked together to safeguard this local treasure, the current state of the bay could have been a very sad story. Thankfully, this is not the case. It is my hope that the Carlsen Subaru/Save the Bay partnership will result in increased funding and local awareness for Save the Bay so the organization can continue to preserve and protect this wonderful local resource.

— Todd Parkinson, General Manager of Carlsen Subaru in Redwood City

How You Can Show Save The Bay Some Love on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday Volunteering Save The Bay Restoraion Volunteers Habitat
Volunteering with Save The Bay is one of the many amazing ways you can give back on #GivingTuesday! Photo by Adrienne Warmsley

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday. This formidable trio of dates are all about buying, buying, buying. But what about giving back? This year, Save The Bay is joining #GivingTuesday, a nationwide social media movement especially for nonprofits and other charitable organizations to mobilize their online communities into giving back.

Save The Bay offers three easy ways for our beloved community to get in on the #GivingTuesday action. So, in the generous and grateful spirit of the holiday season, read on and choose how you can show Save The Bay some love:

Volunteer!

Save The Bay thrives on its volunteers. From November 2013 to November 2014, 5,748 volunteers logged 18,821 hours, put 21,393 plants in the ground, removed 34,558 invasive plant species, and collected 6,815 pounds of trash! How amazing is that? And the Bay is getting healthier and stronger because of all your hard work. #GivingTuesday is the perfect time to gather your friends, family, or organization together and pledge to get outside, have a blast, and lend Save The Bay a hand. We have public restoration programs every Saturday! Sign up to volunteer today.

Donate!

This #GivingTuesday, become a Bay Sustainer. Bay Sustainers are a special group of Save The Bay members who offer regular monthly gifts to support our critical work to protect and restore San Francisco Bay. With your regular monthly gifts we can build a reliable foundation that helps us plan for the future – while saving the expense of renewal notices. Plus, Bay Sustainers receive an awesome, super-soft Save The Bay t-shirt, designed in collaboration with Oaklandish, in return for your commitment to us. Click here so you can start bragging to your friends about your Bay Sustainer status today.

Take Action!

Here at Save The Bay, we’re experts at telling lawmakers what we’re passionate about and why. We depend on people like you to send a strong message to decision makers about what matters to Bay Area residents. Right now, we’re calling on cities throughout the Bay Area to stop cigarette butt litter — one of the worst pollution problems facing the Bay — at its source by adopting and enforcing outdoor smoking bans that keep cigarette butts out of our Bay waters. Sign on to express your concern for cigarette butt litter and the effect it has on public health and the health of our Bay.

Join us on #GivingTuesday by showing how much you care for San Francisco Bay. Volunteer, donate, take action, tag Save The Bay on Facebook or Tweet at us and tell the world about why you’re thankful for our gorgeous Bay, using hashtags #GivingTuesday and #sfbaylove. With your help on social media and in the field on #GivingTuesday and beyond, San Francisco Bay’s flora, fauna, and rippling waters will become even more glorious than they already are.

River Otter Sighting a Sign of Lake Merritt’s Recovery

This river otter is the first seen in Lake Merritt in recent memory. Are more to come? Photo courtesy of the Rotary Nature Center and Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge.
This river otter is the first seen in Lake Merritt in recent memory. Are more to come? Photo courtesy of the Rotary Nature Center and Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge.

“Keep Oakland Fresh” bumper stickers. “Great Lakes” T-shirts, comparing the outlines of Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe and Lake Merritt. Vintage color postcards showing flocks of birds wading in clear blue waters and flying above beautiful green hills. Nearly every candidate who runs for City Council in Oakland has a picture of themselves with Lake Merritt as the backdrop. There’s a reason why: Oaklanders love Lake Merritt.

Lake Merritt isn’t just in our backyard – it’s also our front yard. It’s where the city gets together to picnic on the weekends, to walk off stress during the week. It’s home to walk-a-thons and fundraisers, the Oakland Running Festival, and Oaklavia – our version of San Francisco’s car-free Sunday Streets.

Like our city as a whole, Lake Merritt has had some tough times. It was listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as an “impaired water body” in 1999 due to poor water quality. It has had huge algae blooms and has been invaded by hordes of plastic bags and other trash. Years before that, the lake had raw sewage pumped directly into its waters. Over the past century, much of Lake Merritt’s shoreline has been filled in – its wetlands paved over and its connection to the Bay severely constrained. It still has 62 storm drains and culvertized creeks from throughout the city draining into it – bringing all the oil, trash, and other toxins from our streets directly into the lake.

I’ve written about the history of Lake Merritt before. How the lake is really a tidal lagoon, connected to the Bay, and how a group of residents, spurred by a development proposal, crafted an ambitious plan to revive the lake. These plans, funded by Oakland voters in 2002, have led to a major effort by the City of Oakland to widen the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the Bay, carve out new wetlands to help filter toxins out of the water and provide habitat for wildlife, and build much-needed new trails and walkways to benefit the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the lake every year.

River Otter Visits Lake Merritt for First Time in Decades

Earlier this month, we received a surprising indication that this restoration work is making a difference. For the first time in living memory, a river otter was spotted on a dock along the lake’s shoreline. River otters have been making a comeback in the Bay, but there have been only a handful of sightings south of the Bay Bridge (click here to see the River Otter Ecology Project’s map).

For those of us who work on Bay conservation, it was a big surprise to hear of a river otter in Lake Merritt. We have seen reports from the Lake Merritt Institute of the decreasing amount of trash in the lake – thanks in large part to the bans on plastic bags and polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers, as well as volunteer efforts and the installation of trash capture devices by the City. We’ve seen with our own eyes the increasing clarity of the water, and the resurgence of wildlife-supporting mudflats as the old 12th Street Bridge and associated culverts were removed, doubling the amount of water flowing between the lake and the Bay and increasing the tidal influence. We know about efforts to restore tidal marshes and even build some floating wetlands. Despite all of this, as an Oaklander and Bay restoration advocate, the river otter spotting still came as a surprise to me.

River otters eat fish, oysters, crabs and even small water birds. They are more commonly seen in fresh water areas like streams, rivers and lakes, and are also a fairly common sight in the California Delta. (Click here to read more facts about river otters). For many years, river otter sightings in the Bay have been limited to the North Bay – especially Marin County. However, more and more the otters have been spotted in other parts of the Bay – including as far south as the sloughs near the Coyote Hills in Fremont. This is the first time an otter has been spotted along the Oakland shoreline.

It’s too early to say whether more river otters will come after this one. (Please, if you see one – do not feed or bother it – keep your distance and keep your dogs away too! Report any sightings to the River Otter Ecology Project.) Whether this was just a lone visitor who stopped by on his or her way elsewhere, or the beginning of what may soon be a permanent group of otters in Lake Merritt, we don’t know.

Restoration Works: River Otters Just One of Several Wildlife Species Returning to the Bay

What we can say is that restoration works. When we restore wetlands and improve water quality – wildlife notice. River otters are not the only species making a comeback in the Bay. Leopard sharks and bat rays have returned in large numbers to restored former salt ponds. Ospreys have also taken a liking to San Francisco Bay, nesting on lampposts and port cranes, and feeding on fish in the restored Napa River and elsewhere. Harbor porpoises have also returned to the Bay after a 65 year absence, and can frequently be spotted underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. What all of these species’ recoveries have in common is a healthier San Francisco Bay.

Much work still has to be done to clean-up Lake Merritt and restore the 100,000 acres of wetlands that scientists insist we need for a healthy Bay. There are still development threats, major water pollution issues (see our latest effort to rid the Bay of the scourge of littered cigarette butts), and many parts of our shoreline still need funds and volunteers so that they can too be restored.

Yet what this lone river otter represents is the potential of not just Lake Merritt – but all of our Bay. For if Lake Merritt – once the very image of a polluted, degraded waterway – can be brought back to life and see a resurgence in wildlife, so can every other part of the Bay.

Congratulations, Oakland. Let’s keep up the momentum.

Reshaping the Bay

Beautiful restored wetlands, coming to a part of the SF Bay near you? (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
Beautiful restored wetlands, coming to a part of the SF Bay near you? (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

At our 50th Anniversary celebration in 2011, I was struck and impressed on hearing former Environmental Protection Agency head William Reilly describe the saving of San Francisco Bay as one of the signature environmental achievements of the 20th Century. He was standing in a small crowd in front of Sylvia McLaughlin, one of Save The Bay’s famous founders.

We are still building on and learning from our founders’ work. In fact, when I introduce Save The Bay’s current policy efforts around pollution prevention and stopping Bay fill, I invariably refer back to our founders achieving what they did without much of a template for grassroots environmental activism and without many of the laws or government agencies – including the EPA – that we all take for granted today.

But there’s a third area of Save The Bay’s work that our founders likely dreamed of but were not able to address on any scale: the restoration of the Bay.

Our science-based tidal marsh restoration programs are models for other projects around the Bay and around the country. Through these programs, we give community volunteers and local schools the opportunity to directly restore the shoreline alongside our restoration and education experts. We back up this on-the-ground restoration work with policy and advocacy efforts like our recently-launched For The Bay initiative to mobilize thousands of Bay Area residents who care about the Bay in support of the bold goal of re-establishing 100,000 acres of tidal marsh around the Bay. 100,000 acres is the minimum number scientists say we need for the Bay to thrive.

Recently, Paul Rogers wrote a terrific piece in the Mercury News about the modern reshaping of San Francisco Bay. We are so focused here on juggling the many details, large and small, involved in advancing this work that we sometimes fail to properly capture the scale and significance of this for the general public. That is not a weakness that we share with Paul Rogers:

The aquatic renaissance is already the largest wetlands restoration project ever completed in the Bay Area, turning back the clock 150 years and transforming the area between Vallejo and Sonoma Raceway, despite little public awareness because of the distance from the Bay Area’s large cities.

“It’s a stunning achievement,” said Marc Holmes, program director with the Bay Institute, an environmental group in San Francisco. “It’s a phenomenal ecological restoration, one of the most important coastal wetlands projects ever done in the United States.”

The restoration — encompassing an area as big as 8,500 football fields — is also offering a road map for similar projects now underway in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, particularly the massive restoration of 15,100 acres of former Cargill Salt ponds that extend from Hayward to San Jose to Redwood City.

It’s a great article. I hope you will read it, including the great visuals, and share it widely. Because this work is of vital importance for the Bay and brings such a broad array of public benefits: habitat restoration for threatened species; jobs for workers and flood protection for businesses; public recreation for people who love to walk, jog and bike by our beautiful Bay. I only hope that we are living up to the vision and daring of Save The Bay’s founders in working to ensure that this restoration project is finished as soon as possible.

 

Is Bay restoration showing benefits? Just ask the sharks.

(Nick Buckmaster/San Jose Mercury News)
One big leopard shark (Nick Buckmaster/San Jose Mercury News)

As you might imagine, the restoration of San Francisco Bay is one of our favorite subjects here at Save The Bay. We are often blogging, posting and tweeting about levee breaks and salt ponds being turned back into wetlands. Frankly, for those who may not be regularly “mired” in excitement about Bay mud, what this is all about may seem a bit abstract and obscure.

For those of you still wondering why wetland restoration is important, this great article by Paul Rogers in the San Jose Mercury News last week really laid it out, with compelling photographs like this one and a powerful case for restoring the Bay. Because it turns out that bringing these former Cargill salt ponds back to wetlands is leading to a noticeable increase in sharks. Lots of them (and no, they won’t bite you).

“We’re starting to see a lot more leopard sharks and also bat rays in the ponds now,” said Eric Mruz, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont.

As the article put it: “In any natural area, when large predators come back, that’s good news.”

With so many of the Bay’s former tidal wetlands lost to saltmaking for decades, leopard sharks were forced to retreat with the tide or they would end up being beached on the South Bay’s wide mudflats. The restored wetlands are now providing swimmable areas for them to stay and feed for days on end. And, the article explains, they are “fattening up.”

“This tells us the water quality is getting better,” Mruz explained. “And it shows that these former salt ponds are providing tremendous amounts of fish, worms, crabs and other species. It tells us the South Bay is getting healthier.” And that is music to our ears.