Brunch by the Bay: The NextGen of Bay Stewards

Brunch by the Bay Speakers
Brunch by the Bay Speakers


One of the most enjoyable events I get to run in my role is Save The Bay’s Brunch by the Bay. On Saturday, August 19th we hosted more than 60 guests, including many founding members, at the Berkeley Yacht Club to commemorate the organization’s founding and discuss our plans for the future.  We look forward to this event every year as a way to honor the organization’s deep roots and remind ourselves that our founders accomplished “impossible” things against all odds.  Sylvia, Kay, and Esther were three women living in a world dominated by men in the 1950s and 1960s. Their world had no environmental protection laws, and they successfully banded together for the good of the Bay and the communities that call it home.

I have spent my entire adult life and the majority of my decade long career standing up for women’s rights. When I learned about the founding of Save The Bay and the three fearless women who started a revolutionary movement to prevent Bay fill, I immediately wanted to join the cause. I enjoy working for Save The Bay because of our inspiring founding story, my Bay Area roots, and most importantly so I can teach my 18 month old daughter the importance of fighting climate change through proactive and nature-based solutions.

A commonly held goal amongst parents is to make the world better for our children and generations to come. This sentiment was echoed at the Founder’s Brunch by Allison Chan, our Bay Smart Communities Manager, who is making real strides on behalf of Save The Bay to help the Bay Area reach zero trash by 2022. One thing that drives Allison is the hope that her baby girl will grow up in a cleaner and healthier environment. Our other speaker, Kenneth Rangel, spoke about his work on the habitat restoration team and how some of the students he takes to the shoreline have never seen the Bay despite growing up just a few miles away. Thanks to Kenneth and his fellow restoration colleagues, Save The Bay leads over 5,000 volunteers to restore the shoreline every year.

Brunch By The Bay 2017

We must honor the unprecedented victories of our founders and continue to protect, preserve, and restore our beautiful Bay, which is at the heart of our Bay Area community. By joining the Save The Bay Legacy Society, you can support this vision! Your legacy can be to leave this beautiful community stronger and more resilient for those who come after us.  I am so moved that Save The Bay has received almost a quarter of a million dollars in legacy bequest gifts this year.  This unexpected funding allows us to hire and retain staff, like Kenneth and Allison, and equip them to engage more volunteers and advocates.

In the spirit of legacy, I encourage you to join us as a member of Save The Bay’s Legacy Society. We are so passionate about our Legacy Society that we’re offering a special, one-time opportunity to receive a beautiful framed photo of San Francisco Bay if you let us know that we are a part of your estate plans.  To learn more about legacy giving and receive your Bay photo, please contact me at or 510-463-6837.

I continue to be inspired by the stories of our founding members—how the Bay was in a dire state before Save The Bay was formed and how our founders’ tenacity and grit helped to transform it. I am grateful to our founding members for making the Bay Area a better place for me, and I am committed to doing the same for my daughter. Thank you for standing with us.


Bay or River?

This story was written in our co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin’s words, from a series of interviews with her. The accompanying image is an ad that you can see now in BART stations and on trains. We share this story now to show that ordinary citizens have the power to make a difference.

Kay, Esther, and I sat in Kay’s living room in the Berkeley Hills, nervous, yet hopeful. We heard a car pulling into the driveway and I said to my friends, “Here we go.” Surely these men who cared so much about redwoods and birds would also want to save our Bay.Bart Ad 1_FINAL

Esther served coffee as we took our seats. On one side of the shiny coffee table sat the three of us “tea ladies” in our colorful suits. On the other side, facing the big window with views of the Golden Gate Bridge towering above the glistening blue water, sat three men in dark suits – the executive directors of Save The Redwoods League, the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club.

Kay, Esther and I described the problem: The Bay was steadily becoming smaller. Its primary use, other than shipping, was as a place to dump sewage and garbage. When Kay described the awful stench wafting from the shoreline and how at night she could see the Bay on fire where garbage had been dumped in the shallows and set ablaze, they nodded knowingly. I was sure that we had won their support, so I confidently asked, “What can you do to save the Bay?”

The Sierra Club director responded first: “I’m sympathetic to your cause. But we are pouring all of our resources into opposing the Grand Canyon dams. We can’t launch anything new.”

The other leaders responded similarly. The Redwoods League was busy saving the forests. Audubon was occupied with preserving bird habitats. The Sierra Club exec concluded: “It looks like there will have to be a new organization. We’ll give you our mailing lists and help you all we can.”

Then they filed out and wished us luck. We were deflated.

It was 1960 in Berkeley, California. While the free speech movement was gearing up at the University of Berkeley just down the hill, there was also a “progressive” movement to fill in the Bay. Starting with the Gold Rush, San Francisco Bay had been developed at a rapid rate. By 1960, 90 percent of the Bay’s wetlands were gone and the Bay was a third smaller than it had been. From our house I could see a continuous stream of trucks dumping garbage and fill into the water. One day I opened up the newspaper and saw something that sent shivers down my spine. It was an image entitled “Bay or River?” showing that the Bay would become a narrow channel by 2020 if all the various development plans being proposed came to fruition.

At that time, nature conservation in an urban setting was an alien concept. The first Earth Day was still 10 years away. The EPA didn’t exist. While chatting over almond cookies and tea, Kay, Esther, and I came to the conclusion that the Bay needed saving. That’s how we came to be meeting with those men from the largest conservation organizations. But once we heard the car pull away I said, “Well, that didn’t turn out as planned. But it is clear that if anything is going to be done, we are ‘it.’ Let’s get to work.”

Shortly thereafter we sent a letter to everyone we knew inviting them to join Save San Francisco Bay Association for one dollar. We didn’t know if anyone would respond, but a few days later we got our first batch of one dollar checks and even more came the following day. We ended up with a wonderful response – more than 90 percent!

Our first move was to lobby for a new state agency that could regulate development. Senator Eugene McAteer was business friendly, but he also had a restaurant on the Bay. Kay convinced him that it would be good for business to protect this natural resource. In 1965 Senator McAteer and Assemblyman Nicholas Petris co-sponsored a successful bill – the McAteer-Petris Act – which established The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). BCDC had two major responsibilities: to prepare a master plan for the Bay and grant or deny permits for Bay filling. We had to keep fighting to assure that BCDC became a permanent agency. We rallied our fellow citizens who wrote letters and telegrams, made calls and even descended on the capital in busloads. After eight years of hard work, the bill passed by just one vote. Governor Reagan signed it and created the agency that is still the main regulatory agency over the Bay today comprised of citizens and public representatives from around the Bay.

Today, I’m proud that Save The Bay remains the largest regional organization working to protect and restore this great natural treasure.

Recently, one of my grandson’s friends asked me a question I’m asked often: “Sylvia, isn’t the Bay saved already?”

I quoted my friend Kay: “The Bay is always in the process of being saved. That is why we have been working so hard for all these years and why it’s important that you and your friends continue to protect it far into the future. Let’s keep it going!”


Tea for 100? Save The Bay Founding Members Gather

It was a brilliantly sunny day with a strong breeze kicking up whitecaps on the Bay when around 100 founding Save The Bay members gathered at The Berkeley Yacht Club for Save The Bay’s annual Founding Members’ Tea. Save The Bay co-founder, Sylvia McLaughlin was on hand to greet the crowd of old friends.


A Storied Spot
There couldn’t be a better location to celebrate our longtime members and their vision and accomplishments than the site of Save The Bay’s first success—stopping Berkeley from paving three miles out into the Bay off the shoreline where the Yacht Club sits now, adjacent to McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.

An Accomplished Honoree
Dr. Doris Sloan, geologist, local environmental icon and adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, was honored for her work over the years with Save The Bay. Sloan praised founding Save The Bay members for having the courage to take on the fight for San Pablo Bay back in the 1980s. Developers wanted to put 4,500 new homes on the wetlands at this far northern edge of the San Francisco Bay Estuary. The plan included a disastrous scheme to transport water and sewer over the Napa River from Vallejo. Sloan’s grad students did the research that eventually led to the defeat of the development. Sloan is also the author of the highly regarded natural history book, Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region (UC Press, 2006).

“I am very pleased to be honored at the Founders’ Tea,” said Sloan. “My association with Save the Bay goes back almost four decades, and I have always been proud of the many ways that Save the Bay has found to protect and restore our wonderful Bay.”

Inspiring Speakers
Additional speakers included Board Member Michael Katz, our Executive Director, David Lewis, and Regional Administrator for Environmental Protection Agency Region 9, Jared Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld reminded the audience that the Bay is the reason for the lively atmosphere of creativity, energy, and innovation in the Bay Area, and thanked the founders for laying the groundwork for his agency’s efforts to protect the Bay.  “The Bay is a symbol of environmental progress over the past 40 years,” he said. Blumenfeld added that the current generation must continue to care for the environment, saying, “my goal is to make sure my children inherit a healthy bay, but government can’t do it alone.”

David told founders about our bold initiative to carry on their great work by continuing to engage new people who care about the Bay and are willing to take action to protect it. You too can follow in our founders’ footsteps and do something to protect our most precious resource. Sign up to volunteer, donate, or sign our petition to the San Francisco Water Board telling them to get tough on polluters and keep porpoises in the Bay.

Guest Post | Bay Area: What Could Have Been

We are excited to share this guest blog post by Victoria Bogdan about her new project Bay Area: What Could Have Been, which will tell the visual story of what the Bay Area would look like without the environmental heroes who fought to preserve some of our most precious, iconic open spaces. 

Anyone who hikes the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area can see a panorama of environmental history. From atop most tall vantage points, one can look in every direction and see land and waters that were fought for and saved.BogdanV photo

In other words, the large stretches of green space and sparkling Bay waters that make this such an incredible place to live weren’t always guaranteed as open and protected. The stories of many of our favorite places are hidden or forgotten. They’re the stories of what isn’t there.

Huey Johnson, of Resource Renewal Institute is a living conservation legend and the person who first introduced me to Save the Bay’s co-founder, Sylvia McLaughlin. He’s the person who first shared the idea of these missing stories with me. He gave me Dr. Marty Griffin’s Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast, which tells the stories behind many of these battles. After reading this book, my perspective on the Bay Area was never the same.

There are countless stories of large development projects that nearly changed the Bay Area landscape for good: the lagoon at Bolinas that didn’t get turned into high rises and hotels. The nuclear power plant that doesn’t sit at Bodega Head. The 30,000 person town that isn’t our view across from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay that didn’t get reduced to a canal, and many, many others.

There are also films, including Rebels with a Cause, and books like New Guardians of the Golden Gate, in which advocates tell the story of our region. There are history projects like Forces of Nature, as well as individual renderings of the doomed developments, many of which were done by the architects or proposing agencies at the time.

Even with all this history, one piece was missing for me. I wanted to see what the view from the top of a Bay Area hill would look like had all of the projects from the 1950s-70s actually happened. I wanted to see, put together in one place, what isn’t there.

In all of my searches at the Anne T. Kent California Room, and in books, no such view existed. I had no choice: if I wanted to see this complete picture, I would have to do it myself.

I found a talented illustrator and spent a year researching and gathering stories. Now I’m ready to launch The Bay Area: What Could Have Been into the world– or the fundraising piece, anyway. My illustrator and I need to raise money to pay him, to print copies of what we create so that we can donate them to the local environmental groups that continue to steward our lands and waters, and to create a project website to make What Could Have Been accessible to the public.

With any luck and some goodwill, we’ll present our gift to Bay Area environmental history before the end of the year. I can’t wait to see the result, and I hope others use it as a teaching tool and reminder of the important advocacy and activism stories that sometimes lead to what we don’t see.

Victoria Bogdan is a fundraising consultant working with environmental nonprofits around the Bay Area, including Yosemite Conservancy, Pepperwood Preserve, Fair Trade USA, Resource Renewal Institute, and Earth Day Quebec. She worked with the California chapter of The Nature Conservancy, where hiking with botanists, biologists, and other -ists strengthened her love of the environment and dedication to working on its behalf. She lives in Oakland, is a co-founder of Nerds for Nature, and can’t wait to hike again in the rainforest.
Twitter: @victoria_bogdan

Save The Bay Founder Honored with State Park Naming

Sylvia planting
Sylvia McLaughlin plants Save The Bay’s 100,000th native seedling. photo credit:

I know that I speak for all of my colleagues when I say that Sylvia McLaughlin is one of my heroes. Sylvia founded Save The Bay in 1961 with her friends Kay Kerr and Esther Gulick and has been a tireless advocate on behalf of San Francisco Bay since then. Now Sylvia will have a fitting tribute when she becomes one of two women to have a California State Park named after her. After a unanimous vote by the California State Park and Recreation Commission, Eastshore State Park – which Sylvia helped to create – will be re-named McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.

Clearly stated, the Bay wouldn’t be the thriving natural treasure it is today without the tireless work of Sylvia and her friends. The “tea ladies” as they were initially called, stopped rampant fill and dumping and prevented the Bay from becoming a narrow, polluted river. What makes Sylvia even more impressive is that she saved the Bay during a time when woman weren’t respected as leaders as they are today, when filling in the Bay was considered progress and the word “environmentalism” didn’t even exist. But Sylvia saw her beautiful Bay disappearing before her eyes and decided to do something about it. And she didn’t give up when it became hard and when powerful men told her she would fail. And she has hardly slowed down since then. Just a few years ago, Sylvia helped two students plant Save The Bay’s 100,000th native wetland seedling along the Oakland shoreline. And she recently attended one of our restoration projects reminding volunteers, “the Bay is never saved – it is always in the process of being saved.”

I encourage you to leave a note of congrats for Sylvia in the comments section of this blog and we will share your notes with her. I’ll get that started by saying, “Sylvia, congratulations. And thank you for saving the Bay.”