The Next Leap Forward for San Francisco Bay: Restoration Funding and Other 2018 State Legislative Priorities

With the 2018 state legislative session now underway in Sacramento, we are working hard to advance our top priorities for protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay. Our ambitious agenda is focused to achieve meaningful progress on our most important issues – from wetlands restoration funding to reducing stormwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – so that our Bay and Bay Area communities remain clean and healthy for future generations.

Bay Restoration Funding

Two years ago, we did what no one thought possible – we led an overwhelming majority of Bay Area voters to pass Measure AA, a $500 million investment in restoring the health of San Francisco Bay. Despite this momentous victory, Measure AA will cover only a third of the estimated cost to restore the tidal wetlands awaiting action around the Bay. It is now the state’s turn to step up and invest in San Francisco Bay restoration, ensuring that this natural treasure remains clean and healthy for future generations. Securing a significant investment in Bay restoration from the state is our top legislative priority.

Funding the full cost of restoration has long been a priority of Save The Bay, and there is more urgency than ever to get it done. As prospects for winning federal funding are currently poor, state matching funds are crucial to accelerating the pace of restoration so that the wetlands have adequate time to accrete ahead of rising sea levels that threaten to swamp them and make restoration impossible. Restoration projects can take years, and the pace of our changing climate compels us to act now.

We have a tremendous opportunity to win significant funding in 2018, working closely with our state elected officials to put together a financing package of $50 million in dedicated funding for Bay restoration projects. With a strong groundswell from you, our supporters, we are confident we can make real progress this year.

At a glance, here are our other major legislative priorities:

Bay Smart Communities: Restore Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Funding

The Governor’s 2018-2019 Budget proposes zeroing out GGRF funding for key programs that support the establishment of Bay Smart Communities – environmentally just communities with housing and infrastructure that is ecologically sound, climate resilient, and improves access to the Bay. Urban greening, urban forestry, and climate adaptation programs play a vital role in advancing Bay Smart projects around the Bay, which produce multiple benefits like pollution reduction, water conservation, and urban open space for public recreation and public health improvement. We will work to ensure that the Legislature fully restores these funds in this year’s budget.

Keeping Trash Out of the Bay: Holding Caltrans Accountable

As cities across the region do their part to reduce the amount of trash that flows into the Bay, Caltrans is shirking its responsibility to keep litter out of our waterways. This state agency, which is responsible for maintaining California’s state roads and highways, has failed to address the trash problem in its jurisdiction, placing the burden of compliance on cities. Save The Bay is demanding the Regional Water Quality Control Board force Caltrans to comply with the Clean Water Act and clean up littered roads and install trash capture devices before the garbage piled up on its thoroughfares pollutes our Bay.

Reducing Plastic Pollution in Our Waterways

Each year during beach and river cleanups around the state, the biggest sources of trash are plastic items like cigarette butts and plastic beverage caps. If we can target the problem at its source, whether by discouraging smoking in places where cigarette butts can end up in our waterways or reducing the amount of single-use plastic straws we use, we can reduce this plastic trash that pollutes the Bay and threatens wildlife. For this reason, Save The Bay supports a package of plastics bills that would reduce source pollution keep it out of our waterways.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Committing to Renewable Energy

California has led the nation in passing aggressive climate change mitigation and clean energy policies, and we’re looking to make big progress once again in 2018. The Legislature will consider two groundbreaking bills to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and particulate emissions that pollute our Bay and threaten the health and quality of life of Bay Area residents:

  • Senate Bill 100 (de León), which would commit California to 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • Assembly Bill 1745 (Ting), which would ban all new gas-powered cars in California after 2040.

November 2018 State Water Bond Ballot Measure

Save The Bay strongly supports the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, a citizens’ initiative expected to be on the statewide ballot in November. The proposed bond measure includes nearly $200 million in funding for the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to accelerate regional wetland restoration projects, in addition to funding for projects that improve water infrastructure, ensure reliable delivery of drinking water to underserved areas of the state, and restore critical fish and wildlife habitat. This bond would be the state’s largest investment in water infrastructure and wildlife habitat restoration projects since Proposition 1 passed in 2014. We are seeking legislative endorsements for its passage.

To read our full 2018 State Legislative Agenda, click here.

 

 

 

 

We need the Calif. Environmental Defense Bill

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and other senators today introduced a trio of bills aimed at protecting the state’s natural resources and people against potential threats from the Trump Administration. The California Environmental Defense Bill package includes protections for clean water, endangered species, clean air, climate, public lands, whistleblowers, data, and worker safety.

STATEMENT OF DAVID LEWIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SAVE THE BAY

“We need the California Environmental Defense Bill package to prevent developers from paving Bay wetlands and allowing more pollution.

These state bills will help protect people and wildlife in San Francisco Bay against the President and Congress gutting federal laws on public health and the environment.

Our local leaders are fighting for clean water that’s essential to our quality of life, because the Clean Water Act and other federal laws protecting the Bay are on the chopping block.

We’re grateful that Senator de León and his colleagues are working to protect California’s environment from the Trump Administration, just as they are working to protect California’s diverse communities and immigrant families.”

More info at: http://sd24.senate.ca.gov/news/2017-02-23-senate-unveils-california-environmental-defense-act-public-lands-and-whistleblower

Taking the Long View at Bair Island

Inner Bair breach
Bay waters flow into Inner Bair Island culminating decades of community activism and wetland restoration.

The modern environmental movement has sometimes focused on responding to sudden, urgent crises.  Think oil spilling into rivers, species plummeting towards extinction, or toxic chemicals sickening people.

Indeed, Save The Bay was founded in 1961 in response to the alarmingly rapid decline of the San Francisco Bay.  Much of this organization’s early work was to stop the imminent destruction of large portions of the Bay for land “reclamation” purposes.  It was natural and even necessary to think in short-term time frames, so as to quickly react to rapid-fire developments and shifting tactics.

Today, with threats of new bay fill largely eliminated, attention is turning towards confronting the long-term threats to the Bay from climate change and sea level rise.  This increases the importance of careful planning and collaboration amongst various stakeholders to achieve successful restoration and protection of the Bay’s wetlands, which form a crucial defense against damage from extreme weather and encroaching waters.

It also requires working with nature itself, which restores degraded landscapes on a (often gradual) timescale of its own.

Persistence pays off at Bair Island

One timely example illustrating this shifting approach is the Bair Island restoration project in Redwood City, which celebrated a milestone on December 10 when a perimeter levee separating the Bay from Inner Bair Island was breached.  This moment is significant because it marks the completion of the nearly decade-long, $7 million project, some 35 years after the land was under threat of residential and business development.

Historically a flourishing wetland, Bair Island by the 1980s had been used for decades for agriculture and salt evaporation ponds.  In 1982, Mobil Oil owned the land, and wanted to construct a new development called South Shores on Bair Island.  A citizen’s group called Friends of Redwood City quickly arose to oppose this project, and through grassroots campaigning helped stop Mobil’s plans at the ballot box that year.

Since then, a long-running, multi-step process has been underway to complete the circle of ecological restoration at Bair Island.  First, the land was purchased by an entity that would ensure this outcome.  In 1997, the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a local land trust, bought the land for $15 million.  In 1999, POST transferred the land to state and federal government agencies for inclusion in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, ensuring its permanent protection.

Then, a restoration plan needed to be crafted and funded.  A key collaborator in this process has been the conservation non-profit Ducks Unlimited, which pieced together much of the funding from government and foundation sources.  Construction began in 2006 and is now finishing up.

Investing for future challenges

Bair Island’s decades-long journey towards rehabilitation shows how complicated restoring ecosystems can be.  Local activists have successfully protected sites like Bair Island from reckless development around the Bay, which now must be restored to wetlands to benefit our region.  Chief among the challenges of accomplishing more projects like this one is finding the needed money.  Funding streams from the government, particularly through federal appropriations, can be unpredictable and inconsistent.  Contributions from foundations and individuals can significantly ebb and flow when the state of the economy changes.

Given this, having a dependable source of money would accelerate the timeline for pending and potential projects.  Like Bair Island, many of these projects could take decades from beginning to end.  So, we need to get to work now to see the benefits by the time sea level rise and climate change becomes more severe later this century, as stated in a recent scientific report.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (SFBRA) is a regional agency empowered to raise money specifically to fund Bay Area wetland restoration, shoreline improvement, pollution reduction, and flood protection. On January 13, SFBRA will vote on placing a measure on the June 2016 ballot that, if approved, would generate $500 million over two decades through a regional parcel tax.  Passing this measure will allow environmental stakeholders to more quickly and reliably undertake restoration efforts in all nine Bay Area counties.

The main threat to a thriving, productive Bay has changed.  We need long-term plans to address climate change and sea level rise.  Call on the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to place the Clean and Healthy Bay measure on the June 2016 ballot.

The Story of Cullinan Ranch

Update 1/6/15:

In a dramatic moment, on Jan. 6 work crews breached the levee that has kept Cullinan Ranch, 1,200 acres of diked wetlands in the Napa River Delta, unnaturally dry for more than a century. Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis, Habitat Restoration Director Donna Ball, and I joined representatives from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, and other partners to celebrate the culmination of a decades-long effort to restore the site. What’s next? Project designers expect near-immediate resurgence of waterfowl and shorebirds, and with tidal waters already beginning to carry natural sediment to the site, native plants will eventually take root and re-establish habitat for our Bay’s wild creatures. Read the full story of Cullinan Ranch below. -Cyril Manning


The former Cullinan Ranch, soon to be back part of San Francisco Bay (via restorecullinan.info)
The former Cullinan Ranch, soon to be back part of San Francisco Bay (via restorecullinan.info)

Cullinan Ranch is a 1500-acre parcel of former tidal marsh at the top of San Pablo Bay, part of the Napa River Delta. As you can see from the map at right, it is an important puzzle piece in the sprawling restoration of the whole northern part of San Francisco Bay, work that has been described as an “aquatic renaissance… turning back the clock 150 years and transforming the area between Vallejo and Sonoma Raceway.”

Like nearly all the tidal marsh around San Francisco Bay, Cullinan was diked off in the 1880s to be farmland (see this nice timeline covering the history of the site). A proposed residential marina community nearly destroyed the area 25 years ago, but the proposal was defeated in 1987.

After the site was proposed for development, Save The Bay joined with local residents in Vallejo and hired Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger to sue over the “Egret Bay” development, which proposed thousands of homes on this restorable site, below sea level. Getting involved in the battle was a first for Save The Bay – actually advocating for restoration of a diked former wetland, not just against new fill and inappropriate shoreline development.

That successful lawsuit, along with the denial of construction permits by BCDC and the US Army Corps of Engineers, put a stop to Egret Bay, making possible Cullinan’s purchase by the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1989, and protection as a wildlife refuge.  Now, this site — one and a half times the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park — is being returned to marsh as part of the West Coast’s largest wetland restoration effort.

After the site was first diked off for grazing and oat hay, the marshland dried out and compacted like a sponge, and now lies six to nine feet below sea level.  When the levees are opened later this year, the site will initially be open water and mud flats, then sediment from the Napa River and Bay will eventually build up, so that tidal marsh vegetation can begin to grow back.

Another key challenge is restoring the property while protecting the critical infrastructure that runs through and around it. A levee to protect Highway 37 from the new tidal action is the single most expensive element in the $16 million wetland restoration project. The SF Bay Don Edwards and San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuges are crisscrossed by much of the region’s critical transportation, electrical and water supply infrastructure, which add expensive urban complexities that are not usually a part of refuge restoration projects.

As local scientists, communities, and conservationists work together to bring us closer to the 100,000 acres of tidal marsh needed for a healthy Bay, sites like Cullinan Ranch serve as a valuable model and inspiration.  They show we can succeed in preventing projects like Cargill’s proposal to build homes in a Redwood City salt pond, and instead ensure that site is restored along with other ponds, together restoring the Bay for people and wildlife.

Working Toward a Butt Free Bay This Coastal Cleanup Day

You Decide: Which City Will We Make #ButtFree Next?
You decide: Which city will we make #ButtFree next?

Imagine an event where on a single day each year, people around the world spend 4 hours picking up trash along their local creek or beach, helping to illuminate the impact trash is having on water quality and wildlife worldwide.

Good news: That event is happening this Saturday and it has reached a milestone. International Coastal Cleanup Day is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and we’re tackling the single most abundant type of trash in our waterways: cigarette butts.

Last week, Save The Bay released our Cigarette Butt Litter Hot Spots map, showing 16 Bay Area cities with some of the worst cigarette butt pollution problems in our region. The data for this map came from Coastal Cleanup Day 2013. Volunteers at clean-up sites around the Bay  recorded the types of trash they found. This information helps us to understand what kinds of trash are most prevalent in our creeks and on our shorelines. Cigarette butts have been the #1 item collected on Coastal Cleanup Day for the last 20 years.

To help stem the flow of cigarette butts into the Bay, we’re asking Bay Area cities to adopt and enforce outdoor smoking restrictions. What’s interesting about the locations on our map is that some have already adopted strong restrictions, while others have not. The American Lung Association grades cities each year on the strength of their rules for smoking in outdoor spaces, including dining areas, parks, bus stops, and public events. What we’re learning is that a smoking ordinance alone is not sufficient to prevent tobacco litter. Cities must also educate the community about the ordinance and work proactively to ensure compliance in order for outdoor smoking restrictions to reduce litter.

The question we’re posing to you is: Where should we focus our efforts next? We’ve supported the City of El Cerrito in adopting their smoking ordinance, which includes strong outdoor smoking rules and is likely to be finalized next month. We’ve helped to kick off public education on Berkeley’s smoking ban with bus stop ads throughout downtown. Which city should Save The Bay work with next to achieve a Butt Free Bay? Click here to vote: https://www.savesfbay.org/secure/cigbutthotspots