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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Guest Post | A Birder’s Perspective on the Bay

Alameda resident Rick Lewis has been a Bay Area birder and a wildlife photographer for more than 30 years. His gorgeous photos often grace Save The Bay’s calendars, email communications, and website. Rick is passionate about preserving bird habitat in the Bay Area, so he created and narrated the slideshow below  to convey the beauty of Bay Area birds. Through his photos, poetry, and this blog post, he hopes to remind Bay Area residents how fortunate we are to live in this region, and to inspire everyone to advocate for wetland restoration and habitat preservation–for future generations of people and birds to enjoy.

There are good birding spots five minutes away. That’s not exactly correct – if I simply open the front door I can watch towhees, black phoebes, warblers, sparrows, crows, and various raptors. Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and gopher snakes sometimes visit. This isn’t the ‘country’, this is Alameda. From here I can smell low tide. It’s all about habitat around the bay.

Despite urbanization, San Francisco Bay is recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—a place of hemispheric importance that impacts the entire state and has global implications. Birds are an indicator species and reflect the overall health of the region. The numerous accounts of falling bird populations being the result of human activity is an alarm all should heed. We are not separate from them; there is no separation. Connectivity binds us all and what we do here will certainly have ramifications felt far and wide. As Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Many years ago I was photographing a pair of young Brown Pelicans at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. They were quite chummy with each other and were enthusiastic subjects. Time and again they would walk towards me to investigate the camera. I would back up and they would rub bills inquisitively. This intimate encounter sealed my fate as a life-long birder and left me charmed, thrilled, and honored.

We almost lost pelicans, but they came back from the brink of extinction once we banned DDT. The story of the pelican indicates our positive influence when we decide to act. And also the resilience of nature. There are dozens of other stories like this out on the marsh. Take note of the wintering waterfowl and shorebirds near the base of the bay bridge as you approach from Oakland. The birds are content to feed and loaf as they ignore the traffic and surrounding activity. It is imperative that we preserve and restore what little habitat these birds have amidst the bridges and the cars. We just need to act now.

I believe that our very existence depends on the ability to experience nature close to our homes. Photographing birds along the shoreline is what I thrive on. I hope everyone who lives here will find something that inspires them in the wildness just beyond their doorstep. I am happy to share my inspiration through my slideshow and poetry. Please take a moment now to tell the Bay Restoration Authority to put a measure on the ballot to fund Bay restoration.

I have ever heard,
and listened to, the song
of birds.
Be it day, or
eve, or morn,
or the darkness we perceive
The song prevails, loud
And clear, breaking through
the mist of perversity
A beacon, a light,
a thing of utmost beauty
Dawn has come
and with it
life, illumination
understanding
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its
essence

Thank you for all you do for the Bay.
Rick Lewis

 

How Big is 100,000 Billion?

Bay Area homes stand below water level behind levee
Even without the significant impacts of sea level rise, some Bay Area communities are already at risk (Photo Credit: Matt Leddy).

Last month the National Academy of Sciences released a report describing the”unfathomable costs” faced by coastal societies around the globe from sea level rise. “The world needs to invest tens of billions of dollars a year in beefing up shoreline defenses against rising oceans or it will face mind-boggling costs in the decades to come,” reported Inside Climate News.

The scientists warned in their new report that future damage caused by sea level rise may be “one of the most costly aspects of climate change.” The report projected a worst-case dollar cost of $100 trillion by 2100. That’s a scary number – 100,000 billion dollars, across the globe.

Save The Bay is working to keep you informed and engaged on issues related to sea level rise around the San Francisco Bay region, where the impact from sea level rise is projected to be around $50 billion. As the National Academy of Sciences story points out, the response to this threat is not just building or hardening infrastructure like seawalls but also “preserving natural sponges like wetlands.”

This soft infrastructure is not just cheaper than old-fashioned hard engineering alternatives, it brings many benefits for people and wildlife over the long term. Healthy wetlands provide a natural buffer against storms and sea level rise by acting as sponges to absorb excess water along the Bay shoreline. Newly restored wetlands are making leopard sharks happy in the South Bay, where they are finding lots more to eat in wetlands being restored there than they did when the salt ponds were closed off from the Bay. The restoration also often includes new shoreline trails and public access, places to get your kids and the whole family outdoors on weekend outings. Of course, this work has to make progress now to stay ahead of the rising seas – and we’ve reported to you about significant wetland restoration progress to date.

I am hoping that you can see the connection between a prediction of massive potential damage from sea level rise around the world, and happy sharks and happy kids on the SF Bay shoreline. This great new video from a local college student helps put the Bay restoration project in perspective – please watch and share it. Because a healthy San Francisco Bay is vital to the quality of life and economy of all of us here in the region. Plans to adapt to rising seas may be difficult and expensive, in the Bay Area as elsewhere, but we are better served by facing the realities rather than ignoring them – and there are many benefits from restoring Bay wetlands to help the whole region cope.

 

A “Big Day” for Bay Wetland Restoration

"This is enlightened self-interest and insurance against a disaster or sea level rise that could happen tomorrow." - Carl Guardino, Silicon Valley Leadership Group president
San Francisco Bay wetlands

We are thrilled to learn this week that Sonoma Land Trust purchased Haire Ranch in the North Bay. Ownership of this 1100 acres is essential to the ability to restore tidal influence at Skaggs Island, covering an area four times greater than just the former ranch itself – altogether 3000 football fields in size. That’s a lot of marsh!

SLT calls the ranch “the holy grail of conservation projects.” Progress toward a tidal Skaggs has been pending since the Navy left the site 20 years ago, because the restoration of Skaggs Island could not proceed without Haire also being flooded.

San Francisco Bay is the heart of our region and people and wildlife stand to gain dramatically from this work, part of the largest tidal restoration project on the West CoastWe are working to identify the resources to double the Bay’s current tidal marsh, protecting shoreline communities and vital infrastructure all around our region while creating better habitat and improving water quality.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the California Coastal Conservancy helped fund SLT’s purchase of Haire Ranch. Many thanks to them and all the many partners who are working to make this vision a reality.

I was out on the shoreline at dusk on Monday evening in Palo Alto and again this morning in Hayward. It is amazing how beautiful and truly wild — full of wildlife – these areas can be. I hope you all will find some time over the holidays to get out into our amazing SF Bay shoreline.