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

Guest Blog | Redwood City Residents Stay Vigilant

Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. The ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)
Had Redwood City residents not put a stop to it, this map shows the proposed expansion of recycled water service to the Cargill salt ponds – an area designated as open space, where development is prohibited. In this map, the ponds are included in what City staff call the “Greater Bayfront Area.” What would have been next – drinking water, electricity and roads? (Source: City of Redwood City)

Below is a recent news update from Redwood City Neighbors United, a local community non-profit dedicated to preventing residential and commercial development on the over 1,400 acres of open space that comprise the Cargill salt ponds.

Although it’s been nearly two years since DMB withdrew its controversial proposal to build a massive housing development on the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City, members of Redwood City Neighbors United (RCNU) remain vigilant, believing that any actions taken by local agencies to modify the status of this highly sensitive area has the potential to facilitate development when Cargill inevitably returns with a new proposal.

In early February, this attention to detail paid off. RCNU noticed an item on the Redwood City Council’s February 10 Consent Calendar that was designed to expand recycled water service to include all of the Cargill salt ponds.

While RCNU strongly supports the use of recycled water throughout the developed portions of the city, the expansion of services to an area designated as open-space under the General Plan signaled an intent by the City to construct infrastructure, a growth-inducing action that would pave the way for future development of the site. Particularly egregious was the fact that the proposal to expand recycled water service to the salt ponds was being pushed through on a consent calendar vote (meaning no Council discussion or public comment) and without any environmental review.

In a letter to Redwood City staff, RCNU requested that the City remove the item from the Council agenda, and asked that the Cargill salt ponds be excluded from any future amendments to the recycled water service area. Staff responded quickly, pulled the item from the Council agenda, and agreed to the need for “additional meetings with members of our community before we move this forward to our City Council”.

RCNU was gratified to receive a timely and responsive withdrawal of this proposal, and appreciated the promise of a more inclusive process moving forward. The neighborhood group will continue to monitor developments and changes to local and regional maps relating to the Cargill site.

For more information:

  1. Staff report on the recycled water service area (Click on item 7A to see a list of supporting materials, including the proposed new map boundary)
  2. RCNU Letter to the City – February 10, 2014

For more information about Redwood City Neighbors United, visit their website and sign-up for updates at

Dan Ponti, RCNU Steering Committee Member

Remembering Pete Seeger and his Environmental Legacy

Launched in 1969, Pete Seeger and his allies used their sloop, named the Clearwater, to launch their successful efforts to save the Hudson River. In 2004, the Clearwater was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places for its significance to the environmental movement. Photo by Anthony Pepitone.
Launched in 1969, Pete Seeger and his allies used their sloop, the Clearwater, to launch efforts to save the Hudson River. In 2004, the Clearwater was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places for its significance to the environmental movement. Photo by Anthony Pepitone.

Pete Seeger is a household name for many, but like much of my generation, it was his songs I knew first. As a first grader growing up in Santa Cruz, we had a beloved teacher who would play her guitar every day and sing folk songs to us that Seeger had popularized. Our favorites included “This Land is Your Land,” “If I Had a Hammer,” and “We Shall Overcome,” tunes that often find their way into my head as I’m washing dishes or walking in the hills.

When I started working at Save The Bay, I learned Seeger’s rendition of “Seventy Miles” – a song originally written in 1965 by Malvina Reynolds.“Seventy Miles” described the decrepit state of the San Francisco Bay as a place choked with sewage and trash, and being filled at a rapid rate by developers. Here are the lyrics:

Chorus: Seventy miles of wind and spray, Seventy miles of water, Seventy miles of open bay, It’s a garbage dump.

What’s that stinky creek out there, Down behind the slum’s back stair, Sludgy puddle, sad and gray? Why man, that’s San Francisco Bay!


Big Solano and the Montecell’, Ferry boats, I knew them well, Creak and groan in their muddy graves, Remembering San Francisco Bay.


Joe Ortega and the Spanish crew, Sailed across the ocean blue, Came into this mighty Bay, Stood on the decks and cried, “Ole!”


Fill it here, fill it here, Docks and tidelands disappear, Shaky houses on the quakey ground, The builder, he’s Las Vegas bound.

“Dump the garbage in the Bay?” City fathers say, “Okay. When cries of anguish fill the air, We’ll be off on the Riviere.”

Pete Seeger sung songs on a wide-variety of subjects, from supporting labor struggles to opposing war, but he also cared deeply about the state of the planet.

Seeger says he was influenced, like many, by Rachel Carson’s game-changing book, Silent Spring, which he read in installments in the New Yorker in 1962. It made him realize that even if we can build a more equitable world, it wouldn’t be worth it if future generations would inherit a pretty poisonous place to live.

As a result, Seeger, along with his wife Toshi (who he described as “the brains of the family”), spent much of his life working around environmental issues – especially in his own backyard of the Hudson River. In fact, the British newspaper the Guardian describes saving New York’s Hudson River as one of Seeger’s greatest legacies.

“The Hudson was saved by a lot of people” environmental attorney Robert Kennedy Jr. told the Guardian, “but for a lot of us, Pete was the first guy. He started the train, and we all jumped on the moving train.”

Saving the Hudson River

Like San Francisco Bay at the time, the Hudson River was a polluted mess:

The river was a raging sewer when Seeger set out to save it in the 1960s, a liquid dump for industries that grew along its banks, full of PCBs from the electrical industry, sewage discharges, pesticides, and other contaminants. The main traffic was cement and oil barges. The public largely stayed away.

Local lore has it the chemical stew was so potent and so toxic it was seen as a cure for bore worms and other parasites feeding off wooden hulls. Sailors from the Caribbean would reportedly come up to cleanse their boats.

To do something about this, Seeger, always the optimist, started in 1969 by building a boat. That boat was named the Clearwater, and its mission was to educate people about the Hudson River environment, its history, and share a vision about what the Hudson could be if we all worked together. Imagine a river that you could swim in, catch fish in. Seeger wrote a song about it, called “Sailing Up My Dirty Stream,” with lyrics including “some day, though maybe not this year / My Hudson river will once again run clear.”

Through decades of hard work, Seeger and thousands of friends made the difference. The Hudson is swimmable and fishable again. In 1972, Seeger sailed the Clearwater down to Washington D.C. and sang to members of Congress, who shortly later passed the Clean Water Act, the landmark bill limiting pollution of our waterways. In 1980, thanks to the increased attention, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River a clean-up site, and for the past decade and a half, the toxic PCBs lining the floor of the river have been dredged up.

Seeger’s group was also successful at turning an old garbage dump along the river’s edge into a park, complete with a summer swimming area for kids, and to this day, the group organizes an annual benefit concert attended by over 15,000 people. As long as there is still work to be done, the Clearwater continues to sail up and down the river, two to three times a day, educating the next generation.

Seeger’s devotedness to his waterway was a reflection of both his politics and his optimism. Like the lyrics of “This Land Is Your Land,” Seeger believed that the Hudson River “belongs to all of us,” said Kennedy. Further, Seeger believed that the best thing we can do in the face of environmental destruction at such a large scale is to focus making a difference on the places that we call home. “I tell people, work in your local community. The world’s going to be saved by people who fight for their homes,” Seeger proclaimed.

This is a viewpoint shared by activists in Redwood City working to save over two square miles of restorable San Francisco Bay salt ponds from being developed by agribusiness giant Cargill. Activist Gail Raabe echoes Seeger’s comments by saying, “It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed about all of the worldwide threats to the environment,” but “if everyone in the world took responsibility for restoring or protecting their place,” then together “we would get the job done.”


Federal Wildlife Plan Calls for Restoration of Redwood City Salt Ponds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration site nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration sites nearby.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a much-anticipated 50-year plan for the restoration of the Bay’s wetlands. A blueprint for the recovery of over a dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species that depend on the Bay’s wetlands, the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan includes recommendations for tens of thousands of acres of the Bay shoreline, saying that the protection and restoration of the Bay’s wetlands are critically needed for endangered species like the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse to have a chance at avoiding extinction.

The plan clearly states that restoring the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City and Newark would close critical gaps in the restoration of the South Bay shoreline.

This is consistent with the message from Bay scientists, Save The Bay, and the hundreds of organizations, cities, elected officials, and newspaper editorial boards who have formally opposed Cargill’s efforts to place thousands of houses on 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

The Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan also calls for the restoration of a shoreline area immediately adjacent to the Newark salt ponds – a 550-acre section of diked baylands referred to as “Area 4.” Save The Bay has joined with a dozen other environmental groups to oppose the City of Newark’s proposal to fill these baylands with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses.

These strong recommendations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are another clear indication that the greatest value of the Redwood City salt ponds is what they can provide to the Bay if restored. Knowing that the Redwood City ponds provide habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, Cargill nonetheless has fought against any governmental effort that discusses the site as anything other than an ‘industrial moonscape.’

This is the same message that Cargill has sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its petition to make the Redwood City salt ponds “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws that protect the Bay from being filled.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took a stand by highlighting the importance of the Redwood City salt ponds to the Bay. Now we need your help to ensure the EPA and Army Corps don’t cave to Cargill on their attempts to be granted an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act. Help Save The Bay continue to make sure state and federal agencies protect the Bay from Cargill. Donate today!

Protecting Harbor Seals in San Francisco Bay

Pacific Harbor Seal Haul Out Sites in San Francisco Bay
A map showing Pacific harbor seal haul out sites in San Francisco Bay. Pupping may occur at any of these sites, though some locations may support only a few pups. Primary pupping sites are highlighted in red.

There is nothing cuter than a Pacific harbor seal pup.

And as it turns out, these adorable marine mammals can be heard crying “maaaa” right in our own backyard. From March to June, Pacific harbor seals pup at multiple sites along the shores of San Francisco Bay. But our lovable flippered neighbors are also highly sensitive to our presence in the Bay, and human activities both in the water and on land can have negative consequences for pupping seals.

According to National Park Service scientist Dr. Sarah Allen, Castro Rocks, Mowry Slough, and Newark Slough serve as the primary pupping sites in the Bay. Pupping in smaller numbers is also observed at other haul out locations, which include Redwood City’s Bair Island, home to an ambitious wetland restoration effort. (Click on the image above to see a map of harbor seal haul out and pupping sites in the Bay.) Mudflats, rocky intertidal zones, pocket sandy beaches, islands, and wetlands are some of the habitats used for pupping. Dr. Allen tells Save The Bay that if sufficiently deep water is located nearby and human disturbance is absent, future restored wetlands may become new pupping sites as well.

Just as we have the power to improve the condition of Bay wetlands for seals, human activity can also reduce the quality of pupping habitat. As Dr. Allen explained to Bay Nature in 2011, development can cause pupping site abandonment and contributes to the lower number of pups in the Bay compared to other coastal sites. The Marine Mammal Center, which cares for abandoned Pacific harbor seal pups, also notes that “harbor seal colonies in the Bay Area are vulnerable to human disturbance, climate change and human-produced pollutants.” The Center warns that seal moms may be frightened by humans, prompting them to desert pups or pupping sites.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act guidelines, a buffer equal to the length of one football field should be maintained to avoid disrupting these shy creatures. The National Park Service also advises that paddlers and people on land avoid alerting seals of their presence, move away if any behavioral disruption is observed, and refrain from trying to rescue seals. If a distressed seal is detected, contact the Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-SEAL.

In addition, we need to ensure that harbor seals and other Bay wildlife are not harmed by shoreline development. Of particular concern today is a proposed development in the South Bay city of Newark that would pave over wetlands and hundreds of acres of historic baylands in order to build an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses. The shoreline area targeted for development, referred to as “Area 4,” is located directly adjacent to Mowry Slough. Pollutants originating from this development, such as pesticides from the proposed golf course, could negatively impact downstream water quality, threatening wildlife.

Harbor seals’ sensitivity to disturbance, coupled with ongoing attempts to develop the Bay shoreline, underscores the importance of supporting Bay restoration and continuing the fight to preserve wildlife habitat. Learn more about Save The Bay’s wetland restoration programs, pollution prevention efforts, and opposition to the fill of Newark’s baylands.