A vision of Bay Smart Communities for a Sustainable Future

As the Bay Area continues to grow and change, and the Bay faces new threats, we know we need to take an expanded view of how to protect and restore the Bay for people and wildlife. Creating “Bay Smart Communities” is essential for creating a healthy Bay, because pollution and climate change aren’t limited to the shoreline.

Threats to the Bay originate inland and upstream. So how our cities choose to accommodate more people and businesses will have a huge impact on the Bay. We must shape those choices to make the Bay better.

That’s the discussion we’re having this month with forums in Oakland and Mountain View about our vision for how Bay Area cities can become Bay Smart.

Save The Bay was founded in 1961, with what looked like an impossible mission: stop the Bay from being filled in. It was considered impossible then to stop cities building into the Bay — that was the inevitable march of progress, considered essential to create room for commerce and a growing economy. But when we stopped filling the Bay, the opposite happened. The Bay Area has boomed because protecting nature in our midst made this a more desirable urban area to live, work and play.

In all of this work, Save The Bay will ensure the Bay’s voice is heard. We will leverage the power of our membership, resources, and reputation. We will collaborate with partners who share our concerns and goals. We are eager to learn from those who’ve already devoted years of effort to this work, and we will also bring new perspective and energy to the process.

This month we’ve added more details to our vision of Bay Smart Communities, and made recommendations for protecting the Bay by tackling the big challenges facing our region:

  • How do we live, work and move around the Bay Area in ways that are sustainable and resilient in a time of rapid climate change?
  • How do we accommodate growth in the Bay Area in ways that reduce water and air pollution, including greenhouse gases?
  • How do we reduce water and energy consumption, and improve equity and environmental justice?

We can’t save the Bay without addressing these pressing Bay Area challenges. We can promote Bay Area planning and development policies and decisions that help create Bay Smart Communities — where sustainable growth in our cities actually enhances the Bay, reduces pollution, is more resilient to climate change, advances environmental justice, and promotes equity.

Read Bay Smart Communities for a Sustainable Future here

View of the Bay Area, Photo By Jill Zwicky


Hacienda Avenue Green Street Improvement Project, Campbell CA

“Just Do It”: How Powerful Women Shaped Jessie Olson’s Courage

Jessie using gardening tools

“Growing up, I saw my mom use a lot of power tools. She made me feel it was possible to live outside gender roles – that being tough and getting dirty was for everyone.”

But Save The Bay’s Associate Director of Native Plant Nurseries didn’t come to this conclusion in her twenties – or even her teens. Jessie Olson started shattering expectations as a toddler.

“When I was about one and a half, I ran into a neighbor’s yard and picked some flowers. My grandma said to my mom: ‘don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it.’ My mom knew even then: ‘she never will.’”

Jessie grins, admitting: “I was always a plantgeek.” From a very young age, she “found a lot of joy being in nature, with plants and animals.” Bliss, for Jessie, meant “toiling away in a garden.”

When it came time for college, Jessie applied to plant science programs where she’d have plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors. As an undergrad at UC Davis, Jessie fell into the plant community she’d always dreamed of: “it was just wonderful, to go to a school with science nerds of different kinds – ones who embrace their appreciation of the natural world.”

Jessie sanitizing soil

After graduating, she took an internship with the Presidio Trust’s Compost, Community Garden, and Integrated Pest Management Teams. Between helping develop community gardens and supporting a native plant nursery, “getting dirty” was a given. Jessie was especially pleased to have several women supervisors who were “so smart and strong.”

She would later learn – women leaders weren’t the norm. As Jessie moved up in the restoration ecology scene, she found: “it was similar to many fields: tons of women in the lower circles, but higher positions were largely men.” Still, Jessie never felt discouraged.

After all, “that ‘just do it’ attitude – I got that from the women in my life. My mom is a really brave person, and she always encouraged me to try and find solutions to problems. If you believe something needs to be changed – that you’ve got what it takes to make it work.”

That’s just how Jessie proved successful starting out with Save The Bay. She joined our Habitat Restoration Team doing contract work on one of its largest undertakings: building an on-site nursery and ensuring thousands of plants got installed for an experimental horizontal levee project at the Oro LomaSanitary District. “I had never taken on a project that large, and I was terrified. But no part of me thought I couldn’t do it.”

Soon enough, her drive and resourcefulness spelled a full-time role with Save The Bay, and she only moved up from there. Now, our Associate Director of Native Plant Nurseries works tirelessly preventing a deadly plant disease, Phytophthora, from reaching our seedlings. The daunting task entails tremendous coordination of staff and volunteers to make sure 35,000 pots a year are scrubbed and sanitized.

But Jessie thrives when the stakes are high. “It’s important for us to be well-respected as a nursery, to say: ‘as scientists, this is the knowledge we have, and this is how we’re acting on it.’”


First Measure AA Funds Start Flowing

Funds from measure AA will help accelerate Bay marsh restoration

Measure AA is accelerating Bay marsh restoration – realizing a vision Save The Bay first had more than a decade ago.

On April 11, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority voted to spend the first tax receipts from the nine-county ballot measure Bay Area voters overwhelmingly approved in June 2016. The first nine recommended project grants invest $23.5 million to restore tidal marsh habitat for wildlife around the Bay. Many of these projects also will provide trails and other public recreation, and help protect shoreline communities against flooding.

The Authority received a lot of proposals to fund restoration projects. “There was twice as much money requested as was available. There’s a lot of demand,” Save The Bay Executive Director Lewis told The Mercury News.

Scientists have told us for decades that the Bay needs at least 100,000 acres of restored tidal marsh to be healthy, after development reduced tidal marsh to only 40,000 acres. Many diked salt ponds and hay fields were acquired and protected for restoration over the last 20 years, bringing that goal within reach, and we identified the missing ingredient is sufficient public funding.

Recognizing how much local residents love the Bay, Save The Bay and other key stakeholders worked for years to create a way all of us who live here can help invest in a healthier Bay. We convinced the state legislature to create the Restoration Authority, a regional special district that could propose new funding mechanisms for the Bay. Eight years later, the Restoration Authority finally put Measure AA on the ballot, and voters agreed to pay a modest $12 annually for 20 years.

To maximize the impact of these funds, this first round of AA grants supports large and smaller restoration projects all around the Bay, including several in economically disadvantaged communities. (see the full list at www.SFBayRestore.org )

One of the most visible recommended projects is Phase 2 of the Ravenswood Pond restoration from East Palo Alto to Menlo Park. Part of the huge South Bay Salt Ponds complex, this project will convert more of the former commercial salt production ponds back into tidal wetlands. Drivers on the Dumbarton Bridge and California highway 84 have seen these huge brown areas for years, and soon that brown will begin turning green. Save The Bay worked to restore other Ravenswood sites in the past, and we will be creating transition zone habitat there with volunteers at the edge of Bedwell Bayfront Park. Read more about this project in The San Francisco Chronicle.

These grants are a major milestone in the effort to accelerate Bay restoration, but it is only the beginning. The Bay needs more funding to address the serious strain that growth and climate change are having on the Bay and Bay Area communities. There was more demand for the first AA funds than supply; matching funds will be needed from the state and federal governments to create all the wetlands needed. Proposition 68 on the June statewide ballot is the next opportunity to boost resources for the Bay, as it includes another $20 million in matching Measure AA funds.

Through Measure AA, Bay Area residents are funding the largest urban climate adaptation effort in the country, using green infrastructure to make our region more sustainable and resilient to the expected impacts from more extreme storms and rising seas. We look forward to seeing this important work progress in the coming years.

Celebrating David Lewis’ 20 Years of Battles for our Bay: Beating the Odds to Prevent Bay Fill at SFO

“If we don’t allow this, the economy is going to die.” That was the common pitch to fill in more of the Bay for development in the 1960s. But the Bay Area has thrived without shrinking the Bay and become an even more desirable place.

Executive Director David Lewis heard an echo from the 1960s when San Francisco International Airport proposed a major Bay fill project back in 1998. With flight delays rising from El Niño storms, and a tech boom boosting air travel, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown pushed a plan to pave two square miles of  the Bay to move the runways farther apart.

David Lewis was brand new to Save The Bay, but he understood this fight was a must-win for local wildlife, and it wouldn’t be easy. “It was exactly what Save The Bay was founded to stop, but there hadn’t been a proposal this large in 35 years.”

Brown gathered  federal and state legislators to back the project. But David sensed he could turn the tide by publicizing the projects  scope and impacts on the Bay. “We decided to make clear it a regional issue for the Bay Area – not just a local one for San Francisco.”

In contrast to the airport’s staged events where attendees  couldn’t speak, Save The Bay hosted educational events that encouraged conversation. “At San Francisco City Hall, we just took  the mic from SFO’s emcee and  turned it into a public hearing.”

Slowly but surely, Save The Bay and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission created enough pressure that SFO paid for an independent science panel to look at project impacts on the Bay before completing an environmental impact review. New San Francisco Supervisors were elected who were independent of Mayor Brown. David worked with Supervisor Aaron Peskin to put a measure on the November 2001 city ballot  requiring voter approval for large Bay fill projects in San Francisco,  which  won 75% support. With mounting public opposition, and mushrooming cost estimates, SFO terminated its runway project and focused instead on technology and flight management to limit delays.

It was a David and Goliath style victory for Save The Bay and its determined Executive Director. But David says Bay Area residents deserve the most credit:This win simply reaffirmed that the public loves the Bay and will stand up to protect it against threats.”

This year marks David’s 20th anniversary with Save The Bay. Will you donate today to support our work protecting this beautiful place we call home? 

You Made Blue a Success for SF Bay!

Building something from scratch isn’t easy. But having the opportunity to learn from that first experience, make improvements, and have the second time around be even better – now that is satisfying. The second annual Blue cruise was Save The Bay’s chance to inspire long-time and new Bay supporters to contribute to our policy, restoration, and education programming.

We couldn’t have asked for bluer skies or warmer weather as we chatted with guests from around the Bay Area, people who also care deeply about this beautiful place we call home.

All of the cruise tickets and auction bids made clear: our guests and sponsors also want a clean, healthy San Francisco Bay for people and wildlife across the region. Thanks to their generosity, we raised $100,000–incredible! This funding will greatly help to restore wetlands, reduce pollution, and inspire students to care for and conserve our beloved Bay.

We were thrilled that Neda Iranpour, KPIX 5’s Morning Weather Anchor, was able to host Blue. Her welcome speech about the beauty of our Bay – and the growing risks from climate change – was a truly moving message. 

One exciting feature at Blue was a tasting of three premium wines. Thank you to Dyer Wine, Nicholson Ranch and Tres Sabores for contributing so generously and for joining us on the cruise. 

Hands down, Blue could not have happened without the incredible support of our sponsors. A big thank you to our title sponsors: Mira and Suresh Raman, Deirdre and Chris Hockett, and Salesforce. We also were supported by several companies that we are proud to partner with, including: BB&T, Coupa Software, Latham & Watkins and PG&E. We’re always excited to bring employees from these organizations out to the shoreline where they help us pull weeds and install native plants. For a full list of sponsors, please click here.

There are many more highlights from the event, so please enjoy these photos taken by our fabulous photographers, Mike Oria and Steve Nosanchuk!

  • Photo by Mike Oria - mikeoria.com

If you didn’t get a chance to attend Blue and would like to support Save The Bay, please visit www.savesfbay.org/donate. You can also follow our work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Thank you to all who supported Blue and for doing our Bay proud. We look forward to seeing you by the shoreline again soon.