Saving The Bay through Meaningful Partnerships: Meet Bay Hero John Bourgeois

John exploring Alviso Slough

“Fishing was a part of my childhood. We’d hop on our bikes and go fishing for hours. It was a nice way to spend a weekend day, and there were always lots of bayous to explore.”

Even as a little kid growing up in southern Louisiana, John Bourgeois knew he wanted to do more than just marvel at wetlands. He wanted to protect them.

“This sounds weird, but I feel deeply wronged by what we’ve done to the environment… and it’s always informed how I interact with the natural world.”

Decades before he took the helm as Executive Project Manager for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John set his mind on studying biology and ecology in his home state. To him, Louisiana faces “no bigger environmental issue than wetland loss.”

Initially, John hoped to solve the state’s challenges as an environmental lawyer. Spending one college summer as an intern in Washington, D.C. was all it took to change his mind.

“Seeing how the sausage is made in D.C…. I decided I would rather go into the technical side than the legal side.” John sensed the path toward significant wetland restoration would be “very long and political” if he spent his career in Washington. He also found it disheartening to watch “really bright people, a year or two out of law school, doing pretty menial work in congressional offices.”

Bedwell Bayfront Park, one of John’s favorite SF Bay views (photo credit: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle)

So, John shifted gears to research, eager to build up wetlands on a faster scale than policy work allowed. He carried out studies in the “mangrove swamps of Micronesia” among other locations, gaining more and more experience in coastal restoration.

Ultimately, in joining the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, John says he landed the “perfect combo of what I thought I’d be doing — it unites science, policy, and has the applied aspect all in one.”

In many respects, the role of Executive Project Manager puts John at the center of a spider web. On a daily basis, he communicates with “regulatory agencies, local municipalities, utilities, research institutions” and a range of other groups.

Gaining support for a project with multiple phases and mighty goals presents a variety of challenges. But John says the secret to forming meaningful partnerships is quite simple: you just have to be honest. “We’re on a long-term path to success, but you might have to admit to some short-term failures, and it’s really appreciated, that transparency.”

John says he’s found it truly rewarding to collaborate with Save The Bay throughout the years. “I engage with Save The Bay on multiple levels – including working closely with [Habitat Restoration Director] Donna Ball addressing on-the-ground restoration efforts or salt pond sites.”

John alongside Donna Ball, Save The Bay’s Habitat Restoration Director

He’s also far from disappointed at the pace – or impact — of Save The Bay’s policy efforts. “Save The Bay’s work is not just an important part of our project, but so critical to the Bay Area restoration community.” John says Save The Bay’s decade-long push for Measure AA proved “fundamental” for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project to move forward.

John is grateful for this, as he enjoys the chance to share its story with diverse crowds. “Throughout high school and into college, I was active in debate and acting. I think both have helped me tell a story, tailor my message to difference audiences so it sticks.”

Now, with help from long-time partners like Save The Bay, John gets to watch his favorite kind of wetland story unfold: “the bulldozers moving dirt, local species coming back, Bay waters flowing again, habitat establishing — I’m the most excited seeing these on-the-ground results.”

 

**Save The Bay will honor John Bourgeois as one of a select group of Bay Heroes during our third annual Bay Day celebration – October 6, 2018. Learn how you can dig in, vote, or donate like a true Bay Hero: bayday.org

Clean Roads Start with YOU: Simple Ways to Reduce Pollution

Photo Credit : Alan Dep, Marin Independent Journal

By: Vicki Dehnert

The debris you see on the shoulders of our Bay Area roads is more than just unsightly. It’s also a threat to our environment and natural habitat.  I co-founded Marin Clean Highways to help address this issue in Marin County. I’m also excited to partner with Save The Bay to highlight the failure of Caltrans—the agency in charge of our state highways—to keep Bay Area roads clean and prevent trash from polluting the Bay.

There are actions your community can take to improve areas that are not under Caltrans’ control.  In Marin County, we created a consortium, “Clean Marin” comprised of many other local organizations concerned with the environment (my organization, Marin Clean Highways, is just one of several).  By banding together, we now have a more powerful voice when we speak with our elected officials about our environmental concerns. We were so successful in growing our base of organizations that Marin County Department of Public Works now spearheads our efforts — a perfect example of private-public collaboration.

Our Successes are a blueprint for your successes.

Here are four strategies to rid your community of trash and save the Bay.

  • Push to get highway shoulder areas adopted through Caltrans’ “Adopt A Highway” program.

Keep a close eye on the adoptee areas—we found a few were underperforming with minimal cleanups and asked Caltrans to intervene. We are happy to report that things have improved.

  • Sound off about illegal unsecured loads being carried in the back of pickup trucks.

Debris spills out of trucks daily, and although state law requires loads to be secured, the law is often not enforced by local CHP due to workforce shortages. Our community is looking at ways to raise funds needed for hiring off-duty CHP patrol officers to specifically enforce these laws. Also, through our efforts, our local waste management company allows us to distribute tarps and educational materials to unsecured trucks entering their facility.

  • Rally local businesses and residents to raise funds that will help remove weeds and trash from highways and frontage roads.

In Marin County, many of the frontage roads to Highway 101 are full of trash and weeds. Marin Clean Highways raised funds from businesses and residents to contract with the San Rafael Downtown Streets Team to pick up frontage road litter on a weekly basis. What a difference this has made!

  • Attend city and county meetings to let your elected officials know how important clean highways are to your community.

In recent years, city and county budgets were pared down, and litter cleanup is not a priority. Share your sentiments and concerns with elected officials that serve your community.

We have a long way to go to get the clean roads and environment we want. But when we work together, across the nine Bay Area counties, our local success, however small, can become something much greater and help make the Bay Area better.

As Co-Founder of Marin Clean Highways, Vicky Dehnert is on a mission to reduce trash pollution across the Bay Area. She is a former educator who switched gears to high tech. Vicky has called Marin home for the last eight years.

David Lewis: 20 Years of Impact and the Future of our Bay

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, David Lewis, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo

“David Lewis is a pioneer of our environment…” San Francisco Mayor London Breed

“David Lewis has the tenacity, political savvy, and passion that leads to progress…” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo

“David Lewis wouldn’t give up until he got every last vote…” Felicia Madsen, Save The Bay Action Fund Board Director

These are just a few of the accolades that were shared about David Lewis, who last week celebrated his 20th anniversary as Executive Director of Save The Bay, at Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. Hundreds of elected officials, advocates, volunteers, and supporters gathered to toast one of the region’s top environmental advocates.

David Lewis celebrating his 20 years of impact

David insisted he and Save The Bay aren’t satisfied with past victories, but inspired to take on new challenges facing the Bay, including existential threats to Bay Area communities from climate change.

David noted climate impacts originally predicted for the middle of this century are happening now, all over the globe, and in the Bay:

  • More extreme droughts and floods, more powerful rainstorms and forest fires – killing people and wildlife.
  • Sea level rise and thermal expansion of the ocean shrinking beaches and marshes.
  • The San Francisco Embarcadero, which never used to flood – now floods several times a year during King Tides. Within a decade, it could flood monthly.

And yet, most days, climate change isn’t even the top story. Our planet’s survival is competing with the news cycle of the day and often the situation feels depressing, exhausting and dire. But… change is possible.

Save The Bay has faced long odds before, and won. That’s what we do! But making big changes will require more than just good policy positions or fun events.  Change requires action and that takes power.

Save The Bay Action Fund Board of Directors

That is why we created Save The Bay Action Fund – because making big changes requires direct advocacy in city halls and the state capitol, joining with allies from organized labor, business, and environmental justice.  We need to mobilize everyone in the Bay Area to get more involved and vote… every election.  David called on each of us to be bold, not timid – to do more, not less.  If we all do our part, our combined strength and energy will ensure the Bay and Bay Area are resilient in the decades ahead.

Congratulations, David, on 20 years of impact for San Francisco Bay.  Here’s to the next 20!

P.S.  Learn more about Save The Bay Action Fund by visiting sfbayactionfund.org.

Turning Trash into Something Beautiful: How Artists Richard and Judith Lang Fight Plastic Pollution

 “Judith is absolutely the most generous, open-arms-to-the-world person. But when we’re out on the beach looking for trash, she is ruthless (laughs).

“No, no! That’s not true!”

“She’ll find a beautiful piece of plastic, look back at me, and just wag it in my face!”

Teasing aside, Richard and Judith truly enjoy their fierce competitions to find the “rarest” piece of plastic on the sand. In fact, it’s their way of making up for lost time together.

On their first date in 1999, Richard and Judith discovered something startling: for the last three years, they’d both been combing North Bay beaches for plastic trash, turning their hauls into artwork – without ever crossing paths.

They’ve now spent just under 20 years scouring the same 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach together. Richard says there’s a good reason why they rival each other to find the most compelling plastic. “One has to make a game of this … or you could fall into a deep pit of despair.”

Indeed, “despair” got them started in this line of work. Judith was teaching art at the College of Marin, and she often ate her lunch on a bench facing Richardson Bay. But she was saddened to find the “lovely view of San Francisco” obscured by “plastic debris that would wash in.” One day, Judith started collecting some of that plastic and turning it into art – her way of transforming waste into something beautiful.

Richard had his “a-ha” moment when he was building a nine-foot sculpture out of aluminum for his M.F.A project at the University of Wisconsin. “At the end of it, I was in great despair because the U.S. had just celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, and I attended at the National Mall, and I was aware of what was going on in the planet, and I thought: ‘I’m using all these materials — for what?’”

Now, like Save The Bay’s plucky Restoration team, Richard and Judith brave “blazing heat and blistering cold” as they work to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the way they know best. The couple also embodies Save The Bay’s spirit of collaboration, hashing out every idea until they feel strongly about the same vision. Judith admits this can entail a bit of “stomping around the house,” but the end result is well worth a little tension: “we both sign our names on every single piece we make.”

Their teamwork certainly bears fruit: the couple’s artwork has been showcased in more than 70 exhibitions across galleries, museums, and educational centers. During Save The Bay’s Bay Day celebration last year, the Langs donated a big pile of plastic so that people of all ages could try their hand at turning trash into art. Judith and Richard were delighted to hear that: “people took to it immediately – no instruction needed.”

Judith and Richard are always glad to see these scraps transform, as the artists believe deeply: “if you don’t give style to something painful, you’re just going to depress yourself.” Indeed, humor has been the driving force in their work on plastic pollution.

As Judith puts it, “we joke that we’re the world’s smallest NGO and we’re not even that well-organized. We’re just people who’ve devoted their lives to 1,000 yards of beach.”

 

From Dodging Cows to Driving Policy: Meet Jody London, Bay Role Model

Jody at Save The Bay restoration event

“There was a dairy ranch between my house and the middle school. I had to cut through the field every day, and on foggy mornings, I would sometimes not see the cows until they were just a few feet away.”

But Jody London was only dodging cows as an eighth grader. The following year, that San Jose ranch turned into a subdivision. Our former Board President says she couldn’t help but wonder: “where all those cows went.”

With development more and more on her mind, Jody refined her writing skills, reporting for her high school newspaper and majoring in English at UC Berkeley. All the while, she was “finding a way to use those communication skills for a higher purpose.”

Soon after college, Jody found her foothold in environmentalism, “working with the EPA on Superfund sites, one involving mercury in the Guadalupe River” running through San Jose. However, like Save The Bay’s courageous women founders, Jody wanted to drive change – not watch as others made the tough calls.

“As a consultant for the EPA, I would submit my best work to the decision-maker, who would modify it. One day, I thought: ‘I want to be the decision-maker.’” That’s when Jody turned the tables, earning a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and starting a job with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Jody’s favorite view, Claremont Hotel

Jody says her work on Save The Bay’s Board (1999-2008) profoundly shaped her leadership style. “I think a lot about [Save The Bay founders] Sylvia, Esther, Kay, and their willingness to keep pushing: ‘you don’t wanna do this? Who else do I talk to’?” Jody says Executive Director David Lewis served as quite the model of tenacity.

“For Measure AA, David had that vision for 15 years and just kept working on it. He would let it go and pick it up again, putting pieces in place over a very long time, drawing on all the resources he could. It was brilliant.”

Jody showed similar patience – and persuasion – fighting to reduce plastic pollution as an Oakland School Board member. The goal: get Styrofoam out of school lunches. “I did my research and figured out where the contract was, and I framed the issue very simply to my colleagues on the School Board before our vote: ‘look, there’s a giant patch of garbage in the Pacific, and you don’t want to contribute to that.’” They got the message: Styrofoam was banned in a 6-1 vote.  

As Sustainability Coordinator with Contra Costa County, Jody now spends much of her time working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — also a focus area of Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities vision. She’s promoting idle-free driving as a simple first step for everyone behind the wheel.

Volunteers from Temple Beth Abraham

But Jody doesn’t stop at steering policy campaigns; she’s also empowering the next generation of environmental advocates. For more than 15 years, our former Board Member has been bringing young people from her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham, out to the wetlands for volunteer events.

The groups have pulled non-native plants, collected seeds from our nurseries, and removed harmful trash from the shoreline. Jody says it’s been really rewarding to “see Arrowhead Marsh change, with the growth of native plants – what a feeling of accomplishment.”

In true Save The Bay style, Jody says the collaborative aspect is the most invigorating part: “the satisfaction comes in how you were able to bring other people along with you, so they understand the environmental issue and how important it is.”

***We are thrilled to feature Jody and other Bay role models at a special event honoring Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis on August 30 in San Francisco. Learn more at sfbayactionfund.org.