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.

 

 

 

 

The State of Trash in 2017: Bay Area Progress in Reducing Trash Flows to the Bay

The maps above show cities and counties covered by the Regional Stormwater Permit. The size of the dots represents a municipality’s population size. Cities highlighted in yellow and green are in compliance with the 2017 mandatory 70% trash reduction requirement, while cities highlighted in orange and red are falling short of this milestone. Take time to hover over the map to see how much your city has reduced its trash problem.

Trash flowing into the San Francisco Bay from stormwater systems is one of the most visible environmental issues in the Bay Area. The trash circulating in waterways—much of which is plastic and will never biodegrade—not only spoils shoreline scenery and harms wildlife, but also makes its way out into the Bay, which drains into already badly polluted oceans.

In order to address this issue, in 2010 the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered 78 Bay Area cities and agencies to eliminate trash from their stormwater systems by July 1, 2022. This is to be achieved through steady targets, with a 70 percent reduction in trash from 2009 levels in 2017 and an 80 percent reduction by July 2019.

Last year, we wrote about how cities were progressing on the path to Zero Trash, and we are back this year to give you an update on progress made in 2017. There is some good news around the region. Many of the largest improvements over the last year have been in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, as well as the Bay-side cities of Alameda County. However, a handful of communities have lagged far behind, particularly in Contra Costa County. Which cities are on the path to zero trash by 2022, and which ones are violating clean water regulations? 

Six communities still send trash to the Bay at alarming rates

 

In 2016, cities were encouraged, but not required, to achieve a 60 percent reduction in trash to help ensure that they are on track to preventing all trash from entering storm drains by 2022. But the 70 percent target last year wasn’t a suggestion: it was mandatory. Unfortunately, six of the 78 Bay Area cities, counties, and agencies under these requirements failed to achieve a 70 percent reduction by 2017: Vallejo, Hercules, Pinole, Alameda County (unincorporated areas), Livermore, and East Palo Alto.

After studying annual trash data for several years, we are particularly concerned with this group of cities because they have a history of not complying with trash reduction targets. These places are now subject to penalties from the Regional Water Board, including costly fines or Cease and Desist orders. They’ve also left themselves open to third party litigation, which already happened to the City of San Jose a couple years ago. There is no excuse for inaction: we want to see plans for achieving zero trash in these communities and a commitment of funding for the work that needs to be done.

Spotty trash monitoring throughout the region

 

Cities are required to monitor trash in their streets to prove that their clean-up and prevention strategies are working. So how do you measure trash levels? One way of measuring how much trash is generated in an area is through on-land visual trash assessment (OVTAs), during which city staff record amounts of trash along the street curb at several locations throughout the city several times per year. These assessments translate to gallons of trash littered per acre in a year, and are divided into four categories: low (less than 5 gal/acre/year), moderate (5-10), high (10-50), and very high (greater than 50). The Regional Water Board requires cities to measure trash at the same location at least four times annually to be confident that the data truly reflect an area’s trash levels. Unfortunately, at the time when they submitted their 2017 reports, most municipalities—including many who claim to have achieved the 70 percent reduction—had not conducted a sufficient number of assessments. Some acknowledged that their data was preliminary and subject to change as they complete more assessments, but many seem to have brushed this requirement aside. We can’t have confidence in incomplete data.

Some positive trends, and lots of work to do

 

The communities in violation of the trash requirements have had seven years to plan and execute strategies to reduce stormwater trash. Their lack of action is unacceptable. Resources challenges have been cited by most as a reason for the delay, but cities with tight budgets such as Oakland and Richmond have managed to make significant progress by allocating more of their own budgetary resources, cost-sharing with other agencies, and pursuing grant funding.

The trash map shows much improvement in our region over the past year, which is great news for Bay wildlife and water quality. We applaud those communities who claim to have made great strides—a few report having achieved zero trash, or close to it, already. But these are the exception, not the rule; there is still a lot of work to be done in order to achieve the 100 percent trash reduction goal by 2022.

Read our report on individual cities and their success—or lack thereof—in reducing trash and meeting the stormwater permit.

Oakland targeted in bid to cut trash flow into SF Bay

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A deluge of trash is flowing through Oakland’s storm drains and depositing so much litter in San Francisco Bay that regulators are threatening to levy fines if the city doesn’t do something to tidy up.

Despite spending millions of dollars over the years on garbage cleanup, Oakland has the Bay Area’s worst record for limiting the rubbish that pollutes creeks, lakes and the bay, according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The flow of waste violates mandates set by the board to reduce storm drain litter this year by 70 percent compared with 2009, a goal that Oakland is far from meeting. If the city is still in violation on the July 1 deadline, it could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

“They have one of the worst problems per capita,” said Thomas Mumley, the assistant executive officer for the water quality board, which sent a warning letter to Oakland this month. “The problem isn’t Oakland. The problem is all the people who dump the trash in Oakland.”

Oakland’s public works committee, made up of four council members, met last week to discuss ways to address the issue. Mayor Libby Schaaf said recently it would cost $20 million to $25 million a year to add trash capture devices to the storm drain system and regulate illegal dumping enough to meet the 70 percent target.

“I don’t believe we’re going to meet that requirement by this July,” said councilman Dan Kalb, who chairs the public works committee and is president of Stop Waste, a countywide recycling program. “We agree, they are important goals and we have been making some progress over the years, but it’s just not enough.”

Oakland isn’t the only city struggling to comply with the regulations, which apply to the labyrinth of curbside drains, gutters, underground concrete channels, pipes and catch basins that take water off city streets and direct it toward the sea.

Last July, 26 of the 70 cities and other municipalities in Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Solano counties fell short of the reduction target, which was then 60 percent.

Oakland had cut its output 44.6 percent by last year. Collectively, the Bay Area had achieved a 50 percent reduction compared with 2009 — the equivalent of a million gallons of trash.

The goals were set eight years ago after the water quality board required local agencies to measure the garbage flowing from storm drains. Regulators were concerned about the 2 million gallons of trash found bobbing in Bay Area waterways, about half of it plastic grocery bags, candy wrappers, lids, straws and chip bags.

For each city, compliance is calculated by measuring how much detritus local cleanup programs pull off the streets or out of the drains. More weight is given to the most effective measures, like installing hydrodynamic separators, which capture all garbage flowing down a drain. The amounts cleaned are subtracted from the 2009 baseline.

The crackdown is important, conservationists say, because the waste leaches toxins, flows into the bay and winds up in the ocean, where the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces that are ingested by marine mammals, fish and birds.

It was an indifferent attitude about litter, experts say, that created the enormous floating garbage patch in the North Pacific, a stew that marine biologists consider an ecosystem catastrophe.

In Oakland, where 8,000 storm drain inlets dump into a myriad of creeks, channels and the Oakland Estuary, one of the trashiest waterways is Damon Slough near the Coliseum complex.

The muddy banks were strewn last week with aerosol cans, juice bags, hypodermic needles, straws, tennis balls, liquor bottles, candy wrappers and numerous plastic bags.

“All of the trash in here is from storm drains at the Coliseum or wind blown from the parking lot,” said David Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Bay, as he stood next to the foul-smelling slough. “There are five or six creeks that all empty into this area here. It is the pathway, the water column, and it circulates all over.”

The stepped-up mandate this year is likely to trip up at least as many cities and agencies as last year, including San Jose, Richmond, Vallejo, San Leandro and Berkeley.

San Francisco is exempt from the guidelines because, unlike other cities in the Bay Area, it funnels storm water runoff into its sewer system, which removes the trash before it is discharged.

But Oakland’s failure has gotten special attention because it has a larger deficit to make up than any other city, according to a compliance summary prepared by the control board. San Jose is a distant second.

“Oakland is the largest source of trash from a city that is not close to compliance,” Lewis said. “It is heavily urbanized, right next to the bay, and the city is not doing what it needs to do to address the problem.”

Oakland spends $6.5 million a year on street sweeping and $5.5 million regulating dumping. The city also bans businesses from using foam packaging and plastic shopping bags, but workers still can’t keep up with the litter on the streets, said Lesley Estes, the city’s storm water manager.

She said 12 hydrodynamic separators have been placed in storm drains around the city, but that the devices’ price tag of $400,000 to $1 million makes them too expensive to install throughout the system.

Oakland’s strategy, she said, is to place mesh pipe screens, which must be cleaned out more often, in all of the drains not covered by the separators. Some 200 screens have been installed during public works projects in high-use areas.

Estes, who believes Oakland can reach a 60 percent reduction this year, said she’ll have a clearer picture of the city’s progress when she analyzes data after the fiscal year that closes June 30. She plans to prepare a compliance report and present it to the water quality board by Sept. 30 in the hope that regulators give the city credit for, among other things, its foam and plastic bag bans.

No additional money is set aside for storm drain cleanup in the mayor’s proposed budget for 2017-19.

“Not all other cities are faced with the same degree of issues that Oakland faces,” Estes said, referring to high priorities like fighting crime and homelessness. “The staff’s commitment to this effort is wholehearted and gung-ho, but it’s a difficult problem, and we just need to figure out the best pathway.”

A path Estes would like to avoid is one followed by San Jose, which last June agreed to pay $100 million over the next decade to settle a lawsuit by the nonprofit group Baykeeper for failing to reduce sewage and trash in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

San Jose officials, who said they settled to avoid a lengthy court battle, agreed to clean 32 trash hot spots, including homeless encampments along Coyote Creek and the Guadalupe River, at least once a year. According to regulators, there is a lot less trash emerging from San Jose since the settlement.

The storm drain proviso will only get tougher in July 2019, when Bay Area jurisdictions regulated by the water quality board will be obligated to cut garbage output 80 percent. The goal is zero waste by 2022.

The board’s Mumley said cities like Oakland could be given more time to meet the coming July 1 deadline, if they outline specific efforts to reduce trash.

“My preference would be to give them a chance to solve the problem,” he said, “but ultimately the solution has to be changing public behavior.”

 

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This article was originally published online in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 30, 2017. 

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

Communicating the Science that will Safeguard California

Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis speaks at the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.
Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis speaks at the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento.

Environmental scientists, researchers, advocates, and policy makers descended upon Sacramento’s downtown district last week for the 2017 California Climate Change Symposium. The symposium served as a forum for veteran researchers, scientists, and newbies like myself from across the state and from across multiple disciplines, to share their research.

I really don’t think the timing could have been better.

With the assertion that global warming is still up for debate among the Trump administration’s top leaders, the symposium felt like an oasis of thoughtful discussion on safeguarding California from our planet’s changing climate. Emerging research ranged from drought and water management, to ocean acidification and hypoxia, to rising sea levels.

A sense of urgency and a need for climate facts as opposed to “alternative facts” was interlaced throughout the plenary sessions, making the significance of constant discussion about climate change even more clear and evident.  Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis served as a panelist for a lunch session titled, “Communicating Science to California Public & Policymakers.” Lewis stressed the importance of focusing communication efforts on local and state elected leaders.

“How many people in the room talk to elected officials? You need to push them to do twice as much twice as fast, and the ones who aren’t doing anything, you need to push them to do something now,” said Lewis.  “It can be your local city council member who can do things in your town to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for adaptation. That’s where we need to focus our communication.”

Communication is central to what I do here at Save The Bay. Every day my team and I look for new tools and tactics that will inform and educate our grassroots community about threats to the Bay. It’s my job to make science and data sexy to an audience that is being bombarded with sensational content every single minute. This poses both a challenge and an opportunity to reach audiences across the spectrum. Climate change is certainly a hot topic at the center of a contentious debate between those who have made environmental advocacy their life’s work, and those who would rather rest on “alternative facts” to further their own selfish political agendas. I left the symposium ready to find new ways to engage our audience in the issues surrounding climate change, and introduce them to some of the groundbreaking research I had the chance to observe.

Understanding the science that safeguards California will become more urgent than ever before as we move closer into the unprecedented aftermath of a Trump presidency.  Developing programs, strategies, and policies that will reduce greenhouse gasses and encourage adaptation to rising sea levels on the state and local level will remain crucial to California scientists and advocates.

Our future generations are depending on it.