First Measure AA Funds to Start Flowing

This week, Measure AA goes to work 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 will vote on how 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 would 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.

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.

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 watching the progress of this important work in the coming years.

The Case for Swift Action on Wetland Restoration

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its fifth Climate Change Assessment Report. The report says restoring shoreline areas and taking other ecosystem-based adaptation steps can help coastal communities prepare for climate change, and also provide mitigation benefits. See our previous blog on the subject.

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We need to act quickly because the effects of climate change are already being felt, as detailed in a recently released National Climate Assessment by the federal government.

Though wetland restoration will not be the only tool in our kit to prepare our communities for climate change, there is virtually no downside to performing this restoration now, and a tremendous potential upside on the mitigation front. New studies are proving the ability of wetlands to sequester carbon in larger amounts than previously thought.

The good news is that wetland restoration is proceeding at a faster pace around the Bay than ever before, while a potential ballot measure by the Bay Restoration Authority in November could help our region start new projects that await funding and finish projects in progress now.

Here’s a status update on several prominent planned and in progress restoration projects that hold the greatest potential to protect communities from sea level rise and flooding caused by climate change:

Bair Island – Since being saved from development in the 1990’s, Bair Island has been a focal point of restoration in San Francisco Bay. Last spring, a pedestrian bridge was installed to connect Inner Bair with Uccelli Blvd, and project managers expect to formally complete restoration of Bair Island’s 3,000 acres this fall. Bair Island is in Redwood City, a low-lying city of 79,000 people. Its restoration will be an important part of Redwood City’s readiness for sea level rise.

Hamilton Field – A model for reuse, Hamilton Field was once a bustling military base along the Marin County shoreline. Earlier this spring, the decade-long restoration project was completed, returning this site to its natural state. Hamilton is north of San Rafael and adjacent to Bell Marin Keys, a community of 700 homes that sits 10 feet or less above sea level.

Cullinan Ranch – Cullinan Ranch’s 1,500 acres of restorable habitat along Hwy 37 were saved from development in the 1980s. Situated north of the City of Vallejo, this site will provide much needed habitat while continuing to protect the highway from flooding and sea level rise.

Eden Landing – The 1,000+ acres of Eden Landing mix the remnants of industrial salt manufacturing with restoration to create 50 nesting islands for migratory shorebirds including the endangered California clapper rail. Public access trails are slated to open in 2015. Eden Landing is situated near the San Mateo Bridge.

Ravenswood Ponds – Adjacent to the Facebook campus at the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge in an area prone to flooding, Ravenswood is one of the most visible interactions between the Bay and the built environment. Major restoration was completed in 2010, but volunteers continue to work on restoring native plants to the site.