Quiet Confidence: Why Beckie Zisser Thrives Talking Politics

Beckie takes her boys to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

“Being a quiet, shy person, I hated swim meets as a kid – found them really nerve-racking. But once I was in the water, I knew exactly what I was doing. I loved it.”

Beckie Zisser knows well: she isn’t like most lobbyists.

And that’s precisely why Beckie strikes a chord with politicians. “I’m not naturally extroverted, but I always have that drive underneath to compete.” When it comes to water issues, Beckie’s never afraid to enter the ring. In fact, she’s taken on this fight for most of her career.

Beckie’s childhood in Seattle shaped much of the story. “I lived at the top of a hill, and you could see water on both sides. There were lakes around me, mountains. Being outside was an extremely important part of my upbringing.”

Beckie enjoys a family hike at Mount Rainier

As a kid, Beckie went camping with friends and family; she played soccer and swam for her club team. And, when Seattle’s downpours overwhelmed? She honed her skills at crossword puzzles. Beckie still loves “word games of all kinds,” though she’s recently pivoted toward Settlers of Catan. “I like building cities and getting all my resources, and my husband and I get pretty competitive about it.”

Then, Beckie takes what she’s learned back to work. “I do find pitching to legislators is like playing a game. You have to put the pieces together, find which ones will appeal to a person.” True to her roots, Beckie does her homework for these meetings outside.

“The best lobbying preparation is participating in a staff planting day [with Save The Bay]. I love having a real sense of the work that needs to be done — getting on the ground and seeing the kinds of projects we’re trying to promote. Then, when I’m talking to legislators, I can really picture the wetlands in my head.”

During those conversations, Beckie finds elected officials are typically disarmed by her calm demeanor. “I have a different temperament from a lot of lobbyists – non-confrontational, quietly confident. So, when I ask for something, it’s harder for politicians to say: ‘no.’”

Beckie’s glad for that. After all, our Climate Change and Restoration Policy Program Manager sometimes struggles to sleep worrying about… climate change. “When people ask: ‘What keeps you up at night?’ It’s climate change. I have two little kids, and I’m so worried about what legacy I’m leaving them.’”

Family trip to the Marin Headlands

As someone who uses exercise to “wind down,” Beckie finds that “the slow pace of legislative work can be extremely frustrating.” Still, she works tirelessly to secure funding for projects that will restore and protect San Francisco Bay. Beckie stresses: “It’s such an important task because the clock is ticking. The longer we wait to restore the Bay and adapt to sea level rise, the greater cost we’ll all pay down the road.”

In pushing for new policy initiatives on behalf of Save The Bay, Beckie always keeps her two young children in mind.  “My older son now has some idea of what I do. I tell him I ‘help nature.’ He understands our Prius is ‘better for nature’ than other cars, for example. And when we drive over the Bay, he knows that ‘Mama’ is working to keep it clean and healthy.”

And when Beckie thinks of her favorite views around San Francisco Bay — from Tilden Park to the Marin Headlands to Crissy Field — she reminds herself to keep teaching her boys about our region’s natural beauty. “I want them to spend as much time as possible seeing nature. I want them to have nature built into their character from a young age, just like I did growing up.”

For more on Beckie’s fight for Bay funding on a state level, you can read her 2018 Legislative Agenda here.

 

Mice and Marshes: Protecting the Bay I Love

Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers
Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers

I have loved salt marshes ever since I first stepped into one during a college wetlands class in Washington. I breathed in earthy scents. I felt mud squish beneath my boots. I watched birds fly low over the water. Now, the Bay wetlands nourish my spirit, and I am truly grateful they are the place I call home.

As the Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay, I am proud that my work leading volunteer and education programs can directly benefit nearby wildlife. Our efforts provide critical habitat for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse. But we never lose sight of the big picture.

Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project
Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project

Recently, we collaborated with other scientists on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project – an innovative levee that mimics wetland habitats. Our expert restoration team joined more than 5,000 Save The Bay volunteers to construct the site’s giant outdoor nursery and plant more than 70,000 native seedlings.

The potential benefits are profound, since wetland marshes act like sponges, soaking up water as it rises. If replicated, this horizontal levee model could provide extensive flood protection and create thousands of acres of habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Right now, our Bay faces a triple threat of pollution, sea-level rise and habitat loss. Scientists estimate it needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to be healthy and sustainable. Today, only 40,000 acres exist.

With help from our generous supporters, we can continue working with partners to make significant progress toward that 100,000 acre mark.

The Bay is the heart of my home. Together, we can protect this beautiful resource and all that it offers diverse communities, vibrant plants, and countless animals.

With sincere thanks,

Donna Ball
Habitat Restoration Director

Building a Better Bay Together

Every day, I’m grateful for the privilege of living and working in the Bay Area: its stunning views, natural wonders, vibrant cities and diverse communities. San Francisco Bay connects us all in one way or the other.

While it would be easy to take our surroundings for granted, Bay Day reminds us of the beauty and uniqueness of the San Francisco Bay and the ecological imperative to take action to protect it. That’s why PG&E is excited to celebrate the second annual Bay Day on October 7, and proud to be a lead sponsor – it’s a wonderful event with an important purpose.

Climate change and rising sea levels threaten San Francisco Bay and the communities that call the Bay Area home. As the ecological and economic heart of our region, the Bay’s resiliency in the face of climate change, extreme weather and population pressures must be a priority for us all.

Here at PG&E, we’re committed to leading by example when it comes to climate change. That means adapting our operations and infrastructure to changing climate conditions, as well as supporting efforts at the local level to make the communities we serve more resilient. We’re also leading the way in providing clean energy to our customers, with nearly 70% of our energy derived from sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases.

PG&E Volunteer Day

Just a few weeks ago I was pleased to lead my team on a volunteer restoration event with Save The Bay at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Shoreline in Oakland.  We were welcomed by passionate and knowledgeable Save The Bay staff, and make no mistake, staffers Kenneth and Silas put us right to work!  Not only did PG&E employee volunteers remove nearly 1,300 pounds of invasive plant species in just a few hours, we also learned about the vital role tidal wetlands play in protecting the shoreline from flooding and rising tides.  Our team was energized by our work, and we left the day feeling proud we played a part in protecting and beautifying San Francisco Bay.  A win-win for all involved!

To help everyone enjoy our amazing Bay Area, PG&E has sponsored My Bay Day Adventure Guide: an interactive, online guide that will help you take advantage of all the Bay has to offer.

The more we celebrate our beautiful Bay, the more committed we will collectively be to its healthy future. As a member of the Save The Bay Board of Directors, a Bay Area resident and a fellow advocate for the environment, I invite you to take time on October 7 to celebrate this important day and give back to the region that offers us so much. Together, we can leave a beautiful and resilient San Francisco Bay for generations to come.

Flooding Study Results Require Action

When heavy rains returned to California last winter after an extensive drought, some Bay Area cities experienced flooding for the first time in many years.  Now, a new study shows that kind of flooding will become chronic in many Bay Area locations in the decades to come.

The Union of Concerned Scientists report provides even more detail on how much climate change will affect specific Bay shoreline cities, and how soon.

As early as 2035, neighborhoods all around the Bay Area–on Bay Farm Island, Alameda, Redwood Shores, Sunnyvale, Alviso, Corte Madera, and Larkspur– would experience flooding 26 times per year or more, and that’s with moderate sea level rise.  By 2060, the number of affected neighborhoods grows to include Oakland, Milpitas, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, and others along the corridor between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. If the sea level rises faster, that frequency of flooding will occur sooner. Read the full report at http://bit.ly/2vacc5j.

The report raises another problem. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s maps of flood-prone areas are outdated and don’t reflect sea level rise projections. Those maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

Outdated maps give communities a false sense of security and lead to uninformed development decisions.  Just ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek in San Jose who were flooded out a few months ago.

The State of California and its agencies, including the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, should be aggressively reducing risks to people and property from climate impacts – that has been explicit in the State’s climate adaptation strategy since 2009.  Pressing FEMA for updated maps should be high on the priority list.

Here’s a report on the UCS study in the San Jose Mercury News, which quotes Save The Bay:

A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)
A Feb. 21 photo from a San Jose city worker shows flooding at 1742 Rock Springs Drive. (City of San Jose)

Chronic flooding from rising seas could plague many Bay Area waterfront communities such as East Palo Alto, Alameda and San Mateo within four decades, a nonprofit science group said in a report released Wednesday.

While other studies have predicted inundation of coastal cities, this new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists is the first to put dates on when towns that ring the San Francisco Bay would regularly experience chronic flooding.

Rather than slam shoreline communities with epic floods every few years, rising sea levels threatens to flood streets, yards, parks, homes and businesses in low-lying areas several times a year, the scientists said.

“Cities around the San Francisco Bay will begin to experience more frequent and disruptive flooding in the coming decades and will have to make tough decisions around whether to defend existing homes and businesses or to retreat,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, senior analyst in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS and a report author.

Airports and low-income housing in low areas are particularly vulnerable, the study said.

While airports can draw on business income to pay for defenses against rising seas, many poorer neighborhoods are hard pressed to afford bigger seawalls or levees or to move people out of flood-prone areas, said Kristy Dahl, a UCS climate scientist and co-author of the report.

She said the report underscores the need for federal policies to help local communities.

“We shouldn’t have some communities left behind simply because they don’t have the resources of their neighbors,” Dahl said in an Oakland press conference to discuss the study. “A large number of these communities don’t have the resources they truly need to adapt.”

Last year, the federal government announced its first grant to buy and relocate a small town — Isle de Jean Charles, La. — for $48 million after concluding it was not worth trying to save the community in place.

The Union for Concerned Scientists study assessed three scenarios — low, intermediate and high sea-level rise — by the years 2060 and 2100, depending on the pace of emissions and melting rates of polar ice. An interactive series of maps show when inundated communities may reach tipping point, with at least 10 percent of usable land flooded at least 26 times per year.

The study found that:

  • By 2060, in the high sea level rise scenario, parts of many Bay Area communities would face flooding 26 times or more per year, or every other week. Communities with affected neighborhoods include Alameda, Oakland, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, San Mateo, Burlingame, San Francisco, Corte Madera and Larkspur.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, chronic flooding would affect public infrastructure such as San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, San Quentin State Prison, Moffett Federal Airfield and the Bay Bridge.
  • By 2100, in the intermediate sea level rise scenario, two Bay Area communities would see more than 10 percent of their land chronically flooded: Alameda and San Mateo.
  • By 2100, in the high sea level rise scenario, more than half of Alameda, about 11 percent of South San Francisco and about 14 percent of Oakland’s land area would be chronically flooded.

“Imagine what it would be like to have your driveway and backyard flooded every every other week on average,” Dahl said, “And you can’t let your kids play in the back yard because it’s flooded.”

The “low scenario” assumes a San Francisco Bay water level rise of around 2 feet by 2100, a carbon emissions decline, and global warming limited to less than two degrees Celsius — in line with the primary goal of the Paris Agreement.

The “intermediate scenario” projects a four-foot water level rise and carbon emissions peaking around mid-century and about four feet of sea level rise globally. In the high scenario, emissions rise through the end of the century and ice melts faster, causing 6.5 feet of sea  level rise.

The group applauded efforts by cities such as San Francisco and Foster City, which already have begun planning where and how to build seawalls and levees. Other regions — such as the cities of Alameda, Hayward and Oakland and Contra Costa, San Mateo, Alameda and Santa Clara  counties — are close behind, identifying potential strategies.

Welcoming the report, David Lewis of the Oakland-based nonprofit Save The Bay said it underscored the need for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update Bay Area flood maps to reflect new projections. Those flood maps determine where property owners can and cannot qualify for federally-subsidized flood insurance, and where communities must construct additional flood protection to retain that insurance.

He urged the state to press FEMA to update the maps. Congress also must be prodded to provide funding for the updates, he added.

“If maps don’t incorporate projections for sea level rise — and for increased frequency of flooding from extreme storms independent of sea level rise — then communities have a false sense of security, and property values, as well as public and private planning and development decisions, don’t accurately reflect risks,” said Lewis.

“Ask those homeowners near Coyote Creek,” which flooded last winter, he said.


This article was originally published in The Mercury News by Lisa Kreiger and Denis Cuff on 7/12/2017. 

Climate Progress is Up to Us, not Trump

Fog-streaks-and-bay Mike-Oria_4.03.15
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is wrong for the planet, public health, and the U.S. economy. But three months into the most backward Administration in generations, his reckless move is not a surprise. Ignorance, provincialism and allegiance to fossil fuel barons are dominant in this White House, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the anti-science, anti-environment, pro-polluting industry interests. The Administration had already taken many actions to reverse climate gains from the Obama Administration.

Trump had already announced he would repeal air pollution regulations on the dirtiest power plants, end restrictions on oil drilling in ocean waters, encourage new coal leases on federal land, allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and loosen environmental standards for fracking of oil and gas. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

We’ve known for months this President’s true colors. His criminal rejection of climate solutions means all of us must continue the Bay Area’s and California’s leadership to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and accelerate adaptation for resilient cities and natural habitat. 

Trump’s actions are frightening, but Save The Bay’s record makes us hopeful. We’ve labored for over a decade to create new local funding for Bay wetland restoration, building a broad coalition that ultimately won 70% voter support for the Measure AA parcel tax throughout the region last June.

With thousands of members and supporters, and a public and leaders who understand the climate challenge, we can continue to make progress. So we’ll continue our leadership to protect and improve our environment, right here in the Bay Area.

Our effective local organizing and action to accelerate wetland restoration, protect shorelines against flooding, and make cities “Bay Smart,” is more important than ever. We’ll keep organizing with mayors and officials from all nine counties to promote green infrastructure that adapts our communities to climate change, reduces Bay pollution and improves natural resources. We’ll keep proving by the ongoing economic success of the Bay Area that leadership on climate change is a spur to innovation that supports sustainable growth, and that we can translate that growth into good green jobs that will help transition our region, our nation, and the world to clean energy and low-impact development.

And we’ll support elected officials here in California to pursue strong state protections for the Bay and environment, to counter the Trump Administration’s anti-environment policies. Save The Bay has endorsed bills moving through the state legislature to do exactly that.

With your help, we won’t let Trump drag down our country and the planet. Our fight for a healthy Bay and resilient Bay Area will keep our region strong and beautiful.


Further suggested reading: