Taking a Stand for San Francisco Bay

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My name is Ian McKernan and I am a 7th grader at Shorecliffs Middle School in Orange County. Although I live in Southern California, I have visited the Bay Area many times and am always impressed with how clean and good the Bay looks. It’s always fun for me to see how many people enjoy it too. Personally, I like to sail around Dana Point Harbor, so I always look for people sailing on the water.

After hearing about Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick’s fight to save San Francisco Bay in the 1960s, it inspired me to build a website to share their story as my National History Day project. This year’s theme was “Taking a Stand in History.”

National History Day (NHD) is a year-long school program where students do research on historical topics that they choose and develop projects about them. The projects are then entered into contests at the local and state levels and the top projects from each state advance to the national contest in Washington D.C. at the end of the school year. More than half a million middle and high school students participate in NHD annually.

While researching the story of saving the Bay, I was most surprised to learn that San Francisco Bay was not protected by environmental laws in the 1960s like it is today. At that time, landowners, cities, and factories could build on the Bay and dump their toxic trash directly into the Bay. And they did just that! I was also surprised to learn that the laws that we have today resulted from the efforts of Save The Bay’s founders, not from the existing environmental groups or politicians at that time.

I was also impressed by how enthusiastic the people I interviewed for my project (Save The Bay’s Executive Director David Lewis, former Chief Engineer of the Bay Model William Angeloni, Sylvia McLaughlin’s daughter Jeanie Shaterian, and Senator McAteer’s son Dr. Terry McAteer) were when talking about an event that happened over 50 years ago. Their enthusiasm showed me how the women’s fight had a huge impact on the San Francisco Bay we enjoy today, and the importance of continuing their legacy of conservation into the future.

Click here to learn more about Save The Bay’s early history and view Ian’s website.


We are inspired by Ian. His passion for conservation shows that the youngest generation has the desire and drive to advocate for the Bay now, and far into the future.

You can inspire students like Ian by graciously giving to Save The Bay’s education programs. Our award-winning restoration education programs reach more than 2,000 kids each year. Your generous donation allows us to develop bay nature lesson plans for teachers, provide professional development for educators, organize school field trips to wetland restoration sites, and so much more. We can’t wait to teach a whole new group of students this year!

Thank you for supporting our work and for providing the resources needed to inspire the next generation of Bay stewards.

Sincerely,

David Lewis

Executive Director, Save The Bay

Saving the Bay: a movement started by women

 

Our founders’ legacy — one of courage, persistence, diligence, and success — has inspired today’s generation of Bay savers to carry on their mission to protect our greatest natural treasure for generations.

Before we celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970 and the first full-length issue of Ms. Magazine hit newsstands in 1972, major progress in the Bay Area was already underway thanks to a trio of East Bay women who dared to question environmental and social norms.

In the early 1960s going green wasn’t hip, nor was the idea of preserving the natural environment. During that time the Bay, often dredged for development, looked like a devastated wasteland flowing with raw, smelly sewage that also doubled as a dumping ground for toxic trash.

Four years after Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick founded Save San Francisco Bay Association (later renamed Save The Bay) in 1961, the McAteer-Petris Act placed a moratorium on additional filling of our Bay and established the first coastal protection agency in the United States called the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

The passing of this landmark legislation set the stage for the coming decades of environmental protections. Prior to 1965, few environmental organizations existed and even fewer environmental laws had been passed. But, these women led a grassroots environmental movement — during an age where a woman’s word was undervalued, especially in government.

This was the first of many milestones Save The Bay achieved. A few years after its establishment, the BCDC became a permanent regulatory agency empowered to permit Bayfill and require public access to the shoreline.

Senator Petris among others with Governor Reagan at the signing ceremony for the creation of BCDC.
Our founders and Senator Petris among others with Governor Reagan at the signing ceremony for the creation of BCDC.

Thanks to the courageous efforts led by Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick, this 1960s projection illustration published in the Oakland Tribune, won’t become a reality. However, we must remain vigilant to ensure that our natural environment does not give way to urbanization, industrialization, and big business at home and around the globe.

Bay or River Image
In 1961 the Bay was projected by the Army Corps of Engineers to become a river by the year 2020, as illustrated by this graphic published in the Oakland Tribune in 1960.

Over a half century later, Save The Bay has continued to fight the good fight, educate and inspire the next generation of environmentalists, and remains dedicated to keeping the Bay healthy for all to enjoy for generations.

As they’ve inspired today’s generation of bay savers, the women working to protect our environment today inspire the young environmentalists of the future. Donna Ball, Save The Bay’s Restoration and Habitat Director, is one of those women encouraging tomorrow’s environmental solution developers (both girls and boys) to follow their dreams.

Despite advancements in the American environmental and women’s movements, we have yet to achieve gender equality in the sciences both internationally and here at home. We know of a remedy that may help close that gap: it takes is at least one ordinary individual with extraordinary ideas, courage, belief, and vision.

Will it be you?