Meet Local Hero Florence LaRiviere

Every section of the Bay shoreline has a story….A story of what could have been, a story of future potential, a story of conflict and inspiration. Behind many of these stories is a powerful 90-year-old Palo Alto woman named Florence LaRiviere.

California, Palo Alto, Florence and Phillip LaRiviere, Wildlife Refuge advocates

Florence and her late husband Philip first fell in love with the marshland as a young, married couple. They’d take a picnic down to the water’s edge to near the old Palo Alto Marina with their children to catch a breeze on hot days. They’d watch the tides wave in and out of the cord grass, and feel the gentle breezes. It was their special place, but it was in danger of being paved over and lost forever. Though they weren’t activists at the time, they would spend the next half-decade of their lives fighting for such places.

Some of the protected places we take for granted wouldn’t exist without Florence. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. The refuge covers 25,902 acres and spans a large part of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country in an area that could easily have become an ugly mass of parking lots, convention centers, and tract housing.
After over 50 years of working on behalf of San Francisco Bay, what advice would Florence give to ordinary citizens who want to make a difference in their communities?

“You need to know what goes on in City Hall. Everyone thinks decisions are made in Washington or California so we elect people to local councils and boards who have no sensitivity to the land. We don’t know how important their votes will be to us and the people who live here after us.”

Take a look at what Florence and fellow citizens have accomplished by acting locally:

• The old Palo Alto Marina and its destructive dredge were shut down, and now that area is the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Hundreds of species of wildlife live there and it’s considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites on the West Coast.

• LaRiviere marsh near the Don Edwards Visitor Center in Fremont was once a series of crusty salt ponds. Today it’s lush with native marsh plants and home to endangered species like the California clapper rail and hundreds of other migratory birds.

• As the leader of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Florence was instrumental in expanding the Refuge boundaries to include Bair Island, the Redwood City salt ponds, and the remaining wetlands into the refuge. The recent restoration and reopening of Bair Island to public access is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

There’s still much more to accomplish. For the past two decades, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has been fighting to defeat the City of Newark’s plan to pave over a large section of restorable baylands in the South Bay for an 18-hole golf course and luxury houses. This area is within the expansion boundaries of the Refuge, home to crucial wildlife habitat, and adjacent to a harbor seal pupping site at Mowry Slough. You can help defeat the plan by signing onto our petition Florence asking the Water Board to deny permits for this development.

As Florence says, “If you see something that upsets you, you have to do something about it.”

Federal Wildlife Plan Calls for Restoration of Redwood City Salt Ponds

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration site nearby.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan calls for the restoration of the Redwood City salt ponds. Their map, above, illustrates how the salt ponds, if restored, could connect with existing wetlands and other wetland restoration sites nearby.

Last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a much-anticipated 50-year plan for the restoration of the Bay’s wetlands. A blueprint for the recovery of over a dozen threatened and endangered plant and animal species that depend on the Bay’s wetlands, the Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan includes recommendations for tens of thousands of acres of the Bay shoreline, saying that the protection and restoration of the Bay’s wetlands are critically needed for endangered species like the California Clapper Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse to have a chance at avoiding extinction.

The plan clearly states that restoring the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City and Newark would close critical gaps in the restoration of the South Bay shoreline.

This is consistent with the message from Bay scientists, Save The Bay, and the hundreds of organizations, cities, elected officials, and newspaper editorial boards who have formally opposed Cargill’s efforts to place thousands of houses on 1,400 acres of restorable salt ponds in Redwood City.

The Tidal Marsh Recovery Plan also calls for the restoration of a shoreline area immediately adjacent to the Newark salt ponds – a 550-acre section of diked baylands referred to as “Area 4.” Save The Bay has joined with a dozen other environmental groups to oppose the City of Newark’s proposal to fill these baylands with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 houses.

These strong recommendations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are another clear indication that the greatest value of the Redwood City salt ponds is what they can provide to the Bay if restored. Knowing that the Redwood City ponds provide habitat for tens of thousands of migratory shorebirds, Cargill nonetheless has fought against any governmental effort that discusses the site as anything other than an ‘industrial moonscape.’

This is the same message that Cargill has sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its petition to make the Redwood City salt ponds “exempt” from the Clean Water Act and other federal environmental laws that protect the Bay from being filled.

The Fish and Wildlife Service took a stand by highlighting the importance of the Redwood City salt ponds to the Bay. Now we need your help to ensure the EPA and Army Corps don’t cave to Cargill on their attempts to be granted an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act. Help Save The Bay continue to make sure state and federal agencies protect the Bay from Cargill. Donate today!

City’s Plan Would Pave Bay Wetlands with Golf Course, Nearly 500 Houses

Photo of Area 4
Historic Bay tidal marsh, Newark’s “Area 4,” is one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay (Photo by Margaret Lewis)

Should a bayside city work to help expand the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, restoring more than 400-football fields-worth of Bay wetlands and habitat? Or should they forever destroy that opportunity by filling in the area with an 18-hole golf course and nearly 500 single family houses?

Those are the choices right now in the City of Newark – a shoreline city of 40,000 next to Fremont. Rather than recognize the incredible opportunity to protect the Don Edwards S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge, endangered species, and migratory bird habitat, Newark is seeking approval to fill in over 300 acres of historic baylands, including nearly 100 acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat, sprawling the city into a FEMA-designated flood zone.

Environmental organizations and regulatory agencies have long stressed to Newark of the ecological importance of 550-acre “Area 4” – one of the largest areas of restorable, undeveloped baylands in the South Bay:

  • The 1999 Baylands Ecosystem Habitat Goals Project, the scientific roadmap for the restoration of the Bay shoreline, identifies Area 4 as being uniquely situated for the restoration of both tidal marsh and adjacent upland transition zones, two habitats critical to the health of the Bay
  • Area 4 is host to approximately a dozen special status species –including the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse – and it is directly adjacent to Mowry Slough, a primary breeding ground for San Francisco Bay Harbor Seals
  • The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has stated that “large expanses of undeveloped uplands immediately adjacent to tidal sloughs are extremely rare in the south and central San Francisco Bay” and that “Area 4 represents a rare opportunity to … provide an area for tidal marsh species to move up slope in response to sea level rise”
  • Similarly, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have stated that “this wetland is an integral component of the San Francisco Bay ecosystem,” and “critically important to waterfowl and shorebirds.”

Yet Newark has ignored these concerns, proposing to fill in these rare wetlands and wildlife habitat with 2.1 million cubic yards of fill – enough dirt to fill nearly 100 trucks a day for two years straight!

The City should focus future growth within already developed areas, near transit, shops and services, not on ecologically-sensitive, restorable baylands at risk from flooding and sea level rise.

Update 10/11/2013: 

Opposition to Newark’s plan to build as many as 500 houses and an 18-hole golf course on one of the largest pieces of restorable Bay shoreline in the South San Francisco Bay is growing. More than 2,000 Bay Area residents submitted comments to the city on its General Plan. You added your voice to the chorus of opposition from regulatory agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and the Water Board.

A letter submitted by Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS) staff stated, “the proposed development of Area 4 will only add to the cumulative loss of tidal wetlands in San Francisco Bay and endangered species that are dependent on that habitat.”

Your support also helped us convince several environmental organizations to send letters of opposition, including Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Greenbelt Alliance. Thanks to you, Newark’s plan will not go unnoticed much longer. Sign up here for updates on next steps.