Board Members Help Restore The Bay

Our Board members took some time before their June meeting to transplant native seedlings at our Palo Alto Baylands Nursery. They really loved getting their hands dirty and learning more about our restoration education programs!

Board Members transplanting
Board members Si White and Ron Gonzales and Executive Director David Lewis (center) transplant gumplant (Grindelia stricta). Photo: Betsy Cardis


Board members in nursery
Board members Sandy Linder, Michael Gallagher, Maureen Reilly, Michael Katz, and Christopher Richard transplant alkali heath (Frankenia Salina) with Habitat Restoration Director Donna Ball. Photo: Betsy Cardis

Join us this summer and help transplant native seedlings at one of our nursery programs in Palo Alto.

California Environmental Champion Began by Protecting San Francisco Bay

Byron Sher
Byron Sher wrote and passed most of California’s environmental laws.

Last week, I had the honor of presenting Save The Bay’s Founders Award to one of the greatest environmental leaders in California history. Byron Sher represented Palo Alto in the state legislature for almost a quarter-century, and he wrote and passed most of the laws that protect our state’s environment today.

But he got his start in politics as a Stanford Law Professor, when he won a seat on the Palo Alto city council in the 1960s, campaigning against the destruction of that city’s Bay marshes. The city had already allowed San Francisquito Creek to be rerouted, and some marshes to be filled to create a golf course and municipal airport. An airport expansion, conference center, and lagoon community were planned – more filling of the Bay using mud dredged from the city’s tiny yacht harbor that silted in every few years.

Byron and his colleagues fought and won a revolution that preserved Palo Alto’s Baylands, now one of the gems of the shoreline, and a top spot for shorebirds. The Save The Bay movement joined many similar local efforts into a regional movement that created the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and essentially halted large-scale filling of the Bay. Byron served on BCDC for several years while a city councilman. Then Byron continued to champion the Bay from the State Legislature, including creating the San Francisco Bay Area Conservancy, which has preserved spectacular landscapes from the ridges to the shoreline throughout the nine counties.

Byron’s contribution to California’s environment extended far beyond the Bay. He wrote the state’s Groundwater Protection Act, Clean Air Act, Integrated Waste Management Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. As the chair of key committees on natural resources and environmental protection, he led establishment of state requirements for renewable energy generation, and helped broker the deal to save old growth redwoods in the Headwaters forest. He still serves on the Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The Founders Award represents the spirit of Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick, the three ladies who started Save The Bay in 1961 – they mobilized thousands of individuals who battled to protect San Francisco Bay. Some, like Byron, went on to serve in elected or appointed positions; others worked for decades as activists and organizers in their own communities.

I am so grateful for all that this generation – including my own parents – did to save the Bay for me and my children. And I am proud that Save The Bay continues to pursue ambitious initiatives to make the Bay cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife, with our growing community of supporters.

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.”

Taking Ownership of Our Public Shorelines

This past fall, Woodside-Atherton Garden Club became the first community organization to adopt a section of Bay shoreline under Save The Bay’s new Adopt-a-Shoreline Leadership Program. What this means is that the Garden Club pledges to restore a section of the shoreline near our nursery at Palo Alto Baylands back to functioning transition zone habitat. The club will also use the site as a demonstration shoreline to connect the public to the processes of native plant propagation and habitat restoration.


At Save The Bay we are really excited about this new program for its potential to deepen our connections in communities around the Bay and create new opportunities for local civic organizations to get involved in Bay conservation.

But there’s an even bigger idea behind all of this. The Bay is a public resource and it’s the responsibility of everyone who lives here to do his or her part to make sure it thrives.

This idea of taking “ownership” of our public lands is hardly new. Communal management of land was the norm in many places around the world for centuries—though the stewardship ethic dramatically decreased with the rise of private property ownership.

When Save The Bay was founded, fewer than 6 miles of the San Francisco Bay Shoreline was publically accessible. The vast majority of the shoreline was privately owned and highly modified to make way for urbanization, farming, and salt ponds. Over 90% of the the Bay’s wetland habitat was lost and its shoreline became a dumping ground for waste and sewage.

Over the past 50 years, through the efforts of Save The Bay and countless other organizations and concerned citizens, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in our conservation and stewardship values of the Bay. Hundreds of miles of shoreline are now publically accessible. Tens of thousands of acres of critical wetland habitat have been restored, and although we have a long way to go to fully restore the remaining acres needed to provide habitat for the wildlife of the region, there is good reason to be optimistic. We are at a turning point in history regarding how we value our natural resources. Now is the perfect time to encourage our communities to take further steps to take back ownership of these precious public, natural resources.

The Woodside-Atherton Garden Club is an ideal group for pioneering this new partnership. As one of over 200 garden clubs affiliated with the Garden Club of America, the club is committed to connecting people to gardening and improvement of public spaces through horticulture, as well as conservation of native flora.

Save The Bay’s community-based habitat restoration program works with more than 6,000 volunteers every year to restore the tidal marsh-upland transition zone, important habitat for two endangered species, the California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse. We propagate locally collected, native plants at two facilities: the MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland, in partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District; and at the Palo Alto Baylands, through the City of Palo Alto. We welcome volunteers along the shoreline at all of our sites, as well as in our two nurseries.

To find out more about the Adopt-a-Shoreline Leadership Program, please connect Doug Serrill by email at, or by phone at (510) 463-6828. For other exciting volunteer opportunities to help restore this critical resource, please visit our website. I hope to see you at our nurseries and along the shoreline!

Notes from the Field | Re-conceptualizing Nature: Discovery the Natural World in an Urban Setting


Palo Alto Baylands
Urban landscape meets the shoreline at the Palo Alto Baylands. Photo by Jess Madding

Growing up on the Peninsula, my primary interactions with the natural world were separate from my everyday life: hiking in the Sierras, school trips to outdoor education facilities in Santa Cruz or Point Reyes, or tromping around in Tahoe snow.

My encounters with nature shifted in college, as I discovered numerous ponds, lakes, nature trails, and even climbing destinations on the outskirts of Boston. However, it wasn’t until working for Save The Bay that my perception of nature was truly challenged.

Most of Save The Bay’s restoration sites have urban backdrops: Oracle Arena can be seen from our sites along the Oakland Shoreline, the Dumbarton Bridge is adjacent to our Ravenswood Pond site, and our Creekside site in Marin is below swing-sets and jungle-gyms at Hal Brown Park.

Teaching environmental education surrounded by man-made structures has given me a new vision of experiencing “nature.” At first, I worried about my ability to instill students with the same wonder at the natural world I felt in more secluded locations. However, this fear evaporated as I witnessed excited students discovering how to identify native plants and unearth purple shore crabs along the shoreline, even on levees or armored shorelines.

Ultimately, the meeting of a city landscape and the Bay shoreline provides local residents with more connection with our tidal marshes. These marshes protect our cities from flooding and provide habitat so that we can experience the awe of seeing a fox or hearing the call of an endangered clapper rail.

Spend some time connecting with nature in your own backyard – volunteer with us.