Update: Water Board Agrees To Explore Trash Enforcement

At the Regional Water Board’s March 14th meeting, our Executive Director, David Lewis, addressed the Board and told them that over 3,000 Save The Bay supporters (and growing!) are calling upon them to take enforcement action against Caltrans for allowing trash to flow unabated into local creeks and the Bay. Good news: the Board did not hesitate: Chair Terry Young asked staff to compile information about enforcement options and present them to the Board this summer. While this is a promising step forward, we need to keep the pressure on. Sign our petition today and share with a friend!

The Board also expressed concern about the cities and counties that failed to meet the 70 percent stormwater trash reduction requirement last year, some of whom are years behind schedule and continue to allow toxic levels of trash to flow into storm drains and out to the Bay. The Board asked staff to explore enforcement options for these entities as well, including immediate installation of trash capture devices in storm drains and proof that funding for trash abatement has been secured.

We will keep you updated on progress toward Zero Trash in the Bay. Thank you for your support!

From Architecture to Access: Meet Nancy Fee, New Board Member

Wetlands at Bair Island

Mention the word “architecture” and Nancy Fee glows. She lifts her elbows. She extends her arms. She broadens her smile. Then, our new board member says something bound to linger with her listener, like: “the Bay Regional style? It’s particularly residential, making the boundary between interior and exterior more permeable.”

A self-described “design buff,” Nancy can’t help but gaze at a structure and consider what its features suggest of “builders and users.” Yet, this San Francisco native undoubtedly has the credentials to back up her conclusions. Nancy earned a PhD in Art History from Columbia University before teaching architectural history at several colleges and universities, including Mills College and UC Davis.

Having returned to San Francisco, Nancy now ponders a question most relevant to the place where she grew up: “one of the most interesting challenges we face is how to deal with the intersection of the built environment and the natural environment.”

For Nancy, this dynamic was on full display during the breach of San Pablo Bay wetlands. She found it truly captivating to watch a crew open up a dike, digging and digging until bay water came “gushing in.” In the same vein, Nancy remembers well when Crissy Field was opened up significantly to the public during her childhood. She recalls how excited she and her friends were at the time; they “would go down there and put our feet right in.”

Now, as Save The Bay’s newest board member, Nancy wants to ensure people of all backgrounds and from all parts of the Bay Area can relish the beauty of our Bay – up-close. Her vision is to reach people who “don’t really have access to it, can’t see it from where they are, don’t necessarily understand how their lives are so connected to it.” Nancy, after all, is a firm believer that small acts can spark major change.

Avocet in the wetlands. Photo by Hank Christensen

During her strolls in San Francisco, she sometimes finds herself “picking up pieces of soft plastic on the street.” She brings them to Recology or Trader Joe’s to ensure they don’t harm wildlife. Nancy says she can’t help but: “think about [them] ending up in the digestive tract of a bird or fish or a sea lion down on Pier 39.” She’s optimistic that with exposure to Save The Bay’s programs, communities around the region can develop the same drive to protect our awe-inspiring Bay, bit by bit.

Indeed, it’s why she puzzled over friends in New York expressing a mix of curiosity and bewilderment over her leaving Manhattan: “What is it about San Francisco?” “Nothing happens in San Francisco.” Nancy’s epiphany came on Treasure Island shortly after her return to the Bay Area – it was the bay. “I find the Bay grounding, uplifting. I breathe a little deeper when I’m near it. It makes me feel hopeful.” Now, she wants everyone who calls the Bay home to experience the same sensation.

The Next Leap Forward for San Francisco Bay: Restoration Funding and Other 2018 State Legislative Priorities

With the 2018 state legislative session now underway in Sacramento, we are working hard to advance our top priorities for protecting and restoring San Francisco Bay. Our ambitious agenda is focused to achieve meaningful progress on our most important issues – from wetlands restoration funding to reducing stormwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions – so that our Bay and Bay Area communities remain clean and healthy for future generations.

Bay Restoration Funding

Two years ago, we did what no one thought possible – we led an overwhelming majority of Bay Area voters to pass Measure AA, a $500 million investment in restoring the health of San Francisco Bay. Despite this momentous victory, Measure AA will cover only a third of the estimated cost to restore the tidal wetlands awaiting action around the Bay. It is now the state’s turn to step up and invest in San Francisco Bay restoration, ensuring that this natural treasure remains clean and healthy for future generations. Securing a significant investment in Bay restoration from the state is our top legislative priority.

Funding the full cost of restoration has long been a priority of Save The Bay, and there is more urgency than ever to get it done. As prospects for winning federal funding are currently poor, state matching funds are crucial to accelerating the pace of restoration so that the wetlands have adequate time to accrete ahead of rising sea levels that threaten to swamp them and make restoration impossible. Restoration projects can take years, and the pace of our changing climate compels us to act now.

We have a tremendous opportunity to win significant funding in 2018, working closely with our state elected officials to put together a financing package of $50 million in dedicated funding for Bay restoration projects. With a strong groundswell from you, our supporters, we are confident we can make real progress this year.

At a glance, here are our other major legislative priorities:

Bay Smart Communities: Restore Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) Funding

The Governor’s 2018-2019 Budget proposes zeroing out GGRF funding for key programs that support the establishment of Bay Smart Communities – environmentally just communities with housing and infrastructure that is ecologically sound, climate resilient, and improves access to the Bay. Urban greening, urban forestry, and climate adaptation programs play a vital role in advancing Bay Smart projects around the Bay, which produce multiple benefits like pollution reduction, water conservation, and urban open space for public recreation and public health improvement. We will work to ensure that the Legislature fully restores these funds in this year’s budget.

Keeping Trash Out of the Bay: Holding Caltrans Accountable

As cities across the region do their part to reduce the amount of trash that flows into the Bay, Caltrans is shirking its responsibility to keep litter out of our waterways. This state agency, which is responsible for maintaining California’s state roads and highways, has failed to address the trash problem in its jurisdiction, placing the burden of compliance on cities. Save The Bay is demanding the Regional Water Quality Control Board force Caltrans to comply with the Clean Water Act and clean up littered roads and install trash capture devices before the garbage piled up on its thoroughfares pollutes our Bay.

Reducing Plastic Pollution in Our Waterways

Each year during beach and river cleanups around the state, the biggest sources of trash are plastic items like cigarette butts and plastic beverage caps. If we can target the problem at its source, whether by discouraging smoking in places where cigarette butts can end up in our waterways or reducing the amount of single-use plastic straws we use, we can reduce this plastic trash that pollutes the Bay and threatens wildlife. For this reason, Save The Bay supports a package of plastics bills that would reduce source pollution keep it out of our waterways.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Committing to Renewable Energy

California has led the nation in passing aggressive climate change mitigation and clean energy policies, and we’re looking to make big progress once again in 2018. The Legislature will consider two groundbreaking bills to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and particulate emissions that pollute our Bay and threaten the health and quality of life of Bay Area residents:

  • Senate Bill 100 (de León), which would commit California to 100% renewable energy by 2045.
  • Assembly Bill 1745 (Ting), which would ban all new gas-powered cars in California after 2040.

November 2018 State Water Bond Ballot Measure

Save The Bay strongly supports the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018, a citizens’ initiative expected to be on the statewide ballot in November. The proposed bond measure includes nearly $200 million in funding for the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to accelerate regional wetland restoration projects, in addition to funding for projects that improve water infrastructure, ensure reliable delivery of drinking water to underserved areas of the state, and restore critical fish and wildlife habitat. This bond would be the state’s largest investment in water infrastructure and wildlife habitat restoration projects since Proposition 1 passed in 2014. We are seeking legislative endorsements for its passage.

To read our full 2018 State Legislative Agenda, click here.

 

 

 

 

The Quest for Zero Trash in the Bay: Local Spotlights

On Tuesday, I wrote about the Bay Area’s overall progress in reducing trash flows to the Bay. I noted that some cities are doing well at addressing their portion of the problem, while others are falling far behind requirements and are in violation of their stormwater permits. Today I’m digging a little deeper, with a detailed overview of six cities and one county which have made varying progress to reduce trash in their communities and storm drains.

Vallejo (population 120,228)
Vallejo claimed to have achieved a 34.8 percent reduction in stormwater trash in 2017, which is actually a step backward from their 44 percent estimate in 2016 and is well below the required 70 percent reduction by 2017. This adjustment—the result of more accurate calculations—means that the city is further behind schedule than expected to meet the zero trash requirement by 2022. Vallejo claims that fiscal constraints, along with outdated trash data, resulted in the city’s failure to reach the 70 percent requirement. The city has recognized these issues and published a report on how it will come into compliance with the trash requirements. Vallejo plans to install trash capture devices in city storm drains in 2018, but did not specify how many. Other actions include more accurate trash monitoring, increasing street sweeping, and partnering with local businesses including Six Flags to clean and maintain highly visible public areas.The city’s report admits that it will continue to be behind reduction schedule for the next three years, aiming to reach 70 percent trash reduction by 2019 and 80 percent by 2020. Nevertheless, it plans to meet the 2022 zero trash requirement. Vallejo has been able to secure $1.4 million for trash capture devices and other trash reduction strategies, but it is unclear whether this will fund all necessary activities. Save The Bay is very concerned about Vallejo’s lack of progress on trash.
Alameda County (unincorporated) (population 140,800)
The unincorporated areas of Alameda County (e.g. Castro Valley, San Lorenzo) claim an 18.5 percent reduction in 2017, up from 12 percent in 2016. This figure is among the lowest trash reduction rates in the region and is of great concern given the size and population of this area and the fact that little has been done by the county government for seven years. The only trash reduction measures so far have been bans on single-use plastic bags and take-out Styrofoam containers, as well as trash capture devices that cover only a small area.The county has plans to install three trash capture systems in specific high trash areas and smaller devices in other areas by the end of 2018. If these systems are installed this year, Alameda County expects to have achieve an 84 percent reduction by the end of 2018. Any additional delays, however, could put them even farther behind schedule and place the county at risk of enforcement action by the Water Board.
Oakland (population 420,005)
Oakland claims a 74.7 percent reduction in trash for 2017, up from 44.6 percent in 2016. The city identified areas with the most street trash and areas with homeless encampments as two major priorities. Oakland has cooperated with business improvement districts (BIDs) that have full-time staff to remove litter and manage trash containers. Increased cooperation with BIDs, along with business inspections to ensure they are managing trash effectively, resulted in an over 20 percent reduction in its highest trash area. In addition, as part of the city’s Homeless Encampment Program, over 48,000 gallons of trash were removed from 390 encampments.Oakland has not completed an adequate amount of trash monitoring to ensure their results are accurate, but city staff have indicated their intent to continue monitoring and adjust their reported trash levels appropriately. Save The Bay will follow up with the city soon to find out the results.
San Jose (population 1,042,094) San Jose claims a 79.2 percent reduction in 2017, up from 53.3 percent in 2016. Full capture systems have been installed in various neighborhoods and the city has implemented the Business Intelligence Data Tracking System to track trash collection activity. San Jose has also launched an aggressive cleanup campaign to remove trash from homeless encampments by its Homeless Response Team, focusing on encampments along creeks. Homelessness continues to be a major social and environmental crisis for the city and its residents, and arguably its largest source of trash in local rivers and creeks. San Jose plans to address the problem from multiple angles while conducting cleanups and outreach to encampment residents to prevent more trash from flowing into local waterways.
East Palo Alto (population 31,000)
East Palo Alto claims a 59.7 percent reduction in 2017, up from 29.2 percent in 2016. Despite this large jump, the city still failed to meet the 70 percent reduction requirement by 2017. Most of this reduction has come from storm drain cleaning, illegal dumping enforcement, and better management of trash bins to prevent overflows into storm drains. In 2016, the city acknowledged that it was behind schedule for trash reduction due to ineffective strategies and aimed for 50 percent reduction in 2017.Moving forward, East Palo Alto plans to improve street sweeping methods and has contracted engineering firms to install a full trash capture system by summer 2018. The successful implementation of these strategies is expected to bring the city to 80 percent compliance next year, but any additional roadblocks threaten to keep the city in violation of its trash requirements.
Richmond (population 109,000)
Richmond claims an 81.8 percent reduction in 2017, a gain from 27.3 percent in 2016. This increase was among the region’s highest improvements in trash reduction in 2017. Richmond’s success is largely attributed to the city installing new full capture devices that cover an area of over 800 acres. The city also continued to increase street sweeping frequency in its worst trash areas and has launched a neighborhood beautification and liter control program called Love Your Block. Richmond’s success in spite of its resource struggles can serve as a model for other Bay Area cities covered by the storm water permit that are having trouble meeting trash reduction requirements.
Mountain View (population 80,477)
Mountain View claims an 84.6 percent reduction in 2017, up from 48.4 percent in 2016. In contrast to most Bay Area cities, Mountain View’s trash reduction strategy has focused more on control measures other than installing trash capture systems. Due to the large corporate presence in Mountain View, the city conducts annual trash inspections of office buildings to ensure trash is being contained and bins are not overflowing into storm drains. The city has also installed rain gardens and other nature-based stormwater filtration elements to treat runoff from developed areas. Mountain View has plans to install additional full capture devices between now and 2022. The city was falling behind on trash requirements for many years, but has shown significant progress in 2017.

 

A Note About Caltrans

Many cities identified state roads and highway corridors—managed by Caltrans—as trash hot spots, some having higher trash levels than any other areas in the city. While cities and counties are not responsible for trash on these roadways, much of it is blown onto city streets. This is a major problem for our cities, who are already struggling to achieve their own reduction requirements. Caltrans is not taking responsibility for keeping trash out of the Bay, which is why we are calling upon the Regional Water Board to take enforcement action against the agency. Read more and sign our petition here.

What’s Next?

As I noted on Tuesday, municipalities that fail to meet the Regional Water Board’s trash reduction targets are required to provide detailed plans for getting back on track and meeting future targets. After Oakland failed to achieve the 60 percent trash reduction deadline in 2016, the city developed a detailed plan with strategies for tackling the city’s diverse trash problems, which helped Oakland make significant progress on trash reduction in the past year. Save The Bay then fought hard for funding in the city budget to implement certain elements of the plan, including cleaning up illegal dumping and installing trash capture devices. Without resources, plans will simply sit on the shelf. Each city that hasn’t met the 70 percent requirement and those who are at risk of falling behind should produce detailed plans for getting to zero trash that include secured funding sources for each project.

Save the Bay will continue to work with local communities and the Regional Water Board to ensure our region achieves zero trash by 2022, but we need the help of Bay Area residents in order to do so. You can help by organizing and participating neighborhood cleanups, adopting your local storm drain, urging local officials to prioritize projects that reduce stormwater trash and other pollution, and staying engaged with Save The Bay for other opportunities to take action.







The State of Trash in 2017: Bay Area Progress in Reducing Trash Flows to the Bay

The maps above show cities and counties covered by the Regional Stormwater Permit. The size of the dots represents a municipality’s population size. Cities highlighted in yellow and green are in compliance with the 2017 mandatory 70% trash reduction requirement, while cities highlighted in orange and red are falling short of this milestone. Take time to hover over the map to see how much your city has reduced its trash problem.

Trash flowing into the San Francisco Bay from stormwater systems is one of the most visible environmental issues in the Bay Area. The trash circulating in waterways—much of which is plastic and will never biodegrade—not only spoils shoreline scenery and harms wildlife, but also makes its way out into the Bay, which drains into already badly polluted oceans.

In order to address this issue, in 2010 the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered 78 Bay Area cities and agencies to eliminate trash from their stormwater systems by July 1, 2022. This is to be achieved through steady targets, with a 70 percent reduction in trash from 2009 levels in 2017 and an 80 percent reduction by July 2019.

Last year, we wrote about how cities were progressing on the path to Zero Trash, and we are back this year to give you an update on progress made in 2017. There is some good news around the region. Many of the largest improvements over the last year have been in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, as well as the Bay-side cities of Alameda County. However, a handful of communities have lagged far behind, particularly in Contra Costa County. Which cities are on the path to zero trash by 2022, and which ones are violating clean water regulations? 

Six communities still send trash to the Bay at alarming rates

 

In 2016, cities were encouraged, but not required, to achieve a 60 percent reduction in trash to help ensure that they are on track to preventing all trash from entering storm drains by 2022. But the 70 percent target last year wasn’t a suggestion: it was mandatory. Unfortunately, six of the 78 Bay Area cities, counties, and agencies under these requirements failed to achieve a 70 percent reduction by 2017: Vallejo, Hercules, Pinole, Alameda County (unincorporated areas), Livermore, and East Palo Alto.

After studying annual trash data for several years, we are particularly concerned with this group of cities because they have a history of not complying with trash reduction targets. These places are now subject to penalties from the Regional Water Board, including costly fines or Cease and Desist orders. They’ve also left themselves open to third party litigation, which already happened to the City of San Jose a couple years ago. There is no excuse for inaction: we want to see plans for achieving zero trash in these communities and a commitment of funding for the work that needs to be done.

Spotty trash monitoring throughout the region

 

Cities are required to monitor trash in their streets to prove that their clean-up and prevention strategies are working. So how do you measure trash levels? One way of measuring how much trash is generated in an area is through on-land visual trash assessment (OVTAs), during which city staff record amounts of trash along the street curb at several locations throughout the city several times per year. These assessments translate to gallons of trash littered per acre in a year, and are divided into four categories: low (less than 5 gal/acre/year), moderate (5-10), high (10-50), and very high (greater than 50). The Regional Water Board requires cities to measure trash at the same location at least four times annually to be confident that the data truly reflect an area’s trash levels. Unfortunately, at the time when they submitted their 2017 reports, most municipalities—including many who claim to have achieved the 70 percent reduction—had not conducted a sufficient number of assessments. Some acknowledged that their data was preliminary and subject to change as they complete more assessments, but many seem to have brushed this requirement aside. We can’t have confidence in incomplete data.

Some positive trends, and lots of work to do

 

The communities in violation of the trash requirements have had seven years to plan and execute strategies to reduce stormwater trash. Their lack of action is unacceptable. Resources challenges have been cited by most as a reason for the delay, but cities with tight budgets such as Oakland and Richmond have managed to make significant progress by allocating more of their own budgetary resources, cost-sharing with other agencies, and pursuing grant funding.

The trash map shows much improvement in our region over the past year, which is great news for Bay wildlife and water quality. We applaud those communities who claim to have made great strides—a few report having achieved zero trash, or close to it, already. But these are the exception, not the rule; there is still a lot of work to be done in order to achieve the 100 percent trash reduction goal by 2022.

Read our report on individual cities and their success—or lack thereof—in reducing trash and meeting the stormwater permit.