OP-ED: Act now to protect San Francisco Bay

Bay Area wetlands
A “Clean and Healthy Bay” ballot measure will allow Bay Area voters to invest $500 million over 20 years to enhance the Bay and protect the shoreline for future generations. Sign on to show your support today.

The Bay Area and the San Francisco Bay itself are on the cusp of a rapid transformation that will take place over the coming decades. As our region prepares to deal with the real impacts of climate change, Save The Bay is dedicated to convening environmental, business, and labor leaders to protect our region. Today, Suffolk Construction executive Andy Ball and I published the following editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, calling for a regional parcel tax to protect the Bay, our communities and our economy.

As the Bay Area’s boom continues, it’s essential that we protect what makes this such a desirable place to live and work — San Francisco Bay itself.

The bay is central to our region’s identity, quality of life and strong economy, but its waters and shoreline are challenged by pollution, population pressures and the effects of climate change. Low-lying communities and critical infrastructure face increasing risk from intense storms and flash floods. Animals that live only in our bay marshes face extinction.

Fortunately, we have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate improvements around the bay that will benefit people and wildlife and make our economy more resilient to climate change.

Public agencies already own more than 30,000 acres of salt ponds and diked shoreline areas that are slated for restoration to tidal marsh. Many of these marsh projects also would improve flood protection for adjacent homes, businesses, roads, railways and sewage treatment plants. This protection is crucial for companies that want to stay and grow and for others that want to move here.

Marsh projects in Redwood City, Alviso, Hayward and Novato are stalled by inadequate federal and state funding, but we can close the gap. Polling shows voters throughout the nine Bay Area counties overwhelmingly support paying a small parcel tax to restore the bay and protect our communities and jobs from flooding today and in the future.

Now business, labor, and environmental leaders are joining with cities and counties in a broad coalition to offer voters that opportunity next year. For as little as $12 annually per parcel, we can achieve enormous improvements that make the bay healthier for fish, add trails for recreation and protect our communities and our economy from intense storms and high tides. Because we all love the bay, most voters agree these benefits are a great deal for a small price shared by all of us.

Take Action Now:
“Yes, I will support a ballot measure to
generate $500 million for the Bay.”


The price of inaction is much higher. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s report, “Surviving the Storm,” details the devastating risk floods now pose to our regional economy, and how climate change will increase the frequency of floods. Pressures on bay wildlife also will increase with the region’s population and business growth.

Uniting as a region to improve the bay also will provide momentum to tackle other problems. We lack housing that working families can afford; BART and other transit systems can’t meet demand. Yet agreement on solutions has eluded us.

Better regional transit around, under or even on the bay can get cars off the roads, reducing air pollution and traffic. Building affordable housing near jobs, open space and recreation can sustain economic growth in healthy, livable communities. Working together for bay restoration will encourage broader regional collaboration on these important issues.

Generations of visionaries protected natural resources and open spaces that make the Bay Area livable and attractive, from Big Basin to Point Reyes. Leaders with foresight built us world-class universities, regional transit systems, ports and airports for mobility, commerce and tourism. These make our vibrant economy in a spectacular natural setting the envy of the world.

Now it’s our turn. In the coming months, we’ll expand this regional conversation about investing in the bay for everyone’s benefit. Let’s seize this moment to make the bay we love healthier and make the Bay Area a better place to live and work for all of its residents.

David Lewis is Executive Director of Save The Bay. Andy Ball is West Region President of Suffolk Construction and a longtime board member of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Bay Area Council. They wrote this for the San Jose Mercury News.

Take Action Now:
“Yes, I will support a ballot measure to generate $500 million for the Bay.”


Acting Locally to Make a State Bag Ban Possible

Bag Monsters
We have come a long way in the fight against plastic bags.

Only a few years ago the idea of stemming the flow of plastic trash into the Bay seemed like an overwhelming problem. One million plastic bags were entering the Bay every year. While we recognized that plastic trash was affecting all of California’s waterways and ocean coast, we knew we had to tackle the problem in our own region, because that’s where we knew we could make a difference.

I’m proud to report that California’s legislature has passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags through Senate Bill 270, which is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. And the reason this is possible is because we laid the groundwork locally.

We began by advocating for trash to be classified as pollution, and regulated like other toxics in stormwater. We won new permit limits requiring the elimination of trash from Bay stormwater by 2022. Then we worked directly with cities to reduce throwaway plastics at the source, through local bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam food ware. Bay Area cities responded, and four years later more than 75% of the Bay Area population lives where a ban on single-use plastic bags is in force.

But many communities across the state are far behind. A state bag ban can close the gaps and make a bigger dent in plastic trash that plagues our neighborhoods, waterways, and beaches.

California has tried for many years to pass a bag ban law. What’s different this time? Mainstream business organizations like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the California Grocers Association are lining up behind the state ban. Businesses and consumers find the bill palatable because the Bay Area has demonstrated the value of a consistent regional approach to regulating bags. By working locally, we’ve secured collaboration and coordination between cities and counties, so supermarket chains and other businesses face the same laws region-wide. We’ve proven that bans work to keep plastic out of our waterways, prompt consumers to switch to reusable bags, and don’t harm businesses.

It’s remarkable that an idea once considered controversial has become mainstream so quickly, after just four years of advocacy by Save The Bay and our supporters. How did we get here?

  • In 2009 twenty-six waterways that flow to the Bay as well as the lower and central portions of the Bay itself were found to be so filled with trash that they violated federal Clean Water Act standards. Photographic evidence of shoreline trash submitted by Save The Bay supporters was convincing to the State Water Board and U.S. Environmental Protection agency.
  • Save The Bay convinced Bay Area water quality officials in 2010 to adopt the first-ever trash regulations under the Clean Water Act, requiring cities to reduce trash flowing into the Bay under the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit. Cities must demonstrate that they have reduced trash flowing into the Bay by 40 percent by September 2014, and eliminate all trash flowing to the Bay by 2022.
  • When we suggested cities could advance compliance by banning plastic bags, some people thought we were crazy and predicted shoppers would revolt. The first cities to pursue bans were sued by front groups for the plastic industry. But shoppers adjusted.  Retailers adjusted. The lawsuits failed.
  • Local bag bans work: One year after San Jose’s ban went into effect plastic bag trash had decreased by 69% in the city’s creeks and 89% in its storm drains. The average number of single-use bags per customer dropped from 3 bags to 0.3 bags per visit.

On September 1, California state legislators passed SB 270, but it still needs a signature from Governor Jerry Brown. It feels good knowing that Bay Area residents and their representatives have embraced the value of conservation over convenience for the sake of the Bay. The Bay Area should be proud of its leadership on reducing plastic trash – now it’s time for all of California to catch up.

Ask Governor Brown today to sign SB 270 into law and make plastic bags history in California.