Our 2016 Accomplishments for the Bay

Saving the Bay by Sustaining the Bay: A Year of Firsts…

This year has been decorated with big wins for the Bay. Highlights of 2016 include the historic passage of Measure AA, Prop 67, and nine of 10 local ballot measures we endorsed for the first time in Save The Bay’s history. While November’s election is a setback to environmental progress at the federal level, our 2016 accomplishments give us momentum here at home, where local and regional victories will be more important than ever.

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In early 2016 we published a visionary 2020 Strategic Plan, which maps out our ambitious path to healthy wetlands, Bay Smart communities, and a region that is resilient in the face of climate change.

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We installed 107,239 plants at sites around the Bay, creating important habitat for native and migrating birds.

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Save The Bay was instrumental in passing Proposition 67, a statewide bag ban that will keep billions of plastic bags from polluting our ocean, communities, and waterways, and Proposition 56, which will reduce the flow of toxic, plastic cigarette butts into our waterways.

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For the first time in Save The Bay’s history, we endorsed 10 local ballot measures that will contribute to a cleaner, healthier Bay and more sustainable Bay Area. With our support, nine of these measures were passed by voters.

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Our 4,830 volunteers contributed nearly 15,000 hours to shoreline restoration projects, and we provided 2,500 local students with hands-on volunteer opportunities.

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Culminating a decade of planning and preparation, we passed regional Measure AA, which will generate $500 million for the restoration of Bay wetlands. Thanks to our tireless advocacy, more than 70% of Bay Area voters supported Measure AA.

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Working with nearly 40 cities and counties across the Bay, we created Bay Day, one official day for our entire region to celebrate San Francisco Bay. In its inaugural year, Bay Day reached over 2 million Bay Area residents.

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Save The Bay and our supporters successfully advocated for a ban on outdoor smoking at Sunnyvale bus stops, shopping areas, festivals, and farmers markets. Our success will help protect wildlife from toxic, plastic cigarette butts, and are a model for other communities.

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We removed 7,200 lbs. of trash from the Bay shoreline, making our marshes cleaner and healthier.

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We launched Save The Bay’s new Bay Investors Council, bringing together Bay Area leaders and influencers who support Save The Bay financially and introduces the organization to new friends. We hosted our inaugural Bay Investors Council event on Bay Day with a catamaran sail on the Bay.

Download the PDF version of our 2016 Accomplishments here.

We’ve won big — Here’s what’s next

Bay Area voters’ approval of Measure AA is the biggest win for our Bay in decades, and it would never have happened without Save The Bay’s supporters. Our victory will mean cleaner water, more abundant wildlife, and greater climate change resilience for our Bay. Because of Measure AA, we’re on track to pass on a healthier and more vibrant Bay to our children and grandchildren.

It feels great to celebrate this amazing moment, but the truth is Save The Bay is just getting started with the next phase of our critical work. There is so much more to do.

Our Measure AA victory gives us enormous momentum to tackle the biggest threats to our region in the coming decades—pollution and climate change.

We have an ambitious strategy to tackle these head-on.

Measure AA will raise about 1/3 of the funds needed to restore 30,000 acres of wetlands. With your continued help, Save The Bay will lead the fight for federal funding to secure the rest of what’s necessary. The President and Congress should match Measure AA funds with major investments, just as they have in Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, especially because so much restoration here will occur within federal wildlife refuges.

We’ll also continue directly restoring Bay habitat by putting more volunteers to work improving the Bay. And as always, we’ll bring the best science to decisions on how the Bay adapts to climate change.

We’ll also boost our work to help cities reduce trash flowing into the Bay to zero by 2020. And while we have secured plastic bag bans in most Bay Area communities, bag manufacturers have blocked a statewide bag ban and forced a referendum vote on California’s November ballot.  We’ll play a leading role to win that statewide bag ban.

Our next step is to make Bay Area communities “Bay Smart.” That means we will be promoting nature-based solutions to stormwater pollution prevention, fresh water conservation, filtration, and storage – which low-impact development advocates call “green infrastructure.” It also means we will be supporting a broader set of sustainable and equitable development practices. These “Bay Smart” standards will reduce energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases that fuel climate change, address the disproportionate impacts of sea-level rise upon disadvantaged communities, and expand public access to the shoreline.

I’m excited about this work ahead of us, and encouraged that we have strengthened our movement by leading Measure AA to victory.  The partnerships we built and people we mobilized can do so much more together to protect and restore San Francisco Bay for wildlife and people.

Mapping a path to zero trash


Ever since trash was first regulated as a pollutant in the San Francisco Bay in 2009, cities have been trying to eliminate trash from their storm water systems. Now, 6 years into that process, we have gathered some data on their progress and created this map to see what progress towards zero trash looks like around the region.

Every city that is subject to the storm water permit must completely eliminate trash from its storm water by 2022. Cities on this map are shown as dots, the size and color of the dot represent how much progress that city has made towards zero trash. The smaller and greener the dot, the more progress they have made; cities indicated by large red or orange dots have a long way to go. The map represents how far a city has gone to reduce the trash flowing through its storm water system – for example, Oakland has reduced trash by 47% — not the actual amount of trash each city is contributing to the Bay.

You may be wondering why some communities, notably the city of San Francisco and most of the North Bay, are absent from this map. The reason is that those cities are not covered by the storm water permit. Smaller cities like those in the North Bay have a separate permit with a different timeline to reduce trash and San Francisco, unlike the rest of the region, operates a Combined Storm Sewer System where storm water is treated along with sewage.

All of our data is gleaned from reports each city files with the Regional Water Board on their storm water systems. Although these reports are a crucial resource for us, all of the data is entirely self-reported and we do not have a high degree of confidence that detailed on-the-ground observations support the data in all of these reports.  However, for the sake of clarity and ease of assessment, for our map we took the reductions claimed by each city in their storm water reports at face value.

Some cities are making good progress

Some cities that are doing a truly remarkable job are Walnut Creek and Sunnyvale. These cities have taken steps to install storm drain units that filter trash out of the water before it gets into the creeks in most of their very trashy areas.

Oakland faces problems that are unique in the region but has risen to the challenge, more proactively dealing with illegal dumping and increasing street sweeping activities, as well as installing trash capture devices. Another city that has done an impressive job is Richmond, which has a hugely successful block by block neighborhood beautification and cleanup program.

Trash capture units are expensive, and most cities are struggling to find ways to pay for them. But they may be the only way to comply with this permit and eliminate trash from storm water systems that drain directly to the Bay.

Most cities have a long way to go

Many cities that appear in yellow, like Berkeley, Oakland, South San Francisco and Richmond are actually in compliance with the permit, they managed to reduce their trash by 40% by 2014, however because the timeline for reductions is so tight and these cities need to reach a 70% reduction by 2017, there is serious uncertainty about how these cities will be able to keep up with increasing reductions. These cities need to find the resources to clean up more of their trash.

Some cities where we see big problems are Concord, Pittsburg, San Jose, and San Leandro. These cities have not yet made significant advances towards achieving zero trash, and that is a cause for concern. The next benchmark is a 70% reduction by 2017, and these cities have failed to meet the 40% requirement by 2015; they are in very serious danger of failing to meet the mandated standards. The Regional Water Board ought to be working with these cities already to help them avoid non-compliance, and to encourage local leaders to prioritize their storm water pollution.

Why did we make this map?

This map is the best visual representation of the region’s progress towards zero trash.

As I mentioned above, the map shows progress towards zero trash, rather than how much trash each city contributes to the Bay. If we had shown how much trash each city contributes to the bay, the map would show us what we already know – that larger, more urban cities generate more trash.

What we want to show is regional progress; as you can see on the map, the Bay is literally ringed with trash, and it is the responsibility of every city in the region to take the steps necessary to eliminate trash from its storm water system by 2022.

Call on your city to get to zero trash – Click here to take action.

Getting to Zero Trash

Trash fills Coyote Creek in San Jose at William Street Park, Photo by Vivian Reed

Trash has plagued the Bay since landfills ringed its shoreline in the 1950’s and 60’s. Times have changed, but according to the agency tasked with protecting water quality in the Bay, not enough progress has been made.

At the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s meeting a couple weeks ago, Board members discussed the effectiveness of a 5-year-old policy that requires cities to drastically reduce the flow of pollutants into their storm drains, which connect directly to creeks and the Bay. Trash was the main topic, and the discussion focused on how to improve the policy to ensure that trash in the Bay is eliminated by 2022. Save The Bay has been tracking progress since the policy went into effect in 2010, and unfortunately we’re not convinced that much has changed.

Stronger policies needed

Part of the problem is the lack of clear requirements for determining how much trash ends up in local creeks or along the Bay shoreline. How will cities, the Water Board, or the public know if our efforts to reduce trash are working if no one is collecting data in and around the water? Another concern is the lack of consequences for cities that don’t demonstrate major trash reductions. Some cities are working very hard to reduce trash through activities like street sweeping, maintenance crews in commercial areas, promptly collecting illegally dumped materials, and organizing community trash clean-ups. Inconsistent effort among cities must be discouraged to truly reduce trash throughout our region.

Luckily, the Water Board voiced these same concerns at the meeting and asked their staff to come back with a better, stronger policy. Board Member Jim McGrath stated that the region is nowhere near a 40% reduction in trash (which was supposed to have been achieved in 2014) and the Board Chair, Terry Young, made it clear that future failures to meet mandatory reductions will not be tolerated—the next one is a 70% reduction by 2017.

While trash remains a serious threat to the Bay, the leadership demonstrated by the Water Board gives us hope. For our part, Save The Bay will continue to advocate for a strong policy while also working to support cities in their efforts. At the meeting, many city representatives spoke of the difficulty in securing resources to implement solutions—that’s why YOUR voice is so important. Tell your elected officials to do everything they can to keep trash out of our neighborhoods and storm drains. Talk to your local businesses about keeping their sidewalks clean. Take the Zero Trash pledge to stay up-to-date on future opportunities to advocate for a trash-free Bay.