In the next few weeks, our region is due for its first major storm of the season. Bay Area residents will be faced with flooding in our neighborhoods and along our commutes. Many of us will see a lot of trash being quite literally flushed from our city streets into local creeks and the Bay, along with a long list of dangerous chemicals and toxic pollutants. Some of that rain could have been captured and stored for local use during the dry season, but it will flow away instead.

One of the reasons that flooding is prevalent in urban areas is because we have paved over most of our land. In natural areas, stormwater is absorbed into the dirt and either percolates into underground aquifers or slowly flows to the nearest creek. Our cities have so little remaining unpaved spaces that stormwater can only pool on the asphalt or flow into the storm drain system, carrying pollution to our creeks and the Bay. Most of our cities’ storm drain systems were built over 50 years ago. Severe underinvestment in these systems have left them inadequate, full of holes, and crumbling. They are becoming a liability.

If we want to protect our cities from flooding, reduce Bay pollution, and improve our resilience to climate change, we need to change the way we manage stormwater. The answer is relatively simple: more green, less grey. More dirt and plants, less asphalt and pipes. What I’m referring to is a broad set of strategies known as green stormwater infrastructure. Green infrastructure is a nature-based approach to managing stormwater flows. By mimicking nature in our built environment and allowing stormwater to filter back into the ground, we not only reduce flooding and pollution, but also gain additional benefits of more green space in urban areas: cooler neighborhoods, a better environment for walking and biking, even improved public health. In some parts of the Bay Area, green infrastructure can send fresh water back down into our groundwater supply, storing it for future use. The many benefits of green infrastructure are especially critical as our communities grapple with climate change, and work to reduce our regional contribution to the problem.

Rain garden at the Serramonte Library, Daly City.
Rain garden at the Serramonte Library, Daly City. Photo: Matt Fabry

There are examples of green infrastructure in our region demonstrating what should be done everywhere: the Lakeside Green Streets project along Lake Merritt in Oakland; El Cerrito’s rain gardens along San Pablo Avenue; the Chynoweth Avenue Green Streets project in San Jose; and many others.

So why aren’t we doing this everywhere? One major reason is funding. Our cities need help paying for these beautiful and functional spaces. State and federal agencies must make more funding available for green infrastructure, especially for projects along city streets and other public spaces. Our cities need to raise more money for these projects, and that’s usually done through stormwater fees. The City of Alameda is proposing a stormwater fee increase, and we’re advocating for a stormwater fee to be included in a potential parks measure in Oakland.

A rain garden embedded in a curb extension.
A rain garden embedded in a curb extension. Photo: Matt Fabry

Finally, we need political leadership to build more green infrastructure in our cities. Some of our elected representatives at the local and state level already share in the vision of greener, climate-resilient communities. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, along with the city council, recently directed city staff to develop a green infrastructure plan with the goal of achieving multiple community and environmental benefits. But in order to avoid more flooding and pollution, green infrastructure planning must happen collaboratively in our cities in every corner of the region, and leadership is needed to drive these multi-stakeholder efforts.

Our vision for Bay Smart Communities that broadly implement green infrastructure is possible to achieve, but only with public support and political leadership. Stay tuned for opportunities advocate for green infrastructure in your community.


Living in the Bay Area right now means you are acutely aware of the housing crisis our region is facing.

The local news headlines are a constant reminder of the staggering rates of displacement—particularly of low-income communities and communities of color—to the outer boundaries of the Bay Area and beyond. Crushing commutes are a constant topic of conversation. Unsheltered individuals are struggling more than ever to access services and find permanent housing.

But did you know that the housing crisis is also a threat to the Bay?

Image credit: Fernando Martí

The lack of infrastructure available to homeless encampments is resulting in staggering amounts of trash and other waste making its way into local creeks and the Bay. Long commute times and more people driving alone increases roadway pollution, such as oil and trash. These and other pollutants flow into the Bay and threaten wildlife.

We must aggressively address the housing crisis to protect the Bay and improve quality of life in the Bay Area. Through our work to advocate for Bay Smart Communities Save The Bay is engaging with local and regional organizations to Protect tenants from displacement; Produce more housing, with a focus on permanently affordable homes; and Preserve the existing stock of affordable housing.

While this work happens year-round, May is Affordable Housing Month–which is an opportunity for the entire region and organizations of all kinds to support and create affordable homes for all.

Here are five ways to get involved:

Engage – Get involved and join Save The Bay leaders as we attend events sponsored by The Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County; Community Council of Housing OrganizationsEast Bay Housing OrganizationsSilicon Valley @ Home

Learn – Find out more about our Bay Smart Communities initiative to achieve sustainable and equitable communities.

Read – Find out how housing and climate change are connected by reading California Senator Scott Wiener’s recent article in the New York Times highlighting the links between these important issues.

Follow – Join the conversation on twitter as we turn over our feed to organizations around the Bay championing the effort for affordable homes. Use the hashtags #AffordableHousingMonth and #AffordableHomesForAll #savesfbay @savesfbay

Attend – Find a regional event near you and take action in your community. Here are a few activities to consider.

San Mateo County 

San Francisco

Santa Clara County

Alameda & Contra Costa

 

 


Angel Island, one of my favorite scenic escapes by the Bay

I moved to the Bay Area almost ten years ago. I was drawn to the region’s stunning beauty, diverse communities, and delicious food. Each year brings special life experiences for my family; we have countless memories of being together by the Bay. The Bay is the heart of my home. It’s why I’ve chosen to set up roots and raise my daughter here.

But the Bay doesn’t just connect my family; it connects us all.

The Bay defines our geography, bridging the gap between quiet neighborhoods and bustling downtowns. When the pace of city life becomes too frenetic, the Bay offers scenic escapes. It’s integral to our daily lives and vital to our local economy. Because the Bay gives me so much, I do all I can to give back. I work tirelessly with Save The Bay’s policy team to protect the Bay – not just for my family, but for future generations.

Your support makes everything we do possible.

What’s at stake? Each time it rains, litter, PCBs, pesticides, and other toxins are carried into local creeks and the Bay, threatening Bay wildlife and habitat. However, advocacy work and powerful partnerships helped us score significant wins this year to keep trash out of the Bay.

Through a collaboration with Oakland Community Organizations and statewide agencies, we:

  • Exposed the environmental consequences of widespread illegal dumping in Oakland
  • Pushed City Council members to fund solutions for public health and environmental hazards
  • Rallied to support SB 231 (Hertzberg), a pivotal bill that enables cities to raise money for their own water supply and stormwater infrastructure projects

Going forward, Save The Bay plans to ensure that Bay Area cities meet a 2022 deadline to eliminate trash from storm drain systems. We will also promote sustainable urban growth practices and preserve access to the Bay for diverse communities across our region.

Our success is your success. Together, we can make the Bay as clean and healthy as possible.

Thank you for your support and for caring about this big, beautiful Bay as much as I do.

 


In almost every city, trashy runoff flows directly into the Bay, untreated.

Distressing images of birds trapped in plastic debris and trash fouling beaches have sadly become common news stories. Events like International Coastal Clean Up Day (Saturday, September 16) and National Estuaries Week (September 16-23), bring much-needed attention to the cleanliness of our Bay, coastline, and waterways. But, often overlooked and not often discussed, is where the vast majority of this trash begins its journey to the Bay. When we look for answers we need to look further inland to one of the greatest sources of Bay trash… our city streets.

Trash is a daily and persistent threat to the health of our communities and neighborhoods. Illegal dumping creates chronic blight in many of our region’s neighborhoods, and city departments are struggling to respond in a timely manner. Homeless encampments lack access to trash bins, resulting in unsanitary and often dangerous living conditions. Trash is deliberately thrown on the ground and accidentally blows out of cars, garbage trucks, and trash bins.

The sources of trash are numerous, but the Bay is often the ultimate destination. Our streets are connected to the Bay through our storm drain system. In most places in the Bay Area, the grates you see next to the curb allow water and pollution to flow freely through a system of pipes that empty into creeks, rivers, and the Bay. Since stormwater does not flow to a treatment plant, all of the trash flowing through this system ultimately ends up in the environment.

Save The Bay has been working for almost a decade to keep trash out of the Bay, including advocating for regulations that require zero trash in city storm drains by 2022. Since most trash starts in our cities, our city leaders and local agencies must play a role in the solution.

The road to zero trash in the Bay is a tough one, but we are already seeing the positive impacts of our advocacy. In July, Save The Bay partnered with Oakland Community Organizations to advocate for additional funding in the city budget to prevent and respond to illegal dumping, a chronic problem that primarily impacts some of Oakland’s most underserved areas. Following pressure from Save The Bay, local and regional organizations, and the community, the city council adopted a budget that not only includes an additional $150,000 to address illegal dumping but also $1.6 million to place port-a-potties and clean trash from homeless encampments. The city also committed to installing trash screens in storm drains as a part of transportation projects.

This victory is only the beginning for our Zero Trash campaign. Like Oakland, cities and counties throughout the Bay Area need to secure additional funding to keep trash out of our neighborhoods and the Bay. Save The Bay is committed to advocating throughout the region to make the 2022 zero trash requirement a reality, and we hope you’ll join us by making a personal promise to reduce your trash footprint:

Four Simple Ways Your Can Reduce Your Trash Footprint!

 Thanks for all you do to help keep our Bay, coastline, and waterways, clean and healthy for all life. Stay tuned for opportunities to advocate for zero trash in your city.


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As we witness the official upheaval of our country’s leadership, I am ready to collaborate with anyone who, regardless of their political views, are trying to do the right thing for people, communities, and our natural resources.

Like many of us, on the night of the election I cried.

I cried for women, for immigrants, for people who have been wronged by a racially-biased justice system, for the unemployed, for the LGBTQ community, and for our environment. I cried for the daughter I’m about to bring into the world, that the society she will be born into is one in which you can mock, ridicule, and verbally abuse people on national television and still win a presidential election.

So I stuck my head in the sand. I barely opened Facebook for weeks (gasp). I limited most of my online interaction to looking at people’s vacation and holiday photos. But in this virtual absence I did a lot of thinking. Certainly we have more power than we think—even in the election aftermath people across the country successfully demanded justice and change in their communities. We may have not been able to stop the inauguration or these asinine cabinet appointments, but starting today we can respond by being strategic, creative, and collaborative. And honestly, if you live in California, you have an obligation to keep your head up and show that change is possible, no matter who’s in the Oval Office.

“We may have not been able to stop the inauguration or these asinine cabinet appointments, but starting today we can respond by being strategic, creative, and collaborative.”

 

In the Bay Area, we’re in a double bubble: we have many local elected officials who are committed to ensuring safe and equitable communities where our natural environment will thrive, while our state legislators have vowed to resist any attempts by the administration to reverse the social, economic, and environmental progress we have made in our state and country. If we don’t take advantage of our favorable political circumstances here in California, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

As we witness the official upheaval of our country’s leadership, I’ve decided I’m ready to take my head out of the sand. I’m ready to do my part to ensure that the new administration is held accountable for any poor judgment and negligence that it demonstrates. I’m also ready to collaborate with anyone who, regardless of their political views, is trying to do the right thing for people, communities, and our natural resources.

That’s what really matters, and we must believe in our collective ability to succeed.


While California voters made the historic decision to ban plastic bags statewide in November, Bay Area cities continue to push the envelope in eliminating plastic from our landfills and creeks.

Stopwaste, also known as the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, is now officially moving forward with an expansion of the county’s bag ban, that currently mirrors the state’s requirements. In addition to grocery stores, plastic bags will soon be banned in all other types of stores and restaurants in Alameda County, taking thousands more wasteful plastic bags out of circulation.

Here’s a comparison of the two bans:

 Where are plastic bags banned?

Grocery stores

Other retailers (hardware, clothing, etc.)

Restaurants

Minimum charge for paper bags

Minimum charge for reusable bags

Effective date

ALAMEDA COUNTY

X

X

(Starting May 1) 

X

(Starting Nov. 1)

10 cents at stores; no minimum charge requirement for restaurants

10 cents

May 1, 2017 for stores, Nov. 1, 2017 for restaurants

CALIFORNIA

X

   

10 cents

10 cents

Immediately

Stopwaste has clearly gone above and beyond the already ambitious statewide ban, setting a new bar for reducing plastic trash in our waterways. The new rules go into effect for additional stores in May of this year and for restaurants in November. When they crafted the ordinance, the agency decided to give cities until Dec. 9 to bow out of adopting the stronger bag ban—I’m very happy to announce that everyone is in.

Alameda County cities have all embraced the value of eliminating plastic bags to keep trash out of the Bay. And they’re willing to go beyond state requirements to do so. Keeping plastic bags out of grocery stores across California is undoubtedly a victory for the environment and our communities, but Alameda County residents should take pride in the fact that their cities have taken even stronger action to keep our creeks and city streets clean. Let’s resolve in 2017 to celebrate these strides in urban sustainability and urge our cities onward in that direction.


Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. Photo by Matt Fabry.

Greening urban areas with street trees, rain gardens, parks, and other natural infrastructure offers many benefits to our communities. Neighborhoods become more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists, getting people out of their cars. Urban heat islands—the increase in local temperature resulting from heat retention by an overabundance of asphalt and concrete—are reduced, decreasing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning during warm weather. Chemicals, trash, and other pollutants picked up by rainwater are filtered by vegetation and soil, reducing the pollution we send into our creeks and the Bay. There’s even evidence that urban greening leads to improvements in public safety.

Why, then, aren’t we greening all of our neighborhoods? If there are so many benefits to green infrastructure, what’s holding us back?

This was the topic of discussion at the Bay Area Leadership Conversation on Green Infrastructure on Friday, Dec. 9, that Save The Bay helped to plan and lead. At the beginning of the day, local and state elected officials representing the Bay Area gathered to learn from one another, sharing green infrastructure case studies and discussing the difficulties in scaling them from demonstration projects to community-wide implementation.

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While green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Photo by Matt Fabry.

The main event was attended by over 250 people representing state agencies like Cal EPA and the Strategic Growth Council, cities and counties, local clean water programs, park districts, environmental justice organizations, environmental organizations, and more. Round-table and panel discussions were held throughout the day, and keynote speakers discussed the state and federal political climate and its implications for expanding green infrastructure, funding challenges, and examples of where green infrastructure is already having an impact. Examples ranged from wetland restoration projects on the Bay shoreline to rain gardens in dense communities that allow stormwater to seep back into underground aquifers, reducing pollution and improving local water supply.

A few important messages emerged from the day. First and foremost, people are excited about greening our communities, but it takes resources. We need our state elected officials to lead the way in securing more funding for local governments and agencies to implement green infrastructure, and to prioritize its integration with housing development and transportation projects. Every time our cities approve new housing developments, or repave our roads and sidewalks, is an opportunity to weave in bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens. But current policies and funding restrictions are making it very difficult to implement projects that include all of these elements. Secondly, while green infrastructure can result in many community and environmental benefits, we need to go about its implementation in thoughtful ways. Greening projects should be designed through a participatory stakeholder process to ensure that community priorities are incorporated. Additionally, local agencies and organizations should work together to train and retain a local workforce that can maintain our green infrastructure and ensure our ability to reap the full array of benefits from these projects.

Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities program will advocate for thoughtful green infrastructure projects throughout our region, as well as the funding and resources necessary to bring projects to life. We look forward to working with stakeholders and local government to transform our cities from gray to green, protecting the Bay and enhancing quality of life with each park and rain garden.


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Californians showed their support of Prop 67 through personal testimony as “Humans of the Bay,” playing a huge part in passing this historic bag ban.

There’s no question that the election left many of us discouraged, mystified, and fearful.

As we all search inside and out for ways to support one another in this strange new political climate and defend the causes we believe in, it is important to also recognize the amazing victories we have achieved and the positive changes we still have the power to make.

I, for one, am proud to say that Californians made some very good decisions on their ballot last week. By approving Prop 67 and rejecting Prop 65, we stood up for creeks, beaches, and our environment, capping off nearly a decade of advocacy by organizations across the state.

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We boldly traveled to Novolex’s headquarters in South Carolina to bring their toxic plastic trash right back to their doorstep.

In addition to relentless advocating through policy for a plastic-free environment, we also advocated in the streets as dancing zombies, showed our support through personal testimony as “Humans of the Bay,” and boldly traveled to Novolex’s headquarters in South Carolina to bring their toxic plastic trash right back to their doorstep.

This victory has shown that we can fight for our Bay and win on an enormous scale with room for a ripple effect across the country. These types of victories make us stronger here at home and have impacts far beyond the Bay Area, inspiring many others to replicate our successes.

And while looking forward towards the future, we would be remiss if we did not also shine a bright light on our long and hard history that has been spent fighting to keep our California waterways free from plastic bag pollution.

Save The Bay began advocating for local bag bans after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags in 2007. At that time, rejecting the perceived convenience of plastic bags was quite a statement, despite the fact that bringing your own shopping bag had been the norm in many European countries for as long as anyone could remember.

In order for bag bans to prevail in the Bay Area—let alone throughout California—other major cities would have to show similar leadership. In 2008, Oakland did just that, but was bullied by the plastic bag industry into putting its ban on hold indefinitely.

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Hipline dance studio joined us on Halloween Eve to advocate for Prop 67 as flash mob dancing zombies. Photo by Sara Maney.

Despite this setback, the Bay Area environmental community organized a regional campaign to urge the largest city in the Bay Area to adopt a bag ban. The San Jose City Council adopted the strongest bag ban in the country in 2010, after a two-year campaign that involved environmental, youth, community service, and faith-based organizations as well as elected officials, grocers, and the business community. What followed could be described as a four-year domino effect that lead to 80 percent of Bay Area residents living in a city that had banned plastic bags by mid-2014.

Meanwhile, bag bans at the local level had begun to spread across the state, begging the need for a consistent and uniformed statewide policy. Despite the clear benefits of this approach, several attempts to pass a state bill were unsuccessful.
But the environmental community would not give up so easily.

In 2014, state legislators adopted SB 270, signaling the end of plastic bags in California. But, the quick response from the plastic bag industry to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot meant that voters would have to make the final call.

Well, we did. Together, we passed Proposition 67 to ban the bag once and for all. And for that, we thank Californians.

Challenging times are undoubtedly ahead, and protecting the environment will require new strategies and more resources. But one thing is clear: Save The Bay will continue fighting for the Bay.

That means restoring more wetlands, stopping the flow of trash from our cities, and encouraging Bay Smart urban development that protects our waterways and improves quality of life for all Bay Area residents.

With your help, we will be victorious.

 


alameda plastic bag ban
Photo credit: Dave Bleasdale

Prop 65 is a classic “look here, not over there” distraction tactic by none other than the plastics industry, and they’re banking on their ability to confuse California voters. We’re here to make sure you know better.

Let’s be clear: Prop 65 does not ban plastic bags. It simply requires that the 10 cent charge for paper bags at the checkout stand is sent to a state fund instead of being kept by the store. So what’s wrong with that? The state fund that would be created by Prop 65 is vaguely defined and likely won’t amount to much. We know from the 150+ local bag bans in California that most shoppers quickly make a habit of bringing their own bags to the store instead of buying paper bags for 10 cents. The plastics industry is not in the business of solving our state’s environmental funding issues; Prop 65 is a green washed distraction and nothing more.

Need more convincing? Check out the ten largest contributors to the Prop 65 campaign. Hilex Poly is the old name for Novolex—remember them? They’re the ones who told us they would toss kids’ drawings in the recycling bin when we visited their headquarters in South Carolina earlier this month. The rest of the entities on the list are plastic bag manufacturers as well. NONE of them represent California voters. NONE of them are working to protect California’s waterways and coastlines. NONE of them deserve your vote.

Vote NO on Prop 65 and YES on Prop 67.


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Potholes and cracked streets are a challenge for street sweepers to clean, causing trash and other pollution to be left behind, where they wait to flow straight into the Bay the next time it rains.

Bay Area residents are well-acquainted with the region’s critical need for better public transit and affordable housing, but our streets and our stormwater infrastructure are also badly in disrepair, and contribute greatly to the runoff of trash and toxic pollutants into San Francisco Bay.

Potholes and cracked streets are a huge liability for cities. For example, Oakland’s potholed streets are among the worst in the region, ranked 89 out of 109 Bay Area cities. They cause serious damage to peoples’ cars and create serious costs for the city. They also are harder for street sweepers to clean, causing trash and other pollution to be left behind, where they wait to flow straight into the Bay the next time it rains.

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Our stormwater system of pipes and channels carry rainwater polluted with trash, oil, pesticides, and other toxins directly into our creeks and into the Bay.

We’ve written before (here and here) about the stormwater system of pipes and channels that carry rainwater polluted with trash, oil, pesticides, and other toxins directly into our creeks and into the Bay. Unless we invest in stormwater infrastructure improvements that remove pollution from rainwater before it flows into our creeks, or capture and treat it for drinking water or irrigation, this serious threat to the health of the Bay will only worsen.

One option involves constructing solutions that mimic nature, allowing polluted water to filter through plants and soil (such as rain gardens and bioswales) before flowing to the Bay. This green infrastructure is not only a solution for stormwater pollution, it also reduces local temperatures on hot days (saving energy money on air conditioning), and creates pleasant new urban green space that encourages people to walk or bike instead of using cars. Expanded urban greening like this has even been shown to reduce crime.

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Oakland’s Measure KK and Berkeley’s Measure T1 invest in street and stormwater infrastructure improvements.

The good news is there are opportunities on the November ballot for Oakland and Berkeley residents to secure the much-needed funding for street and stormwater infrastructure improvements.

In Oakland, Measure KK is a $600 million bond that would fund investments in Oakland’s roads, community facilities, and housing. About $350 million would go toward repaving and repairing streets and sidewalks and improving bicycle safety; some of these improvements are likely to include green infrastructure. Additionally, $100 million would be invested in acquiring, preserving, and building affordable homes, and $150 million would go toward improving libraries, parks, public safety buildings, and fire stations.

Berkeley’s Measure T1 is a $100 million bond for improvements to streets and sidewalks, storm drains, parks and recreation centers, and the city’s public  buildings, with an explicit emphasis on the utilization of green infrastructure. Check out our Bay Smart Voter Guide for more detailed information about these measures.

We’ve put off investing in our roads and stormwater infrastructure for a long time, so the price tag has grown, and it will continue to grow unless we act now. The Bay Area’s booming population will only place more stress on our roads and create more polluted runoff. Be a part of the solution by voting “Yes” on measures KK and T1 in support of  investing in our city infrastructure, for the health of our communities and the health of the Bay.