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Bay Stories That Inspire

From restoration and education to policy and pollution, read inspiring and heartfelt stories about the passionate people and the work they do to save the Bay, every day.

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.

By: Rachel Ishizaki

Youth v Apocalypse leading the march
Youth v Apocalypse leading the march

The Global Climate Strike that took place from September 20 to September 27 was the largest mobilization of climate activists ever seen and was inspired by teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg. The week of strikes were organized to coincide with the United Nations Climate Action Summit where world leaders met to discuss how they will meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Over 7 million people rose up in defense of the environment to demand that countries enact much more ambitious climate policies.

Save The Bay staff at the climate march
Save The Bay staff at the climate march

Carrying a sign that had a picture of the earth and said “I’m with her”, Save The Bay’s political director Cheryl Brown and I marched through San Francisco’s financial district on Friday, September 20. We arrived at Embarcadero BART and were immediately met with a wave of young activists, powerfully chanting and marching. I immediately got goose bumps; what we were witnessing was a powerful effort of thousands of youth who were unified in their concern for the planet. The crowd’s disappointment in our political leaders’ failure to address climate change was visceral.

The San Francisco march was once of 6,135 across the planet. 185 countries and over 7.6 million people participated in the week of climate strikes. Youth vs. Apocalypse (YVA) led the march with seven banners, each carrying a demand aimed at world leaders. The slogans that really stood out to me were “we demand justice and asylum for people displaced by climate change” and “we demand that people, not corporations, influence politics”.  Here’s a link to full descriptions of their seven demands.

The Sunrise Movement asking politicians what their plan is to ensure a just and sustainable future.
The Sunrise Movement asking politicians what their plan is to ensure a just and sustainable future.

At the end of the march, we gathered at Sue Bierman Park and Embarcadero Plaza where the waters of the Vaillancourt Fountain had been turned green, the color that embodies the environmental movement. Organizations set up interactive booths, young protestors enjoyed lunch after a morning of marching and members of YVA got up on stage to speak about the state of the environment. There were also guest speakers and a performance by Destiny Arts, an Oakland-based organization that is creating social change through the arts. All spoke to the importance of acting now to create climate policies that keep our future generations in mind. “This is only the beginning”, spoke a YVA member from the stage, a phrase I’ve heard echoed from across the globe during last week’s climate strikes.

What we do here at Save the Bay falls right in line with the climate strike’s fight for a just and sustainable future in which all people, regardless of income, ethnicity, or gender, have access to clean water, housing, and a healthy planet. And this is also only the beginning.

Protestors stopped in front of the PG&E building to chant and make their presence known.
Protestors stopped in front of the PG&E building to chant and make their presence known.

At Save The Bay, we launched Bay Smart Communities a few years ago to go beyond restoring the Bay landscape, and start work to address the biggest challenges facing our Bay community. Through Bay Smart Communities we support sustainable and equitable development practices within cities by advocating for green infrastructure, affordable housing, and a robust public transit system.

Save The Bay’s restoration team, along with their community and education based efforts, have restored wetlands across the Bay back to being functional tidal marshes. Save The Bay, along with other environmental and social organizations, is greatly needed during this time of rapid urban growth and rising sea levels.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 24, 2019

Redwood City, CA—Save The Bay, San Francisco Baykeeper, Committee for Green Foothills, and Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge joined together today to protect San Francisco Bay by filing a critical lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. The lawsuit seeks to overturn EPA’s recent arbitrary decision that the Redwood City Salt Ponds along the shoreline of San Francisco Bay are not protected by the Clean Water Act.

The suit alleges EPA violated the law by determining the Salt Ponds are not “waters of the United States” and removing them from legal protection.

The Salt Ponds, like other wetlands around the Bay, deserve protection and are an integral part of the Bay Area’s ecosystem.

The environmental organizations are asking the United States District Court in San Francisco to “reject EPA’s complete abdication of its duty to regulate the Salt Ponds under the Clean Water Act.” The lawsuit highlights the importance of the Salt Ponds in providing habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife, as well as the educational and recreational opportunities they provide for the people in the community. The Salt Ponds are also critical to protecting the Bay’s water quality and mitigating the impacts of sea level rise.

“The Salt Ponds and other San Francisco Bay wetlands and water deserve continued federal legal protection against pollution and development,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. “We won’t let the Trump Administration invite developers to pave the Bay.”

The Salt Ponds have been owned and operated by Cargill, Inc. and its affiliates since 1978. They constitute one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the San Francisco Bay’s shoreline. For over a decade, Cargill and its developer partner DMB Associates have sought to build on the Salt Ponds. In 2012, the companies withdrew a proposal to build over 12,000 homes and thousands of square feet of commercial buildings on the ponds due to intense opposition from the local community.

“We’re not going to stand by while Cargill uses the Trump administration’s eagerness to gut our environmental laws for its own economic advantage,” said Megan Fluke, Executive Director of Committee for Green Foothills. “The salt ponds are part of the Bay. Development here would not only destroy restorable natural resources, it would put homes and businesses in the path of sea level rise, on an earthquake liquefaction site, and next to heavy industry.”

“EPA’s decision to classify the salt ponds as ‘land’ instead of water is absurd and illegal,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “It’s a thinly veiled scheme by the Trump Administration to allow the Cargill Corporation to destroy the Bay for profit, without worrying about Clean Water Act safeguards.”

EPA “determined the vast majority of the surface waters located at the Site are not subject to the Clean Water Act’s protections, effectively authorizing their pollution or destruction,” according to the lawsuit.

“Through the efforts of Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge and others, Congress has authorized the potential expansion of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge to include the Salt Ponds because they have significant conservation and wildlife values,” stated Gail Raabe, Co-Chair of CCCR. “We find it indefensible that the Trump Administration has removed federal Clean Water Act protection over those same ponds, flying in the face of decades of critically important regulatory protection.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Trump Administration’s EPA, previously headed by Scott Pruitt, and now Andrew Wheeler, has systematically worked to decrease protection of the nation’s water under the Clean Water Act. The Plaintiffs are represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, headquartered in Burlingame, and Earthrise Law Center, based at the Lewis and Clark Law School.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that EPA’s negative jurisdictional determination was arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the Clean Water Act, and lacked substantial evidence to support the findings, under the Administrative Procedure Act.

According to Joe Cotchett, lead attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy: “This is one more Trump attack on our environment, as EPA puts the profits of big businesses like Cargill ahead of the good of the country.”

According to the litigation, the EPA wholly ignored its own legal and environmental experts in reaching an unlawful determination. “EPA’s own exhaustive study of these ponds in 2016 appears to have been completely ignored by political decision makers in Washington, DC. They provided extensive scientific and legal analysis demonstrating the Salt Ponds are waters of the United States,” according to Attorney Nazy Fahimi of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

“EPA’s decision sets a dangerous legal precedent for waters across the United States,” said Allison LaPlante, an attorney at Earthrise Law Center. “If the San Francisco Bay salt ponds are not waters, then waterbodies across the country are at risk of losing vital protections under the Clean Water Act.”

“The Salt Ponds are a vital part of the health of the entire Bay Area ecosystem,” said Eric Buescher, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. “This is just one fight against the abdication of environmental protection occurring on a daily basis throughout the United States. It is a fight that our clients are waging every day and that requires the support and involvement of the entire community to win.”

Former Congressman and founder of Earth Day, Pete McCloskey, an attorney at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, stated “this fight is vital to protecting the San Francisco Bay from money grabs by wealthy developers. Protecting these lands are vital to preventing the natural resources of the Bay from being destroyed.”

Black-Tailed Bumble Bees on Lupine by Sreya Dutta

By Juliana Medan

Bees are incredibly important for the wellbeing and survival of countless species, including our own. European honey bees are essential for agriculture. Native bees, of which there are over a thousand species, are very important for California native plants and ecosystems. 

Bees play such a vital role in our environment, yet their wellbeing is threatened. Bees are responsible for pollination– making food available for other organisms, allowing for floral growth, and providing habitats for insects and birds. For the past ten years, beekeepers have reported annual hive losses of more than 30 percent. Bee populations have been dwindling for a few reasons.

  • Widespread use of pesticides and GMOs is a primary cause
  • Climate change and habitat fragmentation
  • Forced into monoculture
  • Viruses and pests

As these pollinators disappear, the health and viability of crops are increasingly imperiled.

With one in four wild bee species in the U.S. at risk of extinction, it’s vital that we we protect the remaining populations. 

Lucky for us, there are a few different places to start. Here are the ways you can help:

Plant native species that are especially preferable to bees. “Bee gardens” are small or large garden areas designed specifically to be prime pollination spots for bees. Some components of a proper bee garden include the exclusion of hybridized plants that produce low amounts of pollen, the planting of a wide variety of flowers to ensure year-wide pollination, and the creation of a “bee bath.” You can plant a bee garden in any size, including your windowsill. 

Some common bee-pollinated species that we frequently work with at our habitat restoration sites around the Bay include:

  • Marsh gumplant
  • California poppy
  • California buckwheat
  • California aster
  • California rose

Monitor your pesticide use closely and follow all label instructions before use. Pesticides and herbicides can be dangerous for bees due to the harmful chemicals they contain.

Spread the word! Inform people about how important bees are to our survival, and take action to stop the effects of climate change. Protecting our precious environment will protect the species that call it home.

This Tuesday, after a dramatic multi-week negotiation, Oakland City Council passed the “Oakland Together Budget”. Supporters of Save The Bay, along with many others, called Council Members, emailed the Council and City staff, and attended meetings to ask the City for funding to address Oakland’s greatest needs. The resulting budget will steer the course of Oakland’s work for the next two years, determining how far the City goes to address pollution, local flooding, sea level rise, and many other critical issues.

Wins for the Bay
A few highlights in the new budget will benefit the community by helping to keep pollution off of city streets, and out of creeks, Lake Merritt, and the Bay:

  1. Continued funding for Oakland’s illegal dumping crews and the addition of one more team: Oakland’s illegal dumping crew program has been incredibly successful, with crews responding to tens of thousands of requests every year. These crews remove large and small trash items like abandoned furniture and mattresses from Oakland’s sidewalks and streets. This helps to keep the sidewalks safe for children to walk to school, reduces community blight, and keeps trash and contaminants from flooding and leaching into creeks, streams, and the Bay during rainstorms. The addition of one more team will help keep our communities clean, and help properly dispose of illegally dumped waste before it enters our waterways.
  2. $1,000,000 for Downtown Streets Team and other community clean up work: Downtown Streets Team hires unsheltered residents to remove litter from illegal dumping hot spots around the City, while providing employment training and building community among those struggling with displacement. Programs like this help to address pollution in our waterways while providing support for another critical issue facing Oakland residents: displacement and homelessness. After proving to be so successful over the past budget cycle, we are disappointed that these programs won’t see funding until year two in this budget, and we hope other resources can be achieved to continue this work in the interim.

Room for Improvement
While there are a number of exciting achievements, the approved budget does not go far enough to protect our communities and waterways from trash, runoff, and other harmful pollution. There are two key items which need additional funding:

  1. More funding is needed for trash capture devices: We are glad to see the inclusion of some funds in the budget to install trash capture devices, which collect trash in the storm drain system and keep it from flowing to the Bay. However, the $250,000 included in the budget will only pay for a fraction of the devices the city needs. The City must spend more than eight times this amount to achieve the pollution controls required by the Clean Water Act, and ongoing maintenance for these devices. More funding for these devices is critical to keep trash out of our creeks, Lake Merritt, and the Bay.
  2. An update of the Storm Drainage Master Plan – which remains unfunded – is still a critical step in addressing Oakland’s storm drain needs: Oakland must spend $2 million on an evaluation of the City’s 400 miles of storm drains and pipes that carry polluted water to the Bay. The City’s storm drain system is in a concerning state of disrepair, but no one knows just how bad it is because the last assessment was 13 years ago. Re-evaluating this critical infrastructure was ranked priority # 2 among all of the City’s proposed capital projects, so it is frustrating that the Council chose not to fund this project. Oakland must update their Storm Drainage Master Plan to ensure Oakland’s infrastructure is resilient in the face of climate change, sea level rise, and flooding from large storms.

In addition to these funding needs, we are disappointed to see that a remaining balance of over $400,000 in Oakland’s revenue from their Excess Litter Fee Fund remains unspent in the budget. These funds are collected specifically to prevent trash and litter from entering the City’s storm drain system and polluting our waterways, and they should be allocated as soon as possible to address this pressing need.

What’s Next?
While the budget is set, there are many avenues for Oakland to achieve its work to stop pollution from entering local waterways. Save The Bay will keep pushing the City to find opportunities to increase the number of trash capture devices installed, and to update its Storm Drainage Master Plan.

Save The Bay will also continue to encourage the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to collaborate with Oakland City Council to address trash and runoff on highways that spills over into Oakland communities and waterways. Caltrans, like Oakland, is required to clean up trash from roadways before it enters the storm drain system and eventually the Bay. Caltrans is under a strict enforcement order to carry out this work in the next year (read more here!), and partnering with Oakland will help both Caltrans and Oakland achieve their pollution prevention goals more effectively, more quickly, and at a lower cost than working on this issue alone.