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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.

Allison Chan from Save The Bay finds a massive pile of illegally dumped trash near the Coliseum Way on-ramp to Interstate 880 in Oakland. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

On February 13, after a seven-hour hearing, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board voted unanimously for an unprecedented Cease and Desist Order against Caltrans. Now the state’s transportation agency must speed up trash removal from freeways and state roads and stop it from polluting creeks and the Bay, or face $25,000-a-day fines.

This extraordinary victory capped off a two year plus advocacy campaign Save The Bay waged, backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 75 Bay Area elected officials, partner organizations, and thousands of supporters and action-takers.

Follow along the timeline to victory below.

Save The Bay Campaign Timeline

December 2016: At our urging, and backed by thousands of public petition-signers, the Regional Board issued a Notice of Violation to Caltrans for failing to do its job.

March 2018: Repeated failures to respond to the Notice of Violation led the Regional Board to direct their staff to develop a draft Cease and Desist Order on Caltrans.

April 2018: A hearing was held with Caltrans and the State Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation to address the Notice of Violation. Caltrans failed to present a credible plan to address the issue and clean up the trash.

December 2018: The Regional Board issued a draft Cease and Desist Order to compel Caltrans to comply with trash requirements on a specific multi-year schedule and received public comment through mid-January. Save The Bay drove thousands of public comments to the Board.

February 2019: VICTORY!  

In a seven hour hearing,  Elected officials, Save The Bay staff, and partner organizations spoke in favor of a strong enforcement order to push Caltrans to clean up their trash faster.

Caltrans argued that it cannot afford to increase trash control and screening efforts. Caltrans annual budget is more than $13 billion this year. Thanks to strong leadership from Board Chair Terry Young and Vice-Chair Jim McGrath, Board members rejected this argument.

Caltrans then made last minute appeals to reduce the acreage covered in the Order and give them more time.  Again, Board members stood firm, specifically highlighting Caltrans’ utter failure to make progress in the last five years.

The Board voted 6-0 to adopt a very strong Cease and Desist Order that requires Caltrans to accelerate trash pollution control efforts on freeways, state highways and roads like El Camino Real and San Pablo Avenue. The Board doubled the required area and pace of cleanup Caltrans must complete, beyond what its own staff had recommended in the draft Order.

While this Bay victory is exciting, the work is far from over. We intend to advance this effort with the Legislature and Governor Newsom: integral players in keeping Caltrans funded and accountable to the Order.  

Key Media Links

Caltrans ordered to clean up the roadways or face up to $25,000-a-day fines | San Francisco Chronicle

Caltrans Must Clean Up Trash Along Roads Or Face Steep Fines | KCBS

All that trash on Bay Area highways? Caltrans under threat of fines if it’s not cleaned up | San Francisco Chronicle

Opinion: State must stop Caltrans pollution of San Francisco Bay | Mercury News

Winter Storms Pollute San Francisco Bay Waters With Trash | CBS Local

Caltrans, stop trashing San Francisco Bay | San Francisco Chronicle


San Francisco Bay is a bountiful haven for wildlife. Walking along the bayshore can reveal coverts of coots paddling along lagoons and shallow bays, perhaps joined by a raft or paddling of different duck species. Walk along any of San Francisco Bay’s many marshes, and you could find herds of curlews and flings of dunlin probing through mudflats at low tide in search of a consortium of crabs. You may stumble upon a sedge of bitterns or herons slinking through the rushes, tules (and yes, sedges) of the Bay’s wetlands in search of a hood of snails to eat. You may even pass a charm of finches or a host of sparrows on your walk along the trail. Perhaps a scurry of squirrels will scurry across your path on your wildlife safari? If you’re really lucky, you may even see a congregation of plovers, like the threatened Snowy Plover, amongst the salt flats.

Further out into the Bay, pods of seals, dolphins and whales feast on the schools and shoals of fish lurking under the bays waters. Along the shoreline there may even be a romp of otters chowing down on beds of oysters or herds of sea urchins.

A glance upwards to the sky reveals ever more wildlife. A trip over the San Mateo or Dunbarton Bridge provides a perfect viewing spot for a pod of pelicans, and you can often find flights of cormorants perched on electrical towers.

As the temperature rises in the afternoon you may find a kettle or cast of hawks catching the warm updrafts in search of prey. Or perhaps you’ll stumble upon a wake or committee of vultures feeding on carrion? You’ve likely seen skeins of Canada Geese flying overhead on their migration north; if not a gaggle of them can often be found roaming our parks and soccer fields.

Even the urban bay reveals plentiful wildlife. Our cities are havens for squabbles of seagulls, mischiefs of rats, or kits of pigeons. It’s not uncommon to find an unkindness of ravens or a murder of crows either. Perhaps you’ve even seen a glittering of hummingbirds visiting your bird feeder?


We are thrilled to announce that we have a new website that showcases our work to protect and restore San Francisco Bay for people and wildlife.

What’s changed? A lot. We have re-built from the ground up with bold colors, new content, a mobile-friendly platform, and fun illustrations like this little fella here (we call him Melvin).

You can explore the new site in a fun and interactive way by joining us for a week-long Scavenger Hunt Contest starting February 4 through February 8. We will have daily clues and winners so stay tuned.

Here’s how it works:

  • Each day we will share a question or clue on our blog and via Facebook.
  • Send us the correct answer via email or by posting the answer as a comment on Facebook.
  • The first two people to answer correctly will win a Save The Bay t-shirt (see rules/regulations*).

Visit our new site. Get Inspired. Be a part of our Bay-Saving Community!

Let the Scavenger Hunt Begin!


We couldn’t have accomplished this project without The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A huge thanks to our incredible Web Development team at Citizen Best. We are forever grateful for their creative vision, support and perseverance.

*Please read official rules and regulations.


By Dominic Williams

Illegal dumping and excessive litter is a problem that affects everybody. On the surface, the issue of may appear to be too large to tackle. However, as local community groups, nonprofits, and engaged residents have proven, progress can be made when support comes from the ground up. To tackle the issue, many localities have had to get creative.

San Jose Recruits the Homeless: This program pays the homeless $15 per hour to clean up the streets and is a partnership between the city, Goodwill, and the Downtown Streets Team.

East Palo Alto Launches Shame Campaigns: The city posts public pictures of illegal dumpers, institutes a $1,000 fine for illegally dumping and provides a $500 reward for information about illegal dumpers. The city has received criticism that this campaign amounts to “public flogging” of illegal dumpers, but this imperfect solution is having positive impacts, especially for residents that live near illegal dumping hot spots. One hotspot for dumping, the area in front of the Ecumenical Hunger Program, has been clear for weeks since the signs were erected.

Oakland hosts Bulky Block Parties: People can drop off bulky junk that would likely end up on the streets. The initial Block Parties were incredibly successful, collecting more than 157 tons of waste, and are now a permanent fixture on the last Saturday of every month. The city also committed to hiring three “litter enforcement officers” that will identify where the trash is coming from and who is dumping it, but those positions have yet to be filled. Oakland Community Organizations—a coalition of local churches, residents, and unions that advocated alongside Save The Bay for more city resources dedicated to illegal dumping—continues to push for these officers to be hired.

Adopt-a-Drain: Oakland and San Francisco program that allows volunteers to aid in the maintenance and cleaning of a storm drain in their area. A similar initiative called Adopt-a-Hotspot is being launched across Alameda County.

Oakland Bulky Pickup Services: Residents can place their junk on the curb and have it picked up by city employees. Single families, multi-family residences, and property managers can request this service by calling 510.613.8710 or by following the directions on the website. Renters are entitled to one free bulky pickup per living unit per year and provision of access to these services by property managers is required by law.

Cities and counties must be held accountable for their role, but it’s on all of us to consciously decide to be a part of the solution, not the problem. Aside from ensuring that all of our trash is properly disposed of and everything that can be recycled is recycled, you can help by volunteering through any one of many organizations that are tackling our trash issues.

What impact will you have on our Bay in 2019? This list of organizations is a great place to start.

CA Coastal Cleanup Day

Oakland Adopt-a-Drain

Oakland Creek to Bay Day

Save The Bay

San Francisco Adopt-a-Drain

Surfrider Cleanups

Read more about illegal dumping and the build up of trash on our streets.


By Dominic Williams

“The Bay Area has a massive and awful problem… it’s illegal dumping, and it’s trashing all of us.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf delivered this message last May, and it’s clear that the problem is not just confined to cities such as Oakland and San Francisco. All across this beautiful Bay Area, we see the effects of trash build-up and illegal dumping on our streets.

So where does this trash come from? People may hastily assume that the trash we see on our commutes to work in the morning originate in homeless encampments, especially those near bodies of water. This is not true. Homeless encampments account for just a small portion of the trash issue. Studies show that:

Only 3% of street trash is due to homeless encampments.
• Up to 10% of trash comes from professional haulers and dumpers who dump illegally.
• Higher illegal dumping takes place in low-income areas and areas with more renters, non-English speakers, and more densely packed households.

“It’s not just a health issue and a blight issue, it’s an equity issue,” says Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The cost of living continues to rise in the Bay Area and many residents cut spending in areas they deem non-vital – such as the $50 or more to take a load of garbage to the dump. Garbage haulers usually provide one or two free bulky item pickups per year; however, a lack of awareness about this service leads to underutilization and as a result, counties have to pick up the cost. For example, Contra Costa was forced to spend $1.2 million in 2017 to pick up illegally dumped trash.

Steps are being taken at a regional level to address trash in our neighborhoods and waterways. In 2015, the Municipal Regional Storm Water Permit specified trash reduction targets for 73 municipalities in the area, stretching from Fairfield in the north down through San Jose in the south. According to the permit, these municipalities must:

• By July 1, 2019 — Reduce the level of trash in their storm drains by 80%
• By July 1, 2022 — Prevent all trash from flowing into city storm drains by 100%

Most of the areas included under this permit are already seeing significant improvements in trash levels, but too many are not, due to a lack of resources or impetus.

Part of the issue that causes significant concern among local residents is the composition of the trash. Mattresses, old furniture, home waste, and backyard junk are common. The real threats are hazardous wastes, old paints, and toxic materials that are discarded on the streets.

Bay Area residents are frustrated with the lack of action by the local government and have taken the issue into their own hands. Community groups, such as the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, Love Your Block, and more have joined forces with nonprofits and agencies like Save the Bay, San Francisco Estuary Partnership and the California Coastal Commission to remove litter from storm drains and advocate for policies to prevent it from getting there in the first place.

Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) partners with local churches, unions, and residents, as well as environmental advocacy groups to pressure local government into implementing a comprehensive trash management plan. In 2017, Save the Bay and OCO successfully pushed the City of Oakland to dedicate more staff and budgetary resources to illegal dumping response in East Oakland and across the city. Recent reports indicate that these efforts are having an impact; there is less trash on the street overall and illegally dumped materials are removed more quickly. But the problem is far from solved, according to OCO organizer Emma Paulino.

Trash is a global crisis, but its origin starts locally in our communities. Read more and learn how local community organizations are battling illegal dumping in their neighborhoods.