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.


Through the Gates

Bay Area residents have united in recent decades to protect the natural places we love and embrace the human diversity that makes our region vibrant. Save The Bay’s achievements prove the power of many different voices joining in common cause. Now acts of hatred and rallies for intolerance show that unity is needed more than ever.

Not long ago, we drove wildlife to extinction by damming rivers, cutting down forests, tearing down hillsides for minerals, and almost filling in San Francisco Bay.

Yet we united to save majestic redwoods, scenic shorelines, eagles, elephant seals, and sea otters. Just last year more than 70 percent of Bay Area voters chose to tax ourselves to restore more of San Francisco Bay. Natural open space has made us healthier and richer, and our healthier Bay is central to our quality of life and economy.

Not long ago, we exterminated native tribes, locked neighbors in internment camps, redlined neighborhoods, and outlawed interracial marriages. Yet we grew to embrace people from many cultures and beliefs to build a region of innovation, creativity, and collaboration that others seek to emulate. Less than a decade after San Francisco declared couples of any gender may marry, it’s now legal throughout the U.S. Our tolerance makes us stronger, and there is beauty in our variety.

We still face big hurdles to create an equitable and just society in the Bay Area. We can tackle climate change, pollution, growing inequality and continuing discrimination if we continue to stand united, embracing our diversity. Hate and violence won’t take us to that better place.

Let the Bay Area and all of California be a model to the rest of the nation. Let’s show that together we can overcome the tough challenges before us by putting care, kindness, and love first. When we do that, we can build a healthier Bay and Bay Area for all the people and wildlife that call this place home.


David Lewis, Executive Director, Save The BaySave The Bay Executive Director David Lewis has been announced as the recipient of the 2017 Bay Nature Local Hero Award for Conservation Action.

He will be honored by the conservation nonprofit Bay Nature Institute alongside a “dynamic duo” in the field of citizen science, and an inspiring organizer of tree-planting initiatives in East Palo Alto. These awards are presented annually to recognize dedicated extraordinary contributions to the protection, stewardship, and understanding of the environment of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The award recipients will be honored at Bay Nature’s Local Hero Awards Dinner on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco.

From Bay Nature:

David Lewis has been an effective advocate, tireless organizer, and articulate spokesperson for San Francisco Bay for more than 18 years. As executive director of Save The Bay, David has brought together diverse stakeholders, from public officials to grassroots activists, to forge regional solutions to the Bay’s most pressing challenges. He has helped build Save The Bay into a regional political force, culminating with his leadership of the successful campaign for Measure AA, the first ever voter-approved region-wide funding measure in the Bay Area. Passed in June 2016, Measure AA secures $500 million for the restoration of San Francisco Bay wetlands and shoreline over the next 20 years. David’s keen political instincts and strategic vision were critical in achieving this milestone victory for the Bay. Under David’s leadership, Save the Bay has also engaged thousands of Bay Area residents in volunteer habitat restoration projects around the Bay shoreline. David says, “It’s such a privilege to work for a healthy Bay with a large and growing community of people who care for this remarkable natural treasure and produce results that we can see and touch.”

Bay Nature’s other awardees for 2017 are Environmental Education Award winners Rebecca Johnson & Alison Young, co-coordinators of the Citizen Science Project at California Academy of Sciences and Youth Engagement Award winner Uriel Hernandez, a community forestry coordinator from the nonprofit Canopy.