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.
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.
We have just learned that the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to give away its power to protect clean water and wetlands in San Francisco Bay and make it easier for Cargill Salt Co. to pave Redwood City salt ponds for luxury homes.
President Trump’s Acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is preparing to declare that Redwood City salt ponds are not “Waters of the U.S.” protected by the Clean Water Act or Rivers and Harbors Act. This action surrenders federal government jurisdiction to regulate or permit development on that site, overturns decades of legal precedent and overrules previous protections supported by Bay Area EPA officials.
In 2012, Redwood City refused to consider Cargill’s massive housing development project on the salt ponds site. The company and its developer partner, DMB Pacific Ventures then pressed federal agencies to waive their legal authority to regulate filling or developing the salt ponds. (see timeline below). Six years later, U.S. EPA Region 9 officials in San Francisco refused to grant the Cargill/DMB request, after conducting extensive research on the Redwood City ponds and reviewing legal precedents.
But Andrew Wheeler has taken control of the company’s request and could complete the federal giveaway to Cargill and DMB with the stroke of a pen this week.
Cargill should withdraw its request now, before the EPA waives federal jurisdiction over the site.
A Trump EPA finding of “no jurisdiction” will threaten San Francisco Bay water quality and wetlands and weaken the Clean Water Act.
A Trump EPA finding of “no jurisdiction” rewards a private developer’s political intervention to override environmental protection and public interest, setting a terrible precedent that others will repeat.
Colluding with the Trump Administration’s anti-environment agenda and attacking protections for San Francisco Bay will hurt Cargill and DMB’s Bay Area business – not help:
Cargill and DMB are alienating Redwood City and Bay Area residents, and elected officials, who would need to approve any development on the ponds.
Cargill and DMB are embracing and abetting the Trump Administration’s agenda to weaken the Clean Water Act and gut pollution regulations; that agenda is especially unpopular in the Bay Area and California.
If the EPA does waive federal authority to regulate these Bay salt ponds as Waters of the U.S., Cargill and DMB will still face many barriers to developing in the Bay:
California state laws protect water, wetlands, and the wildlife that currently use those ponds as critical habitat.
Redwood City zoning and land use designations prohibit development on those ponds.
Any development on the ponds would require significant changes in state and local laws and policies.
Hundreds of local, regional, state and federal leaders are on record over the last decade opposing development on Bay salt ponds, and California’s Governor and Legislature are on record opposing Trump Administration efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein told a Senate hearing on this topic in 2015, “I’m very concerned about this. What makes our whole area is the bay, and we do not want it filled in.”
At the same time, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier and 10 Members of Congress said, “Any novel, unilateral re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act must not be created in secret, without opportunity for public input, formal consultation with the EPA or Congressional approval.”
Bay Area residents and all of our region’s federal, state and local leaders must demand that Cargill withdraw its request, and that the EPA continue to uphold the Clean Water Act’s legal protections for San Francisco Bay, including Redwood City salt ponds.
Cargill and its developer partner DMB Associates have been pressing federal agencies for this finding of “no jurisdiction” since 2012.
May 7, 2012 – Cargill/DMB withdraws Saltworks project from the Redwood City after city council committee recommends denying further consideration of the development application that had been pending for 3 years and was still incomplete. Cargill announces it will submit a revised project soon.
May 30, 2012 – Cargill/DMB asks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA for a final jurisdictional determination (JD) for the Redwood City salt ponds site, and asserts that the property should not be subject to either the Clean Water Act or Rivers and Harbors Act. The company’s novel legal theory asserts that water in the ponds is not wet.
February 2015 — 11 Bay Area Members of Congress, led by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers opposing relinquishing federal jurisdiction over the Redwood City salt ponds. Their letter noted that the ponds had previously been determined to be Waters of the United States, and warned that “any novel, unilateral re-interpretation of the Clean Water Act must not be created in secret, without opportunity for public input, formal consultation with the EPA or Congressional approval.”
March 18, 2015 – U.S. EPA Region 9 takes over the review of the Clean Water Act JD from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a “Special Case.” Region 9 proceeds to conduct legal, scientific, and site-specific research on the Redwood City ponds and prepare a JD.
September 13, 2016 – DMB requests a six-month pause by Region 9 in preparing the JD.
January 2017 – EPA Region 9 sends completed work and recommendation to adopt a final JD to EPA HQ Office of Legal Counsel, but JD is not processed before Trump Administration starts on January 20, 2017.
February 22, 2017 – DMB Pacific Ventures requests an additional six-month pause in its request for a JD.
March 30, 2018 — Before resigning in disgrace from the Trump cabinet, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt takes away authority for Clean Water Act Special Case JDs from EPA regional offices and assigns it instead to the EPA Administrator himself.
December 19, 2018 — Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is preparing this week to waive federal regulations over Cargill’s Redwood City ponds, adopting the company’s unprecedented legal theory extinguishing Clean Water Act jurisdiction over its Redwood City ponds.
Learn more about Save The Bay’s historic battle with Cargill:
In March of this year, the SF Bay Water Quality Control Board asked their staff to bring back an enforcement order against Caltrans for the agency’s multi-year failure to clean trash from Bay Area highways before it pollutes local creeks and the Bay. Despite this clear and urgent direction, an enforcement order has yet to be presented. That’s why close to 80 local elected officials sent a letter to the Board last week urging them to take action immediately and demand cleaner highways for our region and the Bay.
Bay Area voters showed again this week that we understand climate change is upon us, and we will invest to keep our communities and San Francisco Bay safe and healthy. In fact, we are ahead of voters in other parts of California – and that meant some mixed results on priority ballot measures endorsed by Save The Bay Action Fund.
Your votes made a big impact in this election, producing victories on most ballot measures in our Bay Smart Voter Guide, which benefit San Francisco Bay’s people and wildlife in a time of rapid climate change. Together, we passed measures to protect against sea level rise, reduce pollution, improve transit, and enhance open space. This is huge progress, as you can see in the detailed results below.
Unfortunately, Proposition 3, the state water bond, did not secure enough votes for passage statewide despite winning majorities in most of the Bay Area. In a noisy campaign year with a crowded ballot, we and our Prop. 3 partners needed to communicate the facts to more voters around the state.
Too many state voters did not know that Prop. 3 would help the 1 million Californians who lack safe drinking water, restore thousands of acres of wetlands for wildlife, and advance water recycling. Too many forgot about recent severe droughts and floods Prop. 3 would prepare us to survive.
Nevertheless, we know these threats will keep increasing and sea levels will keep rising. Save The Bay is more committed than ever to educating voters and elected officials that we need to invest in San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area, and beyond. With your support, we will
Advocate even harder for Bay Smart Communities, adapting cities and the Bay to survive climate change, pollute less, and prepare more. We will unite partners to win clean water, better transit, affordable housing, and healthier communities for all.
Accelerate marsh restoration on the Bay shoreline, to boost wildlife and protect against flooding.
Keep educating the next generation and all residents to support the Bay as volunteers, voters, and donors.
Thank you for voting for the Bay! Don’t wait until the next election to stay involved:
Those who commute in San Mateo County know how bad the traffic is. If you’ve driven through the 101-92 interchange recently, you know something needs to be done to relieve congestion and improve commute time. To achieve this, we must not only fund highway projects, but also enhance public transit options, support alternative modes of transportation, and connect high-quality transit to affordable housing.
Measure W will do just that by raising $2.4 billion over 30 years for projects that will take thousands of cars off of highways every day, fix potholes and maintain streets throughout the County, and make it safer to travel to schools and employment centers by bike and on foot.
Improvements and upgrades to Bay Area roads and public transit are decades overdue. Not only does this outdated, inefficient, and crumbling infrastructure impact our daily lives—especially for those traveling from the outskirts of our region—it threatens the health of the Bay.
We need to invest in our transportation infrastructure to protect the Bay and improve quality of life in our region. But Proposition 6 will do the opposite by eliminating more than $700 million in statewide investments in public transit, road and bridge repairs, and initiatives to increase bicycle and pedestrian mobility.
As San Jose grows and becomes more expensive, too many hardworking families are being forced out of the city they love. San Jose needs housing to reduce the hours and hours of time workers spend commuting. Affordable housing can reduce commute times and help decrease emissions that lead to pollution and contribute to climate change.
Measure V authorizes $450 million of general obligation bonds to acquire, construct and complete affordable housing in San Jose. Alleviating the critical shortage of affordable housing is essential to creating Bay Smart Communities that improve Bay Area sustainability. Measure V will produce and preserve housing with access to transit so more low-income and middle-income residents aren’t displaced, and can live close to work without long drives that emit pollution and greenhouse gasses that worsen climate change.
Decades of neglect and lack of investment in San Jose’s urban infrastructure have left neighborhoods highly vulnerable to natural disasters and drought, leaving disadvantaged communities shouldering too much of that vulnerability. The February 2017 Coyote Creek flood forced 14,000 people to evacuate and caused $100 million in property damage. San Jose also struggles to comply with regulations to reduce trash and other pollutants from the city’s stormwater that flows into San Francisco Bay.
Measure T authorizes $650 million of general obligation bonds to protect vital infrastructure and people from earthquakes, floods and other disasters, and preserves natural open space. Bond funds will repair deteriorating streets, bridges and stormwater systems, and upgrade emergency preparedness.
The East Bay Regional Park District provides Bay Area residents with access to public parks and trails along the San Francisco Bay Shoreline, an oasis destination that goes beyond the bustling urban development.
Measure FF funds protection and enhancement of urban parks by extending the current annual parcel tax on property owners in parts of western Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. It extends the tax of $12/year per single-family parcel and $8.28/year for multi-family units, raising approximately $3.3 million annually for the parks.
Proposition A authorizes $425 million in general obligation bonds to repair the 100-year old seawall along San Francisco’s waterfront, whose failure in a major earthquake could flood $100 billion in property and crucial infrastructure.
The Embarcadero already experiences flooding several times each year during King Tides. Floods will occur more often from severe storms, and up to five feet of additional sea level rise is expected this century. Even without a major earthquake, this flooding threatens vital roads along the waterfront, in the financial district, and nearby residential neighborhoods.
Flooding also could inundate BART and Muni tunnels, utility and water systems and historic buildings, such as the Ferry Building and along Fisherman’s Wharf. The Bay is too deep along the San Francisco waterfront to construct marshes for shoreline protection – this is one area where strengthening and raising the seawall is essential.