Eric Hoover found a tire and places it into the pile collected at India Basin Shoreline Park in San Francisco. Photo by Paul Kuroda

The San Francisco Chronicle originally published this article on February 15, 2018

Litter on California’s freeways and state roads is a disgrace, and it’s also one of the biggest reasons San Francisco Bay is choked with trash.

Every time it rains, trash from freeways and busy state roads, like El Camino Real and San Pablo Avenue, pours through storm drains into creeks and, ultimately, San Francisco Bay. Bottles, wrappers, Styrofoam, straws and cigarettes poison fish and wildlife, smother wetland habitat and deface the shoreline.

It’s time for our state transportation agency, Caltrans, to obey the law and stop polluting our waters. For years, Caltrans has violated the federal Clean Water Act and state storm water permits that prohibit uncontrolled trash flows from its roads.

Who bears the burden of that violation? It’s Bay Area cities, which are already striving to meet their own legal obligation to allow zero trash flow to the bay by 2022.

That’s because trash that drains off state roads becomes the local city’s responsibility.

So Caltrans ignoring road trash means cities from Oakland to Santa Clara face higher cleanup bills, or even fines for polluting the bay. That’s not fair. And when a state agency ignores the law, it becomes tougher to hold private individuals and companies accountable for polluting the bay.

Fortunately, the solutions are clear. Caltrans must remove roadside litter more often, and put trash-capture devices in storm drains on highways and right-of-ways. A few of these devices have been installed in problem locations, but only where cities pressed Caltrans hard for action.

In Richmond, Caltrans paid to install two trash separators in storm drains near I-580 that will screen water draining off 831 acres of urban streets. In San Jose, Caltrans agreed to fund a partnership with the city’s Conservation Corps to increase freeway cleanups.

Trash lines the shores of Damon Slough near the McAfee Coliseum and Highway 880, one of the worst trash hotspots in the Bay Area. Photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

Those efforts stop only a fraction of the trash headed from state roads to the bay. In most of the identified trash hot spots, Caltrans is doing nothing — even where trash separators could be incorporated into needed road maintenance. The agency is years behind in dedicating money and setting a specific timeline to cut trash pollution, claiming funding constraints even though its budget this year is $11.3 billion.

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board called Caltrans’ behavior “deficient” more than three years ago, and issued a formal notice of violation over a year ago. But the board has not used its power to mandate actions and penalties for these violations. The victims are seals, pelicans and other wildlife choked and poisoned by trash in the bay.

It’s unacceptable for our state agencies to keep violating the Clean Water Act, especially as Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature proclaim our state will uphold federal environmental laws that the Trump administration is trying to erode.

The regional water board should immediately take enforcement action against Caltrans and require the agency to obey the law by cleaning up road litter and installing full trash-capture devices in the worst areas.

Continued violations deserve penalties and fines, just like a private polluter would face.

Until that reckoning, the state is shirking its duty to protect San Francisco Bay, our fish and wildlife, and public health.

So clean up your roads, Caltrans. Stop making San Francisco Bay wildlife and Bay Area cities pay for your pollution.

David Lewis is the executive director of Save The Bay.


Josh Lankford knows numbers. A mechanical engineering student at the University of Rochester, this Oakland native estimates he travels by bike about 90% of the time when he visits the Bay Area. But digits can’t describe what he senses each ride.

“On a bike, I don’t block out the world listening to music. So, I really feel like part of the ecosystem, going through neighborhoods — seeing how people interact, taking in smells, breathing in air, I experience all of that, everything around me.”

Josh grew up in East Oakland, and as a kid, he “never really had the opportunity to see the ‘grandeur’ of California.” He didn’t go “snowboarding in Tahoe” or “hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Yet, he never felt deprived of nature. “I was around green spaces every day living in Oakland. So, though I didn’t see the grandest places, I was still exposed to the idea of what it’s like to be in a foreign land. Being in [Redwood Regional Park] is like living in another world.”

Indeed, Josh developed his fondness for the outdoors at a young age, flying kites along the MLK Shoreline. It’s why he now bristles at the assumption that cities inherently spell problems for the environment. “[Many think] of the city as the heart of the battle for conservation. But people who grew up in suburbs, sometimes all they know is development and they never question it. Whereas in cities, it’s about efficiency, it’s about using spaces wisely.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that public transit is near and dear to Josh’s heart. “Having AC Transit, BART, allowed me to access parts of the city with more opportunities.” Buses and trains enabled him to intern at Kaiser; they brought him right to UC Berkeley for the university’s Upward Bound program.

One of his most formative experiences growing up? Volunteering with Save The Bay during high school. “I did my senior project on mental health, about green spaces in the city and volunteering. I thought Save The Bay would be a good [aspect to include] – connecting environmental preservation and mental health.”

Having pulled weeds and installed plants with us a few more times since then, Josh now feels strongly about the power of our programs. “I think Save The Bay can play an important role in people’s lives – not just by making a difference physically [in the wetlands]. It causes us to question the impact of our lives on land.”

Still an undergrad, Josh has already decided: “Save The Bay is one of my favorite organizations. Once I get a job, I’m going to donate every year.” For now, he’s hoping to secure a summer internship with BART to help people get where they need to go.

There’s also something simmering on the back burner for Josh: “My hope is that we transform our perception of wilderness. We need to stop designating things as ‘wilderness.’ We need to incorporate greenery into our neighborhoods.”

This weighty goal keeps him recalling his childhood and high school years exploring the outdoors right from Oakland. “I think the most powerful thing of all for me was hiking in my own backyard in the Redwood Regional Park – it made me see nature on a regular basis. Now, it’s something I want to see everywhere because I saw it in my own backyard.”


Fog over San Francisco Bay, photo by Kathryn Barnhart

Foggy days never dampen the mood for Wai Leng Baker. “I read, I have a cup of tea and a couple cookies, and… it’s great!” Occasionally, Wai Leng introduces a bit of sound into her peaceful pastime: “Sometimes, I play music too in the background – Mozart or Vivaldi – nothing too terribly intrusive.”

Our recent Alaska Airlines ticket winner has lived in the Bay Area for more than 40 years, and even in its coldest weather, she finds contentment. “Even if I don’t want to go out, I look at the trees and I feel it’s beautiful. It’s uplifting, even when it’s foggy and rainy.”

A long-time donor to Save The Bay, Wai Leng admits she and her husband aren’t too active outdoors anymore. But her memories of their sailing trips around San Francisco Bay have inspired a firm commitment to protect this “treasure” for generations. “We used to see seals, then there’d be birds – just a wonderful sense that there’s something really fresh out there. I’m hoping Save The Bay will keep it really clean and nice.”

Wai Leng says she donates to Save The Bay because the gift always “goes to something concrete. It’s spending money on the Bay itself – saving it.” Our emphasis on education is the biggest reason why Wai Leng writes checks. She says it’s critical that we: “spread the word among the little ones, because the children are going to conserve the Bay in the future.”

Indeed, she’s seen firsthand how exposure to the outdoors at a young age can fundamentally shape a person’s appreciation for nature. Her niece was a little girl during the family’s sailing trips years ago, and she was always thrilled to “scatter popcorn around for the seagulls, who would follow in a big group.” As a grownup, this relative “now runs short marathons [around the Bay Area]. She got involved in the outdoors because of that.”

Wai Leng admits she’s still pretty amazed her recent $250+ gift to Save The Bay scored her four tickets to anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. Our prize winner stressed: “I was really surprised! I have never won anything in my life! I was so shocked! I said, ‘are you sure? You’re really from Save The Bay?’”

As she charts out her travel plans, Wai Leng is glad to know her gift will help protect the place she’s called home for decades. “I live here. I want to keep my whole environment as beautiful as possible. I am a strong believer that when I finally do pass through the Earth, I should leave it better or at least as good as how I found it.”


A peek inside Save The Bay’s roving office

When your work is restoring wetlands, a desktop computer and a trusty stack of post-its just won’t do. Our Restoration staffers install plants. They pull weeds. They teach thousands of students about the salt marsh harvest mouse and its favorite snack: pickleweed.

What’s required for every one of these tasks? Tools. And….

“Everything that we need is in the truck.”

Habitat Restoration Manager Donna Ball in the field

Donna Ball, our Habitat Restoration Director, really enjoys talking about her team’s “roving office.”

Plastic bins? “We have one for gloves, one for picks, one for trowels.”

An Igloo cooler? “Our volunteers work really hard. There’s a chance to get dehydrated, so we want to make sure they take time to have a break and drink water.”

The auger that changed the game? “We used to dig all our plant holes by hand, but the [auger] makes it easier for volunteers to install the plants with less work. So, they actually enjoy it more!”

Donna admits she has a soft spot not for the tools themselves, but the experiences they make possible for our volunteers. “I think the interaction is more with a plant – when they gently fill in ground with soil. People really do ask: ‘are my plants going to live?’ Will they be here when I come back and visit?’”

Rachelle Cardona, our Restoration Education Program Manager, believes a “roving office” inspires a spirit of innovation, the kind of resourcefulness that might be stifled in a traditional work space.

Rachelle’s illustration

An Igloo cooler showcases healthy habits: “We always offer water and sunscreen. But we use this moment to talk about self-care and instruct kids to be mindful of their wellness in the outdoors.”

Macleod with a wetlands twist: “It’s a broad-edged rake that fire crews carry. But our teams use Macleods to scrape weed seedlings off the shoreline.”

Yet, it was actually a missing tool that inspired her most rewarding memory of all in the wetlands. (Rachelle took a moment to illustrate her handiwork, and then she shared this story – and post-it – with me!).

“We had already installed hundreds of plants that day, but the hose wasn’t in the trailer when it came time to water them. So, I took folded-up trash bags and made handles out of duct tape – basically created a chute. Then, I asked volunteers to line up with buckets so we could get water to the plants. It was a proud MacGyver moment in my life!’”


I know I am not alone in feeling a deep bond to the diverse landscapes of the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to spend my childhood living in the Bay Area and exploring everywhere from the redwoods and grasslands to the marshes and sand dunes. Those moments have driven me to give back to the land that has given so much to me.

I am overjoyed to be joining Save the Bay as its Nursery Specialist. I was introduced to Save the Bay this past summer, when I participated in the fellowship program as the Nursery and Habitat Restoration Fellow. I felt inspired by the three women who started Save the Bay in 1961, and by the resourceful people I worked with on the habitat restoration team, who give their all every day.

Luckily, working closely with plants wasn’t new to me. I spent years gardening in several urban farms throughout Berkeley and Oakland. For two years, I managed an educational farm that is part of a summer camp in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

When I returned from the mountains I had the opportunity to work with the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy as a habitat restoration technician — work that I realized is quite similar to gardening! It was rewarding to get to know the landscapes I grew up with in an entirely new way, through the lenses of the endangered and endemic species whose habitats were threatened by human development. I felt so aligned with habitat restoration work, as it offered a truly reciprocal relationship with the landscape.

I also assisted at the Presidio Native Plant Nursery, which grows plants for restoration projects throughout the Presidio Trust. I relished the detail-oriented nature of this work and admired the tiny scale at which nursery initiatives operate. Planting small seeds and watching them sprout is my version of magic, and I feel lucky to facilitate this process every day!

Native plant nurseries are essential components of habitat restoration. Since the areas in which we work have been degraded so heavily, the natural balance that allows native plants to grow and flourish in an ecosystem is not yet in place. Nurseries are safe spaces for native plants to become strong before they are planted at a restoration site.

As the nursery specialist I am humbled to be able to grow over 30,000 plants a year for our restoration projects in tidal wetlands throughout the Bay Area. This number will continue to grow, as our projects expand in the coming years. With 90% of natural tidal wetlands in the Bay Area lost, habitat restoration is a critical step towards healing tidal wetlands. They serve an irreplaceable role in climate change mitigation, and in protecting them, we protect numerous species, including the endangered Ridgeway’s Rail and Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse that call the Bay Area home.

I am especially looking forward to our public nursery programs, where I have the privilege of sharing our fun and rewarding work with all of you!


Traveling by water taxi: Mitchell takes a scenic ride to San Francisco!

“There’s an old adage that, around election time, voters behave stupidly. That’s wrong. Voters are treated like they’re stupid. It’s not the same thing.”

Mitchell Oster doesn’t mince words. In fact, as Save The Bay’s new Regional Political Organizer, he finds there’s much to be gained by avoiding them altogether.

“The most important thing you can give of yourself [as an organizer] is the openness to listen to the other person. An exchange of ideas is how you unlock an unexpected opportunity.”

Interestingly, Mitchell made this connection in public schools – not political circles. Save The Bay’s newest Policy staffer spent six years working as a paraprofessional. Mitchell says his experience in a special education setting taught him that “different people come with different gifts. You have to be willing to meet them where they are.”


Jeff Sandler: local teacher and Alaska Airlines tickets prize-winner!

“Is this legit? Really? Is this all… kosher?”

Like any gifted scientist, Jeff Sandler views great results with even greater skepticism.

He’d won our Alaska Airlines prize after making his first-ever $250 donation to Save The Bay? A local teacher who regularly brings students to our SEED programs?

Jeff worried it was all a fix – too good a story to be true. Two round-trip airline tickets to anywhere they fly with no restrictions – a dream prize!

Students gathering mulch to protect new transplants

My team stressed: he’d won it fair and square.

A computer pulled Jeff’s name at random, but we at Save The Bay must admit: we’re happy for him.

Jeff, after all, has taken students from The Berkeley School to our restoration sites for the last five years.

Through generous gifts, Save The Bay makes outdoor education a reality for thousands of young people every year.

Jeff loves the sense of purpose Save The Bay programs provides his classes as they connect with local wetlands. “There’s always a goal for each day – mulch this section, remove this invasive plant.” Jeff says the hands-on activities truly stick. “I’m always thrilled at how much they remember trip to trip – details about estuaries and watersheds.”

Save The Bay programs help connect students to local wetlands

Trash is just one topic his students mull over long after they’ve helped clean up the shoreline. “When they see that a lot of that is food wrappers from sewers – it stays with them. Plus, I can take that and go off on a tangent about harmful plastic!”

By donating today, you can help Save The Bay address San Francisco Bay’s most pressing environmental issues in memorable ways for students.

Jeff, meanwhile, is planning a trip somewhere tropical. “My wife just got her scuba diving certification, so I want to take her somewhere warm for her first dive!”

We’re wishing Jeff, his wife, and our caring community a safe and happy New Year.

P.S. Save The Bay and Alaska Airlines have teamed up to make your vacation dreams a reality this holiday season. When you donate at least $250*, you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to win four round-trip airline tickets to anywhere they fly! Your generous support will help us meet our $100,000 goal and protect the Bay we love. Thank you.

(*Terms and conditions apply, see details.)

 


From the ancient Egyptians to the Ohlone living here in the Bay Area, many cultures experience winter as a powerful time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. The season officially begins Thursday, December 21st – with a solstice! The term translates to “sun stands still,” as the sun appears to pause in its incremental journey across the sky.
All smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Our dedicated volunteer group was all smiles for Solstice on the Shoreline!
Save The Bay decided to mark this changing of the seasons by planting seedlings with some of our most dedicated volunteers and donors. Through their labor and their generosity, this diverse community had already given richly to support our programs. But on last Saturday’s Solstice on the Shoreline event, they dug right into soil to help out even more. Former board members joined avid gardeners and corporate partners to put on gloves, pick up trowels, and protect our Bay.

 

Along the way, Donna Ball and Kenneth Rangel of our Restoration team explained how our staff cleans seeds and sanitizes soil using somewhat simple tools. They made clear these tasks can be both intricate and time-consuming without advanced technology. However, as we build the support necessary to cover this equipment, Save The Bay staffers remain plenty resourceful in their push to create habitat. 
 
Meanwhile, high winds and incredibly hard ground never phased our passionate participants last weekend. Our restoration staff used an auger – a drill bit that can create holes in the ground – to start each of our planting spots. Then, our lively group got to work (sometimes wielding pickaxes!). In the end, we carved a warm bed to lay the young seedlings.
 
Building community to share Save The Bay’s story is a key part of my role as Events & Outreach Manager. I’m thrilled that the events I design and host can genuinely boost the health of San Francisco Bay. Witnessing that “A-ha” moment on a volunteer’s face as they begin to understand their own role in protecting our Bay is incredibly rewarding. After all, my own positive experiences as a student and educator are a major source of inspiration as I work to connect – and expand – Save The Bay’s community.
 
Save The Bay is a resource for learning, scientific exploration, rejuvenation, and above all, making memories.  With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I encourage you to take a moment to breathe in the Bay air, take a calming walk along its shores and rejuvenate your soul.  We are ready to start building a year’s worth of amazing events and gatherings for 2018. I look forward to seeing you at Blue, our Bay Brunch Cruise on Earth Day (April 22, 2018), and Bay Day, our region-wide celebration for San Francisco Bay, on October 6, 2018.

 

You and your family can also join one of our public programs for free throughout the year. Save The Bay relies on thousands of volunteers annually to make progress on our many wetland restoration projects. Check our calendar often as spaces fill quickly. We can also create dedicated private restoration events for your group or company. Contact Jack Wolfink at jwolflink@savesfbay.org to learn more.

 


Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers
Arrowhead Marsh, taken by Jim Moyers

I have loved salt marshes ever since I first stepped into one during a college wetlands class in Washington. I breathed in earthy scents. I felt mud squish beneath my boots. I watched birds fly low over the water. Now, the Bay wetlands nourish my spirit, and I am truly grateful they are the place I call home.

As the Habitat Restoration Director at Save The Bay, I am proud that my work leading volunteer and education programs can directly benefit nearby wildlife. Our efforts provide critical habitat for endangered species like the salt marsh harvest mouse. But we never lose sight of the big picture.

Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project
Restoration staff and volunteers working on the Oro Loma Project

Recently, we collaborated with other scientists on the Oro Loma Horizontal Levee Project – an innovative levee that mimics wetland habitats. Our expert restoration team joined more than 5,000 Save The Bay volunteers to construct the site’s giant outdoor nursery and plant more than 70,000 native seedlings.

The potential benefits are profound, since wetland marshes act like sponges, soaking up water as it rises. If replicated, this horizontal levee model could provide extensive flood protection and create thousands of acres of habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Right now, our Bay faces a triple threat of pollution, sea-level rise and habitat loss. Scientists estimate it needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to be healthy and sustainable. Today, only 40,000 acres exist.

With help from our generous supporters, we can continue working with partners to make significant progress toward that 100,000 acre mark.

The Bay is the heart of my home. Together, we can protect this beautiful resource and all that it offers diverse communities, vibrant plants, and countless animals.

With sincere thanks,

Donna Ball
Habitat Restoration Director



Have you been meaning to mix up your holiday shopping with some holiday giving?

A donation to Save The Bay could help us create habitat, prevent pollution, or connect students to wetlands they might not otherwise have the chance to explore.

Plus, we’re happy to share: checks and credit cards aren’t the only ways to support our work!

Ways You Can Protect the Heart of our Home:

  • Vehicle Donation Program – Yes, cars can help our cause! Save The Bay’s vehicle and boat donation program provides crucial support to our programs. Making the donation is easy – visit www.savesfbay.org/vehicle-donations to turn your unwanted vehicle into a charitable contribution.
  • Donating your IRA Assets – Use your traditional IRA to make your charitable gift. The IRA Charitable Rollover allows people age 70 ½+ to make charitable gifts up to $100,000/year directly to Save The Bay without incurring federal income tax on the withdrawal. Contact Katie Reitter at KReitter@saveSFbay.org or 510-463-6837 to get the process started.
  • Planned Giving – When you include Save The Bay in your will, trust, or beneficiary listings, you help ensure that future generations will enjoy a healthy, vibrant Bay. Your estate gift will have a lasting impact on the Bay, allowing diverse communities around the region to experience its beauty. Let us know that you have included Save The Bay in your estate plans and we’ll send you a beautiful framed Bay photo as a special thanks! Contact Katie Reitter at KReitter@saveSFbay.org or 510-463-6837.
  • Stock Donations – Did you know that Save The Bay accepts stock gifts? By making a gift of stock held longer than one year, you avoid paying capital gains tax altogether. Visit www.savesfbay.org/stock for account information.
  • Workplace Giving & Matching Gifts – Your employer may offer valuable ways for you to support Save The Bay’s programs. Visit www.savesfbay.org/employer-matched-gifts to learn if payroll deduction contributions and matching gifts are possibilities at your organization.
  • AmazonSmile – Give back while you shop this holiday season! Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible purchases to Save The Bay whenever you shop on AmazonSmile.  Simply visit www.smile.amazon.com and select Save The Bay as your charity of choice.
  • Make a Tribute Gift – You can even celebrate a loved one while championing our programs. Give to Save The Bay in honor of a friend’s birthday, wedding or other special event. You can also give the gift of membership! Visit www.savesfbay.org/tribute to make your tribute gift today.
  • Become a Bay Sustainer – Of course, traditional donations are always welcome! Bay Sustainers are a special group of Save The Bay members who make regular monthly gifts. Sign up to be a Bay Sustainer and we will send you a limited edition Save The Bay t-shirt: www.savesfbay.org/baysustainer
  • Volunteer – 44,000 pounds of weeds can’t remove themselves! Our dedicated volunteers were behind that breathtaking stat and many more this year. Save The Bay is profoundly grateful to have the support of thousands of people who show up rain or shine to pitch in at our restoration events. Their hard work helps us create habitat, protect wildlife, and improve water quality across San Francisco Bay. Check out our calendar to get involved: https://www.savesfbay.org/volunteer/calendar 

All of these options help Save The Bay protect the heart of our home for future generations.

For more information on the numerous ways to give please, contact Jackie Richardson at Jackie@saveSFbay.org or at 510-463-6835.