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

David Lewis

As Executive Director of Save The Bay since 1998, David Lewis has been San Francisco Bay's top advocate for more than a decade. David was born and raised in the Bay Area, and prior to joining Save The Bay, he devoted 14 years to work for nuclear arms control in Washington, D.C., including in the U.S. Senate, and also worked on election campaigns across the country. He holds a B.A. in Politics and American Studies from Princeton University and is still trying to catch up to his daughters on the ski slopes.