When Save The Bay’s founders were confronted by proposals to dramatically fill in large portions of San Francisco Bay in the early 1960’s, they quickly recognized that protecting the Bay required the creation of new government tools and approaches. One of the first campaigns that Save The Bay undertook was the passage of the McAteer-Petris Act in 1965, which created the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) that now regulates any planned development along the waterfront to minimize impacts to the Bay and improve public access to the shoreline. BCDC was the first coastal zone management agency in the country and acted as the model for other similar agencies that followed, including the California Coastal Commission.
Along with our education and habitat restoration programs, our policy team plays an important role in pursuing our mission to protect and restore the Bay for people and wildlife. Since that first victory in 1965, we have led and supported numerous advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal levels. That advocacy usually focuses on legislation, funding, and regulatory compliance.
In situations where existing laws don’t provide the protections needed to ensure the health of the Bay and our communities, we work with elected officials to craft and support legislation to create new tools, like BCDC. Our legislative advocacy has also led to successful bills to protect the Suisun Marsh (1974), create the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority (2008), and establish a new federal EPA program focused on the water quality and habitat improvements in the Bay (2022).
We don’t always take the lead on bills, but also work with allies to identify bills that others are proposing that may have an impact on our mission. Every year we consider proposals for new laws and local ordinances and engage directly with bill authors and other advocates to shape or support these measures when they have the potential to benefit the Bay and its residents.
Some programs, like the SF Bay Restoration Authority and the EPA SF Bay Program Office, provide grants to restore and protect the Bay. Another aspect of our advocacy work is to ensure that these programs have enough funding available to meet the needs of projects around the Bay. In 2016 we worked with a coalition to design and support the successful campaign for Measure AA that is providing $500 million over 25 years to the SF Bay Restoration Authority.
We have also worked to coordinate support among our congressional delegation for additional EPA funding through the federal appropriations process. In 2022, this effort resulted in a more than 50% increase in federal support for SF Bay water quality and habitat restoration. We have also advocated for additional state and local funding, including working with cities to create new local funding to support improved stormwater management to protect the Bay from pollution. We are currently working in San Jose to explore the potential for a ballot measure in 2024 to improve the city’s stormwater infrastructure.
Even with good laws on the books, they are only useful if faithfully enforced. To that end, Save The Bay also regularly engages in oversight, enforcement, and permitting processes to ensure compliance with state and federal law.
Save The Bay has led efforts for years to require that trash and other pollutants that are carried in the stormwater system do not continue to pollute the Bay. We regularly offer written and in-person testimony at the San Francisco Regional Water Board to demand strict compliance with the Clean Water Act for known polluters. That includes state agencies like Caltrans who have failed for years to comply with their obligations to prevent highway trash pollution from harming the Bay and blighting communities.
When potentially harmful developments are proposed along the Bay shoreline, we have undertaken years-long campaigns to ensure that regulators and permitting agencies like BCDC respect the protections that California voters have put in place. Some of our biggest victories have included preventing more than 2 square miles of Bay fill that would have been required to reconfigure the runways at the San Francisco International Airport, and our campaign to ensure that the Redwood City Salt Ponds are restored to tidal marsh to provide wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and sea level rise protections for adjacent communities.
As a regional agency, our impact in Sacramento and Washington is aided significantly by our partnerships. Successful advocacy relies on developing strong and long-lasting relationships both with legislators and other advocates for our region. Save The Bay has long fostered partnerships with other environmental, business, and labor organizations who appreciate the need to protect and restore the Bay as we have doggedly pursued policy goals that in many cases take years.
The Bay Area is facing new and complex challenges from climate change and the need to address longstanding social injustices that have harmed the Bay Area’s residents. In recent years, our work has expanded to include a deeper focus on the impacts of climate change on the Bay’s surrounding communities, we have sought to build new partnerships with community organizations advocating for those experiencing climate effects from heat, flooding and sea level rise, and compromised air quality. Many of these communities have long suffered from pollution and disinvestment from the state and local governments.
As we continue our work to protect the Bay and adapt to a changing climate, we are striving to better align our efforts with the needs of front-line communities to support a comprehensive vision that includes a healthy Bay and a Bay Area with thriving and climate resilient communities for all.