History

For more than half a century, Save The Bay has given San Francisco Bay a voice and shown that Bay Area residents can work together to make positive changes in their communities.

In 1961, San Francisco Bay was choked with sewage and industrial pollution, ringed with garbage dumps, and only 6 miles of its shoreline was accessible to the public. Filling and diking of the shallow Bay had destroyed 90 percent of its original wetlands and shrunk its size by one-third. Every city had its own plans to grow by filling in more the Bay. There was no Environmental Protection Agency, no Clean Water Act, no Endangered Species Act, and no effective regulations against rampant development in the Bay. The first Earth Day was still nine years away.

When three East Bay women, Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin, and Esther Gulick, saw an Oakland Tribune illustration showing how development threatened to shrink San Francisco Bay to a narrow shipping channel by 2020, they took action. They made phone calls, wrote letters, held meetings, and collected $1 each from thousands of Bay Area residents to create the "Save San Francisco Bay Association."

The young organization won its first victory when it stopped the City of Berkeley’s plan to double in size by filling the Bay three miles out from the shoreline (50 years later the area is Sylvia McLaughlin State Park). With this victory, politicians and the public began to view San Francisco Bay as a natural treasure to be protected for the public.

This “Save The Bay” movement mobilized busloads of residents in 1965 to lobby in the state capitol for the McAteer-Petris Act ,which placed a moratorium on filling the Bay. This law created the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) that became a permanent state agency to protect the Bay, regulate shoreline development, and increase public access. BCDC was the first-ever coastal zone management agency and the model for most others around the world.

Over several decades, Save The Bay led the grassroots advocacy that halted the Bay’s rapid decline. The sewage is now treated and the Bay is cleaner, shoreline garbage dumps are now mostly shoreline parks, and nearly 300 miles of Bay trail is open to the public for walking, biking, and viewing wildlife.

Today, we continue our founders’ legacy of protecting and restoring the Bay. We battle reckless shoreline development, and fight to eliminate trash that flows to the Bay. We work to re-establish 100,000 acres of restored tidal marsh in shoreline salt ponds and diked fields, to ensure the Bay’s health for future generations of people and wildlife. We mobilize thousands of local volunteers annually to improve the Bay shoreline, and we are educating the next generation to appreciate the Bay and protect it.

Read about our recent achievements, get inspired, and join us.