Governor signs landmark bill for restoring San Francisco Bay

October 1, 2008

Governor Schwarzenegger this week signed into law AB 2954, establishing the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority to secure crucial funding to restore San Francisco Bay wetlands. Creating the Bay Restoration Authority is the primary recommendation in Save The Bay’s ground-breaking August 2007 report, “Greening the Bay: Financing Wetland Restoration in San Francisco Bay.”

“The creation of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority can dramatically improve the Bay Area’s quality of life and economy through the restoration of Bay wetlands – which is dramatically under-funded,” said Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis, whose organization sponsored AB 2954. “We know there is widespread public support all around the Bay Area for Bay restoration and willingness to help bear the cost. Now there will be an agency in position to secure that support.”

"It's our responsibility to take care of and restore San Francisco Bay, one of our State's most valuable and beautiful natural treasures,” said the bill's author, Assembly Speaker pro Tem Sally Lieber (San Jose). “Our greatest asset is also one of our greatest protections against the impacts of global warming. Our bay wetlands provide natural flood control and capture greenhouse gasses from the  atmosphere.”

In its Greening the Bay report, Save The Bay identified inadequate funding as the greatest barrier to reestablishing 100,000 acres of tidal wetlands, critical habitat that scientists say is needed for a healthy Bay (www.saveSFbay.org/greeningthebay). The report recommended establishing a Bay Authority that could secure regional funding to restore wetlands on more than 36,000 shoreline acres already in public ownership.

Regional Authority to Raise Funds for Restoration
With the enactment of AB 2954, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) will appoint seven board members from Bay Area cities and counties to the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which will explore, promote and coordinate local and regional public fundraising mechanisms. The Authority could secure regional funding for Bay wetland restoration by proposing assessments, taxes or fees for local voter approval, or by receiving public and private grants. The Authority would also develop priorities and sequencing for allocating any funds received to Bay restoration projects.

“This new Authority fills a large gap, by linking the supportive Bay Area population and the urgent priority for funds to restore Bay wetlands,” said Henry Gardner, Executive Director of the Association of Bay Area Governments. “It’s a creative solution to a regional need.”

Lack of Funding Greatest Obstacle to Bay Wetlands Restoration
Today, only five percent of the Bay’s original wetlands remain. Save The Bay and other partners are working to achieve the vision of 100,000 acres of healthy, thriving wetlands around the Bay that scientists recommend for a sustainable Bay ecosystem. The lack of steady, reliable funding is the greatest obstacle to success. Consistent funding is vital for future site acquisition, project planning, on-the-ground construction, and operations and maintenance, including modifying levees and protecting electric transmission lines and other existing infrastructure in shoreline areas.

The largest and highest-profile Bay restoration opportunity currently is the South Bay Salt Ponds, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game purchased from Cargill Salt in 2003. Other significant restoration projects include Bair Island in Redwood City, Napa-Sonoma Marsh, Hamilton Field/Bel Marin Keys in Novato, and Sears Point. Save The Bay projects that it will cost up to $1.43 billion over 50 years to fully restore 36,176 acres of shoreline property that is already in public ownership and slated for tidal wetland restoration. Some $370 million has already been invested to acquire property and plan these restoration projects.

Overwhelming Public Support for Bay Restoration
Bay Area polling indicates that there is overwhelming public support for Bay restoration and willingness to bear the cost. In a 1996 EMC Research poll, a strong majority of Bay Area residents said they would make this kind of investment: 83 percent of residents polled said they would be willing to pay $10 per year in taxes or fees to restore wetlands that would result in cleaner Bay water, provide flood control benefits, enlarge the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and increase shoreline access for the public. AB 2954 was endorsed by regional business, local government and environmental organizations, US Senator Dianne Feinstein and many others.

Restoring Wetlands is Essential to Combating Global Warming and Sea Level Rise
Wetlands play a central role in the battle against global warming – scientists from the United Nations to the White House have identified wetland restoration as a priority strategy in fighting global warming. Healthy tidal marsh acts as natural flood control by absorbing excess water and may adjust to rising sea levels – building itself higher with sediment inflow as the water level rises and absorbing water that would otherwise require expensive levees or sea walls. Scientists have found that tidal salt marshes capture carbon from greenhouse gases in the air efficiently and effectively, helping to counter global warming.

“The Bay needs to be protected and restored as one entity, by and for the whole region” Lewis said. “By securing the funds necessary to fully restore Bay wetlands now, the new San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority can make the Bay healthier for people and wildlife long into the future.”

About Save The Bay
Save The Bay is the oldest and largest organization working exclusively to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay. As the Bay’s leading champion since 1961, Save The Bay is committed to making the Bay cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife. Save The Bay wages and wins effective advocacy campaigns to increase public access to the Bay, establish 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands around the Bay, and protect the Bay from today’s greatest threats: pollution and urban sprawl. Save The Bay educates nearly 10,000 students and adults on the Bay each year and engages volunteers to improve vital wetland habitats. www.saveSFbay.org