It was a spectacular day in the bay this morning. The air was clear and crisp; the city and mountains, the bridges and boats all sparkled in the morning light. The clouds were stretched and poofed out into layers of shapes and colors. It was almost as if, knowing it was her special day, Mother Earth dressed up in her finest.
Arwen met me for my swim this morning and it was lovely to be reunited after her travels, my travels, and my subsequent Covid isolation. Colleen had jumped in earlier, but we met up with her mid-bay and celebrated the gorgeous Earth Day morning.
As I swam through all of the beauty, I remembered what Mary-Kate had told me months ago: If not for the grassroots efforts of three local women— Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick—we might not have all of this water to swim through.
In 1959, this Army Corps of Engineers’ map ran in the Oakland Tribune:
The map was a projection of what the San Francisco Bay would look like by 2020 if the developments that were in the works at the time had proceeded.
At the time, the San Francisco Bay, like so many watersheds around the world, was a polluted mess. It was regularly used as a dumping ground for garbage and toxic waste and the wetlands that remained were severely depleted. There were plans to fill most of the bay in for development (much of it already had been filled in). The city of Berkeley was planning to in-fill 2,000 acres of bay to nearly double its size and other cities had similar plans. The Army Corps of Engineers’ map predicted the bay would be nothing more than a narrow shipping channel by 2020.
Sylvia, Kay, and Esther saw this map and decided they had to do something to save the bay. They reached out to several large conservation groups but didn’t get any traction and ultimately decided to found their own organization, Save San Francisco Bay Association (now Save the Bay). The advocacy of their organization contributed to numerous policy changes and helped persuade California to establish the first coastal protection agency in the country, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
They also helped reverse Berkeley’s plans to fill in and develop this part of the bay where I now spend so many mornings soaking in the splendor.