The Commission has been remarkably successful in achieving its mission. Before 1965, an average of about 2,300 acres of the bay were being filled each year. Now only a few acres are filled annually-all for critical water-oriented needs. Even this small loss of water area is being mitigated by opening diked areas. As a result, the Bay is now larger than it was when BCDC was established.
When BCDC was established, only four miles of the Bay shoreline were open to public access. By drawing attention to the Bay, the Commission has played a major role in making the Bay and its shoreline a national recreational treasure. The Golden Gate National Recreational Area and numerous local, regional, and state parks and recreation areas have been established around the Bay since the Commission was established. The Commission has also approved thousands of new boat berths and has required that public access be provided along 139 miles of the shoreline as part of new waterfront projects. Now over 340 miles of the Bay shoreline are open to the public as part of the Bay Trail.
In 1965 opponents of Bay protection argued that saving the Bay could only be achieved at the cost of sacrificing economic growth. Contrary to this fear, the Bay Area economy has continued to expand, in part because the Commission has approved billions of dollars of construction and worked with local governments on special area plans to encourage new development.
By providing strong support for the maritime industry, BCDC has helped San Francisco Bay maintain its role as one of the great shipping centers of the world. The Commission has also prepared a regional seaport plan to guide port expansion so that it can be accomplished in the least damaging way to the Bay's natural resources.
By preventing wetlands and mudflats from being filled, by encouraging restoration of degraded marshes, by supporting the continued and productive use of salt ponds, and by preserving the 85,000-acre Suisun Marsh for agricultural use, duck hunting clubs, and wildlife refuges, the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge have been established to further protect some portions of the Bay. BCDC has played an important role in supporting restoration of Bay wetlands.
Around the Bay, the visible results of Bay protection are apparent. Garbage dumps have been made into parks. Once neglected waterfronts are now heavily used and much enjoyed by the public. In a stark departure from the past when buildings were often faced away from the Bay in fear that a view of the Bay might become a view of a landfill, now many attractive restaurants, shops, residences, and other structures grace the Bay shoreline, taking full advantage of their scenic locations.
Almost every day, many of the people who live in the Bay region see the Bay. Whether from their homes, their places of work, or their travels in between, they can enjoy the visual magic and majesty of the Bay; they can watch the Bay being protected. This frequent visual evaluation of its work keeps the San Francisco Bay Commission diligent and makes it proud of what it has accomplished.
Other Federal and State Agencies that Govern Bay Resources
While BCDC was the Nation’s first coastal zone agency, many state and federal laws have been enacted that contribute to the protection of San Francisco Bay.
- The federal Clean Water Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to regulate discharges into the Bay and protect Bay Area wetlands.
- The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provide government agencies and members of the public with critical information necessary to evaluate the appropriateness of proposed development.
- The federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) established a voluntary partnership between coastal states and the federal government to protect the national interest in coastal resource management.
- The California Coastal Act was approved by plebiscite to protect the state's Pacific Ocean coastal zone.
BCDC is a member of the Bay Area Regional Collaborative (BARC)
Perhaps just as important BCDC is a member of the Bay Area Regional Collaborative (BARC). BARC is an association of BCDC, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).
The work of these four agencies complement each other, and BARC plays a critical role in assisting all of the agencies work together and coordinate their policies to ensure that the Bay Area can adapt to rising sea level caused by climate change.
BCDC and Adapting to Climate Change in the Bay Area
Since the passage of AB 2094 in 2008, BCDC has been the State agency responsible for leading the Bay Area’s preparedness for, and resilience to, rising sea level, tides, and storm surge due to climate change. In 2011, BCDC adopted policies to require projects to be resilient to rising sea level through at least mid-century and beyond, given the project’s expected life. Just as important, the amendments directed that a regional adaptation strategy be developed by the Bay Area’s regional agencies.
Successful adaptation planning and implementation require all levels of government to act collaboratively with all public and private property owners within BCDC’s jurisdiction and beyond who are affected by rising sea level. In some ways, this can be more complex than mitigation due to a host of governance issues, including local land use prerogatives and existing property rights. Complicating this task is the inability to forecast the extent to which lives will change due to a rising Bay.
To accomplish these challenges, and others, BCDC’s efforts are best viewed as the vanguard of a five- to ten-year public education campaign about three things: what the public can do to adapt to rising sea level; what public officials should do considering reasonable priorities and unforeseen consequences; and, just as important, how the Bay Area and others can fund successful adaptation strategies. Chair Zack Wasserman’s testimony before the California State Senate Budget Committee details both the public education challenges and BCDC’s groundbreaking adaptation planning program.