Environmental Justice and Social Equity Bay Plan Amendment Fact Sheet

Why did BCDC amend the San Francisco Bay Plan to include environmental justice and social equity?

When the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (“BCDC " or “the Commission ") amended the San Francisco Bay Plan (“Bay Plan ") in 2011 to add policies related to climate change, BCDC acknowledged that shoreline flooding will affect communities differently depending on their location, resources, and adaptive capacity. In particular, low-income communities and those underrepresented or marginalized may have more difficulty preparing for, responding to, or recovering from a flood. Additionally, BCDC’s Policies for a Rising Bay Report noted in 2016 that many of these communities are disproportionately exposed to hazardous or toxic substances, which may be exacerbated if contaminants are mobilized by flood waters. The development of environmental justice and social equity policies for the Bay Plan was identified as a high priority both in the Policies for a Rising Bay Report and as part of the Commission’s public workshops on rising sea level (2016-2017). On July 20, 2017, the Commission voted to begin the process of considering an amendment to the Bay Plan for social equity and environmental justice (BPA No. 2-17). On October 17, 2017, the Commission approved the amendment.

What is the San Francisco Bay Plan and how is it used?

The Bay Plan contains the policies that BCDC uses to determine whether and how proposed projects may be approved and constructed within the Commission’s jurisdiction. BCDC’s jurisdiction consists of the San Francisco Bay, tidal marshes, salt ponds, managed wetlands, “certain waterways, " and the shoreline within 100 feet of the Bay. BCDC must keep the Bay Plan up to date by amending it to address new information and issues.

What do environmental justice and social equity mean?

Although there are many definitions of environmental justice and social equity, the Commission uses the State of California’s version: “…the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. " In its 2017 General Plan Guidelines, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research uses the following definition of social equity: "the fair, just, and equitable management of all institutions serving the public directly or by contract; the fair, just and equitable distribution of public services and implementation of public policy; and the commitment to promote fairness, justice, and equity in the formation of public policy."

How will the new policies change the way BCDC evaluates proposed projects?

The new policies:
  • Recognize BCDC’s role in environmental injustices and social inequities around the region;
  • Shape the Commission’s work through a set of guiding principles and definitions; Require coordination, collaboration, support, and leadership from the Commission on issues of environmental justice that may affect its authority or jurisdiction;
  • Require meaningful community involvement for certain projects;
  • Require that disproportionate impacts are identified and addressed;
  • Update public access design and signage requirements;
  • Use inclusive design principles in the evaluation of public access projects;
  • Address potential adjacent or nearby adverse impacts caused by shoreline protection structures;
  • Require the best available science on sea level rise, storm surge, and associated groundwater level changes be used in contamination remediation projects; and
  • Require the Commission to consider the distribution of mitigation benefits when determining the location and design of compensatory mitigation.

What input did BCDC receive on the new policies?

In all phases of the amendment process, Commissioners and BCDC staff had considerable contact with other public agencies, environmental justice advocacy and community groups, other NGOs, private sector interests, and academia. Throughout each project phase, staff has attended trainings, workshops, lectures, panels, and other events related to environmental justice and social equity. Additionally, staff has conducted outreach on the Bay Plan amendment at 13 smaller events and has held two larger outreach events. The first of these two events was held on the evening of June 19, 2018 at OakStop in Oakland at which BCDC hosted an environmental justice community roundtable with the California State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission. The second major outreach event was a public Commissioner Workshop on environmental justice held at the regularly scheduled Commission meeting on the afternoon of January 17, 2019 at the Bay Area Metro Center in San Francisco. BCDC staff co-facilitated the workshop with staff from the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. Additionally, representatives from environmental justice organizations around the region, including Breakthrough Communities (Alameda County), Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice (Bayview-Hunters Point, Treasure Island), Nuestra Casa (East Palo Alto), and All Positives Possible (South Vallejo) presented at the workshop, whose participants included BCDC Commissioners, environmental justice organizations and community members, government agency representatives, and others.

Throughout this process, BCDC has worked closely with the Environmental Justice Review Team (EJRT), which is composed of representatives from Bay Area equity and social justice organizations. The EJRT received funding to participate from the Resources Legacy Fund. The EJRT’s goal is to “develop robust community recommendations regarding environmental justice, social equity principles and practices for consideration in BCDC’s staff planning report regarding the Environmental Justice Bay Plan amendment.” BCDC staff has been guided in this work by a Commissioner Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJCWG). The EJCWG meets monthly and has thus far met 17 times, with one meeting led by the EJRT.

On May 31, 2019, staff published a preliminary recommendation with proposed policy changes, and on June 7, 2019, staff published a background report, titled Toward Equitable Shorelines: Environmental Justice and Social Equity at the San Francisco Bay, to support these proposed changes. This marked the start of a nine-week public comment period. During this time, staff received several calls and inquiries on the proposed policies. A public hearing for this amendment was held on July 18th, 2019. The Commission received ten written comments from twenty organizations or individuals, and heard eleven oral comments at the hearing. These comments were followed by a discussion among Commissioners. On October 4, 2019, staff published a revised staff recommendation and responses to public comments received between May 31, 2019 and August 2, 2019. At the Commission vote on the revised recommendation on October 17, 2019, further public comment was given.

Do BCDC’s new policies conflict with local government’s efforts to address environmental justice and social equity?

No. In fact, the findings and policies are designed to coordinate with local governments’ efforts to address environmental justice and social equity with several findings and policies dedicated to this theme. Additionally, addressing environmental justice within BCDC’s regulatory process can build upon the requirements of Senate Bill 1000 (Leyva, 2016) that requires certain local governments to add environmental justice to their General Plans.

When will the new policies become effective? 

The Commission held a vote on October 17, 2019. The amendment must now be approved by the State Office of Administrative Law and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management. The policies will likely take effect in early 2020 depending on the state and federal approval process timing. 

How else can BCDC address environmental justice and social equity?

Issues of environmental justice and social equity cut across all aspects of work at BCDC. Beyond activities over which BCDC has direct permitting authority, BCDC can also coordinate and consult with partner agencies at all levels of government, support and encourage the work of others, as well as provide technical assistance. Some specific next steps could include amending the Commission’s Regulations, revising its public access design guidelines, improving public meeting accessibility and communications, and further addressing environmental justice and social equity in the next Commission strategic plan.