This April, we are celebrating Earth Day with a particularly lush and blooming spring brought by the winter rains. We are lured outside to enjoy it and can renew our ties to the planet and show our caring by volunteering for our local community Earth Day projects. In cleaning up our beaches and creeks, we celebrate the chance to be stewards for the places we love and to be part of our community that seeks to care for our urban wild spaces. Each year, Earth Day reminds us that our concept of our home includes our special wild places where we like to walk, hike and play. We are fortunate that we live in a place with so much natural beauty and wildness.
Earth Day gives us the opportunity to highlight some of the ongoing environmental issues that impact the Bay and our watersheds. This month, the East Bay Regional Parks District is voting on whether to ban smoking in the East Bay Parks. Hopefully, the Board of Directors will support a full ban in the sixty-five parks, which will send a strong environmental message about the harm caused by smoking and cigarette butts. Many Bay Area cities have smoking ban ordinances in public spaces, but Save the Bay estimates that there are three billion cigarette butts littered each year in Bay Area communities. The litter is toxic and is carried downstream in our watersheds to the Bay where it is ingested by birds and wildlife. Smoking and littering are causing harm and call for a new community norm that doesn’t tolerate public smoking. The work of our community stewardship includes changing old public attitudes about smoking.
Single-use plastic bags are another large source of litter that washes through our cities and into the Bay contributing to high toxic levels of plastic in the Bay. San Francisco was the first jurisdiction in California to ban plastic bags in 2007. More than one hundred county and local jurisdiction ordinances ban single-use plastic bags in California, including all of Marin, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In 2014, Los Angeles passed a ban and then, the state senate passed Senate Bill 270 banning single use plastic bags state-wide. This important bill has been put on hold by having a ballot measure placed on the upcoming November ballot to repeal this law. The campaign is led by the American Grocery Progressive Bag Alliance, which is mostly funded by bag manufacturers. As Bay stewards, we have the opportunity to help vote the plastic bag ban into state law. This will help build legal momentum to ban single use plastic bags in the rest of the country where plastic bags become toxic litter.
Another ballot initiative is gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot and it needs our support. The “California Alternative Local Funding for Water, Sewer, Storm Water and Flood Control Services Initiative” is an initiative to amend the state constitution to establish alternative funding processes to raise local government utility taxes and fees. It would allow local governments to charge for expenses related to storm water clean-up and trash mitigation without requiring voter approval to raise needed fees. Our local cities and counties are mandated to clean up the trash in storm water, but there’s little funding to support their efforts. The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has set progressive benchmarks requiring that cities clean up 80% of their storm water trash by 2019 and clean up 100% by 2022. This requires both monitoring and clean up in an ambitious effort to slow the trash flow into the Bay. As Bay stewards, we can support our local cities’ and counties’ efforts to clean up the Bay.