Sylvia McLaughlin: “The Bay will always need saving.”
This week I had the great privilege of attending Save the Bay’s annual tea given to honor the organization’s founders. Of the original three doughty matrons who started it all in 1961, Kay Kerr, Esther Gulick and Sylvia McLaughlin, only Sylvia, now 95, is still with us.
There’s a movement afoot, spearheaded by the Citizens for Eastshore State Parks, to honor Sylvia McLaughlin by naming a park after her, a relatively small reward for a magnificent body of work for the Bay. They and their supporters want the California State Parks Commission to change the name of the Eastshore State Park, which hugs the edge of the Bay from the Oakland Estuary to the Carquinez Strait, to the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. The Berkeley shoreline is part of the park, and Sylvia, a Berkeley resident, is also a founder of CESP.
She made it to the tea in fine form, though she’s had a bout or two with illness in the last year, and even spoke a few pointed sentences into a microphone. As usual, some of these words were memorable advice to the younger folks in attendance who have taken on the job of carrying her work forward.
The sentence above was her main point: the job of saving the Bay never ends—eternal vigilance is required to thwart attempts to destroy it. When Save the Bay was launched a half-century ago, the threat was from developers eager to fill in the water’s edge to create building sites.
As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more they’re the same thing.
Save the Bay’s big picture struggle right now is stopping developer DMB Saltworks from turning former Bay wetlands near Redwood City, previously used by the Cargill corporation for extracting salt from sea water, into a massive 30, 000 unit housing development built on bay fill. Round One, just this week, went to Save the Bay, as the promoter withdrew its original plan after the Redwood City Council decided not to support it, though a new plan could be submitted and probably will be.
But saving the Bay isn’t just about stopping the big threats like this one. A key low-level Save the Bay project is reducing the use of “disposable” plastic bags, which make a terrible mess when they end up in the water. Executive Director David Lewis reported gleefully at the tea that at Redwood City Council meeting which he attended about the Cargill project the council unanimously passed a ban on single-use plastic bags.
Small victories like this one add up. Lewis said that about half the jurisdictions around the Bay now restrict use of plastic bags.
This week in Berkeley we’ve heard a lot about saving our own bit of the Bay. Aquatic Park, which centers around a sea water lagoon on Berkeley’s bayfront just across the freeway from Eastshore Park, is threatened with zoning changes targeted to benefit owners of big tracts which abut the park. Even worse, to avoid being tagged with “spot zoning”, the city’s developer-funded Planning Department has recommended that the zoning changes be applied in the whole area which is under the West Berkeley Plan, enacted in 1993 with broad public support. There are three large parcels which would be immediately benefitted, but if more can be assembled from smaller holdings they’d be covered too.
The Berkeley City Council has spent a few hours listening to comments from the public, which have run about 75-80% opposed, with most support coming from those who would profit financially from the proposed changes, which have been packaged under the rubric of the West Berkeley Project. Responsible environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, CESP and Audubon, have spoken against them, and criticized the woefully inadequate environmental impact report which the planning department and the developers would now like the city council to approve.
Here’s a representative comment, from Mike Lynes, with the Golden Gate Audubon Society.
We've been working on conserving habitats for almost 100 years.His comment would have been appropriately made by Save the Bay a half century ago, and now things have gotten a lot worse.
I'm here to talk about the impacts to Aquatic Park from the project.
We submitted a pretty extensive comment letter on this. We're not particularly pleased with the responses but they were to be expected.
What I want to start with, though, is to give you a sense that those of us working in wildlife and habitat conservation are working from an extreme deficit.
Every day when I get up in the morning, there's a little less habitat and a little less wildlife to try to save and conserve, and so, when we talk about Aquatic Park, a lot of folks don't feel like they see a lot.
You have to remember that we've lost 90% of our wetlands in the Bay Area. These parks that we have left are precious.
When we degrade those and take steps that degrade them we're not just taking from the original habitat that was here 150 years ago, we're taking away from the fragments left.
We are concerned about the large buildings. They will reduce the habitat quality and open space quality, the ability of people who go to Aquatic Park to connect with the natural values.
That's important not just for the preservation of wildlife but for value to the humans as they connect to nature.
One of the things we count on is people making a connection to nature, even in urban parks. We believe that the taller buildings will result in shadowing, result in greater impacts from [bird] collisions with the buildings, also greater lighting. We don't think the EIR did an adequate job of mitigating those or addressing them overall.
We had to correct some... errors in the counting of species that actually use Aquatic Park.
We think the EIR could have been much improved and in the responses that we have viewed there was no effort made to address that problem.
Other opposed commenters stressed, rightly, the negative impact of the West Berkeley Project on small businesses already in the area, and pointed out that it offers few community benefits such as local hire construction jobs and educational programs to mitigate its bad consequences. But even if existing businesses could be protected and benefits provided, the environmental consequences would still exist.
The Berkeley City Council, along with many others, has endorsed the campaign to rename Eastshore Park—just across the freeway from Berkeley’s Aquatic Park—for Sylvia McLaughlin. That’s a fitting tribute, but an even more meaningful tribute would be to actually heed her admonition: the Bay will always need saving.
There’s no good reason, except to preserve the speculative profits of a couple of big landowners, that tall commercial buildings of any height need to be built right next to Berkeley’s Bay park, blocking views, threatening birds, and in general degrading the citizens’ quality of life.
Is there anyone on Berkeley’s city council who has the courage to follow in Sylvia McLaughlin’s footsteps and continue the perpetual work of Saving the Bay ?
And meanwhile, if you’d like to add your voice to the campaign to rename the park after Sylvia, contact CESP Executive Director Patricia Jones for information on what you can do. Here’s her contact information:
Citizens for East Shore Parks
P.O. Box 6087
Albany, CA 94706
(510) 524 - 5000 (office)
(510) 524 - 5008 (fax)
(510) 461 - 4665 (cell)