Restoring San Francisco Bay

Restoring San Francisco Bay

The largest estuary on the West Coast of the western hemisphere, San Francisco Bay has lost an estimated 85 percent of its historic wetlands. Those wetlands buffered tidal flooding and their loss puts Bay Area communities—including some of the most developed urban areas in the state—at risk.

When Cargill Salt, Incorporated expressed interest in selling salt ponds ringing the north and south bay, Resources Legacy Fund saw an opportunity to expand wildlife habitat, gain flood protection, and advance adaptation to climate change. Beginning in 2001, RLF helped catalyze and lead a public-private partnership to acquire and restore 16,500 acres of salt ponds. In coordination with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, RLF garnered support from state and federal agencies and Bay Area foundations.

RLF oversaw assessment of the property’s value, helped negotiate a $100 million purchase price, secured public and private funds, and structured the deal. In 2003, with state and federal funding and contributions from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Goldman Fund, RLF finalized the transaction that transferred the property to the federal and state authorities.

This was just a first step. RLF then secured $35 million in new public and philanthropic funding to support five years of initial stewardship and long-term restoration planning for the salt ponds. Careful management of restoration activities was crucial to ensure that new habitats could provide refuge for sensitive existing species while attracting new species and increasing overall diversity. RLF identified, convened, and supported a team of expert managers and consultants who successfully implemented a short-term strategy for stabilizing salinity and IMG0001maximizing wildlife habitats in the salt ponds. In addition, RLF worked with the federal and state agencies managing the newly acquired salt ponds to develop a long-term vision and restoration plan that incorporated scientific and public input. RLF led these efforts to a timely and under-budget conclusion, using the savings to leverage bond funds to pay for additional restoration work.

RLF has remained engaged. In 2012, RLF helped create the San Francisco Baylands Steering Committee, a diverse alliance of community, business, and foundation leaders working to advance policies and increase federal, state, and local funding to restore regional habitat and improve flood protection. RLF managed an innovative, award-winning public education campaign—Our Bay on the Brink—to increase awareness of threats to the Bay, along with potential solutions. In June 2016, Bay Area voters passed Measure AA, which will raise $500 million over 20 years from a parcel tax. The funds will be used to match state and federal funding to support wildlife and wetlands restoration, trails and recreational facilities along the Bay shoreline, and flood protection for shoreline communities.




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