On Nov. 9, 1999, a 350 Cat excavator welcomed the waters of San Francisco Bay back into the marshes of the Presidio’s Crissy Field. Hundreds of onlookers cheered and Ohlone danced in celebration. Today, the paved lot that occupied the park is a memory. Crissy Field serves as habitat for wildlife, a buffer to protect San Francisco as climate change causes seas to rise, and a spot many San Franciscans enjoy — especially, during the pandemic.
Proponents of Assembly Bill 3030, which will go before the Senate Natural Resources Committee later this month, hope to see similar changes throughout the state. The bill sets a goal to address alarming drops in biodiversity by protecting at least 30% of the state’s land and freshwater by 2030, and advancing the protection of 30% of the nation’s oceans. It also calls for improving access to nature for all people, especially communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.
“People who have access to nature during the pandemic have been grateful for the escape,” Drevet Hunt, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the bill’s sponsors, told me. “The state should increase this access, while protecting biodiversity. The world’s ecosystems are in a state of collapse — it’s a crisis as significant as the climate crisis.”
The bill, which doesn’t mandate specific activities or programs, has support among scientists and environmental organizations. But it’s facing surprising opposition from groups that normally fight to protect biodiversity, such as fishing associations. They want to make sure environmental protection doesn’t limit access to lucrative fishing spots, or what remains of them.
Right now, nearly 60% of California’s freshwater fish face extinction. Dams and water diversions are causing salmon populations to plummet. In San Francisco, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is a vocal critic of The City’s efforts to fight limitations on our diversions from the Tuolumne River.
“I don’t think there’s any fisherman who is opposed to thriving biodiversity off our coast,” Mike Conroy, PCFFA’s executive director, told me. “If AB 3030 will keep it so less water is diverted from rivers, then it could be very beneficial to San Francisco’s fishermen and women, seafood consumers and tourism. But does protecting 30% of freshwater mean three out of 10 rivers will be inaccessible or closed?”
The bill’s broad definition of “protected land, water and ocean areas” raises concerns among fishing and other opposition groups that the state will impose burdensome restrictions. They are working with environmental organizations to clarify the language.
But hopefully any amendments won’t limit the bill’s vision too much. As climate change worsens and more species go extinct, decision makers must find ways for people and nature to exist sustainably together. It’s very possible to address community needs, promote access and protect the environment.
When the National Park Service was restoring Crissy Field, for example, windsurfers wanted parking spaces nearby and dog owners wanted room for their four-legged companions to roam. Officials were able to meet these demands and create a beautiful park that wildlife and people could enjoy.
Decision makers also need to prioritize disadvantaged communities, which typically bear the burden of environmental degradation. Azul, a San Francisco-based organization working with Latinxs to conserve coasts and oceans, is one of the sponsors of AB 3030 for this reason. Without access to natural spaces, communities are more vulnerable to extreme heat, sea level rise and health concerns. These risks are growing as our climate changes.
“The pandemic has highlighted the inequities around park access and outdoor spaces and who gets to use those,” Marce Gutiérrez-Graudinš, founder and director of Azul, told me. “Nature is a necessity, not a perk, and we should all have equal and free access to it.”
San Franciscans should support AB 3030. Just like the restoration of Crissy Field 20 years ago, the state has a chance to unpave paradise and create spots that are good for people and the planet. To show your support, please visit the NRDC Action Fund’s website and contact your state representative.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.