In the 1960s, Sylvia McLaughlin was a self-described Berkeley housewife distressed at what was happening to her town. Today, more than 50 years later, she is honored with the Jefferson Award for her contribution to saving San Francisco Bay from massive fill and development.
In 1961, when Save The Bay was founded by McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick, the city of Berkeley had plans to double its size by filling in the Bay. Other cities around the Bay had their own plans to pave over shorelines. The three women mobilized and stopped the project in Berkeley, marking the birth of a modern environmental movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. The women recruited thousands of supporters to stop other bay fill projects, forced cities to close the burning garbage dumps ringing the
In 1965, the fledgling organization scored a huge win by successfully lobbying for the passage of the McAteer-Petris Act, a moratorium against filling the Bay. Later California established The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to regulate shoreline development and ensure public access. BCDC became a permanent agency in 1969 and continues today. It was the first coastal zone management agency and the model for most others in the world.
“It is an honor to receive this award,” said McLaughlin, who recently celebrated her 96th birthday. “We started Save The Bay because we were inspired both by the vision of what the Bay could be and the reality of what was happening to it. Even today, the Bay is never saved – it is always in the process of being saved. That’s why it so important for the current generation to continue to care for the Bay.”