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History of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission

KRCB presents the history and future of the Bay in a new series called “Around the Bay with Will Travis,”  Executive Director of BCDC.

In Episode 1, Will Travis talks about how BCDC came into existence.

Filling the Bay is one way to provide more space for ports, more area for industry, more runways for airports, more land for houses, and a place to get rid of the region's garbage. Other coastal areas share similar threats, but a unique combination of four factors made San Francisco Bay especially susceptible to being filled. First, much of the Bay is very shallow; about two thirds of it is less than 18 feet deep. Second, large portions of the Bay bottom along the shoreline are in private ownership. Third, political control of the Bay is fragmented among several federal, state, and regional agencies, and the nine counties and forty-one cities along the Bay's shoreline. Fourth, filling the Bay has been a long tradition. Diking and filling have reduced the size of the open Bay from 787 square miles at the time of the 1849 Gold Rush to 548 square miles today. Another 325 square miles have the potential of being filled which would reduce the Bay to being little more than a broad river.

Maps of the San Francisco Bay

Alarmed by the fact that between 1850 and 1960 an average of four square miles of the Bay were filled each year, in 1961 citizens in the Bay Area formed the Save San Francisco Bay Association, now called Save the Bay. At the urging of this organization, state legislation--the McAteer-Petris Act--was passed in 1965 to establish the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) as a temporary state agency. The Commission was charged with preparing a plan for the long-term use of the Bay and regulating development in and around the Bay while the plan was being prepared.

The San Francisco Bay Plan, which was completed in January 1969, includes policies on issues critical to the wise use of the Bay ranging from ports and public access to design and transportation. The Bay Plan also contains maps of the entire Bay which designate shoreline areas that should be reserved for water-related purposes like ports, industry, public recreation, airports, and wildlife refuges.

The Bay Plan has received wide acclaim for its clarity, concise style, and comprehensive coverage. In August 1969, the McAteer-Petris Act was amended to make BCDC a permanent agency and to incorporate the policies of the Bay Plan into state law. In 1977 the Commission's authority was expanded to provide special protection of the Suisun Marsh.

BCDC is the federally-designated state coastal management agency for the San Francisco Bay segment of the California coastal zone. This designation empowers the Commission to use the authority of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act to ensure that federal projects and activities are consistent with the policies of the Bay Plan and state law.