A couple of days ago, I went for a walk in a reclaimed section of the San Francisco Bay shore. It is a very strange place, and I mean that in the best possible way. It is almost flat – because it is the very bottom of the alluvial fans coming out of the mountains around the Bay – and many of the remains, of what used to be there, are still there and they don’t fit any classical notion of beauty.
Historically, we have not valued the coastline of our Bay. Most of it has been ignored except for that used for some sort of nasty work. In this case, the nasty work was harvesting salt and using the marshes along the shore as a place to run heavy-duty electrical transmission lines. Five miles north is the port of Redwood City, built to ship the cut redwood needed for the Victorians of San Francisco. The cut redwood that had been hauled down from the hills of neighboring Woodside and my home town of Portola Valley.
As an aside and a comforting sign that Nature Always Bats Last, some of the children of those redwoods have grown high and dense enough to block out view of the Bay. End aside.
Five miles north of the Port of Redwood City are the housing tracks of Redwood Shores and then Foster City, with their thousands of houses facing away from the Bay in one last act of indifference. Now the salt harvesting area – what we used to call The Salt Flats, when I was a kid – are being returned to Nature, a job that is not as easy as it might, at first, sound. This section used to belong to Cargill Inc., and it was turned to The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project which describes itself as the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast which when complete…will restore 15,100 acres of industrial salt ponds to a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other habitats.
I am proud to say that Senator Dianne Feinstein was a chief motivator and backer and now everybody is getting on board (including the State Coastal Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resources Legacy Fund, and the East Bay Regional Park District). This area of ex-salt-flats is now called the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Don Edwards was a friend of my father’s and he was instrumental in getting me my first real Job. I had just turned sixteen and, in those days, a teenage boy – as I remember it – was expected to work during the summer. The problem was that most of the available work were pretend jobs that didn’t pay very much. The good paying jobs required joining a Union and that was not very easy for a privileged, white, teenager still in school. My dad knew Don Edwards through the Democratic Party and he – Edwards – was able to pull some strings to get me in the Laborer’s Union and additional strings to get me a job with Charles Harney Construction which was building the section of Bayshore Highway between Marsh Road in Menlo Park to University in Palo Alto (Highway 101 was El Camino then and Bayshore was a bypass).
Like a typical privileged teenager – OK, maybe not typical but typical for me and my type – I was both eager to accept the gains of that privilege and felt slightly guilty, which I probably expressed with disgruntlement, that I hadn’t earned the job and was taking it away from somebody who really needed it, which was why the Union made it difficult in the first place. But the money was great and the guilt was assuaged by my being given every shit job for the first month. The second month, I moved up to the position of SLOW Sign Holder and would have had a great view of the Bay if I had cared.
Like the rest of California, that came later, and with that public care, the birds are starting to come back. The beauty – and some strangeness – was always there, I suspect, we just didn’t see it.