What if there was no San Francisco Bay?

The thought of that pretty much stopped me in my tracks when I heard about an upcoming PBS special called “Saving the Bay: The Story of San Francisco Bay” which will air on Wednesdays, April 20 through May 11.

My DVR is set to catch all four episodes of this series about the history of our beloved Bay, starting with the formation of the Bay following the last Ice Age, through the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and subsequent rebuilding, the building of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, plans from the 1950s and 1960s to fill it in, and the birth of the environmental movement that grew out of opposition to the destruction of the Bay.

But let’s go back to my original question: what if there was no San Francisco Bay? Your first reaction might be, “Yeah, right, that’ll never happen.” But just over 50 years ago, it could have happened:

In 1959, the Army Corps of Engineers produced a map highlighting sections of the Bay “susceptible to reclamation” — a blueprint for further Bay filling that was widely reproduced in Bay Area newspapers. While there was little immediate public outcry at the thought of losing so much of the Bay, protecting the Bay from uncontrolled development was beginning to enter the public consciousness.

How much of the Bay is already lost? “From the Gold Rush of 1849 through the land rushes up to 1965, fill operations, reclamation projects, diking and siltation reduced the size of the Bay by one-third, from 787 square miles to 548 square miles today. Another 325 square miles had the potential of being filled which could have reduced much of the Bay to little more than a river.”

Reducing the Bay to a piddly little river would in something like this: “the climate would change, beloved views would be drastically altered, the economy would be different and the ecosystem would be irreparably damaged.” Um, that would be bad. Enter three activists from Berkeley (yay, activists from Berkeley!) who apparently got the protest job done and blocked the fill-in. I suppose we’ll have to watch the show to figure out what they did.

I’m a sucker for all things San Francisco, so I hope this series is worth a look.


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