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November 30, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bay agency honors first chairman, Mel Lane, on 40th anniversary Bay agency honors first chairman, Mel Lane, on 40th anniversary (November 30, 2005)

By Marion Softky

Almanac Staff Writer

It was just 40 years ago that a tide turned in San Francisco Bay, and Mel Lane of Atherton was perhaps the key person in turning it.

For 100 years before 1965, builders and farmers and salt makers had been filling and diking San Francisco Bay, bit by bit, until at least a third of one of the nation's great estuaries was dry land.

Thanks to an immense grass-roots effort to save the Bay, a law was passed, a moratorium on filling imposed, and an agency formed to reverse the process. The Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) was the first-ever agency created to manage a coastal zone; it has served as a model for the California Coastal Commission and similar agencies around the country and the world.

Mel Lane, who with his brother Bill owned and operated Sunset Books and Magazines for many years, was the first chairman of BCDC. He chaired the meetings; he brought together the 27 members representing all the major interests in the Bay, ranging from saving it to filling it.

And, miraculously, Mr. Lane got the often-at-odds BCDC commissioners to agree on a plan that would reverse the filling of San Francisco Bay, control uses along its shoreline, and begin to restore it to its former richness.

"Mel was a masterful chairman," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay. "He was strong enough to keep things moving forward, but open enough to encourage broad participation by the public, and enhance public confidence."

The tide had turned. In 1969 Governor Ronald Reagan signed the law to make the BCDC permanent and give it the authority to regulate filling and dredging by permit, and within 100 feet of the shoreline.

Then in 1972, California voters passed Proposition 20 to create the Coastal Commission, modeled on BCDC, which has accomplished much the same goals for the California coast. Mel Lane was its first chairman.

Save the Bay is celebrating the 40 years of saving San Francisco Bay by honoring BCDC and the people who have made it a success on Thursday, December 1, in San Francisco.

Besides honoring Mr. Lane as first chairman, the event will feature Joe Bodovitz, the first executive director; Save The Bay co-founder Sylvia McLaughlin, one of three Berkeley women who spearheaded the original drive; and past and present BCDC commissioners.

San Francisco Bay has improved dramatically since 1965. According to Save The Bay, BCDC has opened more than 900 acres of new public access for trails, parks and recreation along more than 90 miles of shoreline. It has issued permits for wetlands restoration that has made the Bay thousands of acres larger, and authorized over $14.4 billion in shoreline development.

All this has cost Californians about 10 cents per year.

For information, call 510-452-9261; or visit

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