New Legal Ruling in the Long Battle to Protect the Bay’s Sand

Nov 14, 2018

In 2012, California approved a dramatic doubling of sand mining in San Francisco Bay, which allowed private companies to remove and sell an unprecedented 2 million cubic yards of Bay sand every year.

Sand is being removed from the Bay faster than it can be naturally replenished. That leaves less sand in the Bay to shore up wetlands and shoreline areas, including places with severe erosion like San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.

Baykeeper has been advocating and litigating to address this threat ever since. We succeeded in getting the mining levels reduced by 25% and required local agencies to evaluate the harmful impacts of Bay mining. Our most recent lawsuit challenged the state’s newest permit allowing sand mining at unsustainable levels. We argued that the state must protect the Bay’s sand on behalf of all Californians, under a legal principle called the public trust doctrine. We also argued that the current sand mining levels are directly harming Ocean Beach. 

In response, the state made the outlandish claim that it has the authority to sell Bay sand for any purpose, regardless of the harm to public beaches.

Last month, the Court of Appeal agreed with Baykeeper’s first argument, ruling that the state cannot allow private sand mining, unless it first ensures that the activity won’t harm public resources--in this case, local beaches.

In fact, because of the broad language of the ruling, the state’s approval of any resource extraction, in any waterway in California, will require a higher standard to demonstrate it won’t harm public resources. That’s a major victory for better protecting San Francisco Bay and all other waterways of the state.

Unfortunately, the Court also ruled that the evidence of harm to Ocean Beach wasn’t strong enough to overturn the state’s decision to allow high levels of sand mining. That means, for now, the state can continue to allow mining companies to take too much sand from the Bay floor. 

And that means our fight is not over. Baykeeper scientists are already advising state and federal researchers on new studies to analyze the connection between excessive sand mining and erosion at Ocean Beach. We’ll review the new science and be ready to make an even stronger case the next time the state considers new sand mining levels.

With this critical legal battle won, we’ll continue to fight excessive sand mining that harms Ocean Beach and reduces sand available for the Bay’s wetlands and shorelines.   

Below: KPIX CBS 5 News report on sand mining in the Bay

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