Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
Lewis ’83 was awarded the Princeton Club of Northern
California’s Public Service Award in 2000.
April 21, 2004:
David Lewis ’83 protects San Francisco’s
While David Lewis ’83 was growing up in Palo Alto, California,
the San Francisco Bay was not a place to go swimming.
“It was a dump, a sewer,” he says.
Little did he know that, years later, it would be his job to clean
As executive director of Save the Bay, a conservation group founded
in 1961, Lewis has become one of the most prominent voices in the
Bay Area calling for the protection and restoration of its greatest
The organization, with roughly 10,000 dues paying members, recently
won a major battle against one of the region’s most controversial
public works projects — a plan by San Francisco International
Airport to expand its runways by filling in 1,200 acres of the bay.
In 2001, Save The Bay sponsored and passed a ballot initiative amending
the San Francisco city charter to require voter approval of any
bay landfill project over 100 acres. Citing a lack of popular support,
the airport shelved the expansion project in May 2003.
Lewis came to Save The Bay in 1998, but it wasn’t the first
time in his career he had fought for the public interest.
His senior thesis on the 1980s nuclear freeze movement helped
him land a job at Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit group in Washington,
D.C., lobbying for disarmament. Later, he joined Physicians for
Social Responsibility, another arms-control group, before becoming
the senior defense aide to U.S. Senator Carl Levin, from 1991-96.
In 1996, Lewis was hired as the chief operations officer of the
League of Conservation Voters. Two years later he moved back to
the Bay area to serve at the helm of Save The Bay. “It felt
like a dream job,” Lewis says.
Lewis inherited an organization with a great reputation and mission,
but one he says was low-tech and “under performing.”
He began a more aggressive fundraising campaign, overhauled the
group’s Web site, and expanded volunteer opportunities and
educational trips for students.
The effects are noticeable. Since Lewis joined the group, membership
has swelled by 15 percent, the budget has doubled to about $2 million
per year in 2002. Though he is reluctant to take credit, the political
success of amending the city charter in 2001 and of stopping the
airport expansion in 2003 was thanks in no small part to Lewis’s
own experience as a lobbyist at the Capitol.
Today, with the runway expansion plans shelved for the foreseeable
future, Lewis and his organization are not resting on their laurels.
More than 7 million people live and work around the bay, and every
heavy rainfall flushes motor-oil, agricultural pesticides, copper
from brake pad linings, trash, and other pollution on city streets
into its waters. This “nonpoint source” pollution will
only get worse, as the Bay Area’s population is expected to
double by the year 2025.
To encourage awareness of bay-friendly practices and policies,
Lewis’s group organizes thousands of educational canoe trips
for students each year, and leads teams of volunteers working on
habitat restoration of marshlands, which serve not only as ecological
oases but also as a natural filter for storm runoff.
For his efforts at Save The Bay, Lewis was awarded the Princeton
Club of Northern California’s Public Service Award in 2000,
and was appointed as an environmental advisor to the transition
team of San Francisco’s new mayor, Gavin Newsom, in December
Lewis and his wife, Julia, live with their two daughters in Kensington,
a township in the hills above Berkeley, and from their bedroom enjoy,
appropriately, a sweeping view of the bay.
By Justin Nyberg ’01
Justin Nyberg ’01 is a reporter in San Francisco.