If you’ve ever enjoyed a drive on that rugged stretch of California coast where Highway One winds south of Pacifica, past Half Moon Bay and down through Pescadero, you should probably thank Lennie Roberts.
“Lennie is considered the sixth supervisor in San Mateo County (although never elected) because of her influence and impact on defining, protecting, and expanding open space in the county,” says former colleague Reed Holderman, who has known Roberts since the 1980s.
“She’s always been very clearheaded and the voice of reason. She has depth and fire and passion and the creativity to make things happen,” he adds.
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Roberts has devoted her life to the conservation of the county’s coastline and bay shore. She’s beloved for her tenacity and drive, her calm, collaborative approach, and her relentless commitment to the land.
A legislative advocate with Committee for Green Foothills for more than 40 years, she helped found the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972 and advanced its expansion into San Mateo County in 1976 and finally to the coast in 2009. During an open space campaign in 1986, Roberts co-led the effort toward passage of Measure A, the first countywide citizens’ initiative that protected San Mateo’s rural coast from development. Then, in 1996, she co-led a campaign for the passage of Measure T, which mandated that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) construct the Devil’s Slide tunnel, an alternative to a freeway bypass many believe would have destroyed extensive natural environment along the coast and brought suburban sprawl.
A graduate of Stanford University with a B.A. in art, Roberts credits much of her success to her ability to apply creative problem-solving to complex issues.
She was born in Orinda and got her start in conservation early. At age 12 she wrote a letter to then-Governor Earl Warren asking him to save Hendy Woods, a redwood grove in Mendocino County. She still remembers the personal letter she got back. The area eventually became Hendy Woods State Park and today offers five miles of hiking trails through two groves of towering coast redwoods.
Currently she’s working to protect uplands by Dunes Beach and Surf Beach, adjacent to nesting habitat for the threatened western snowy plover and near Half Moon Bay State Beach. The Committee for Green Foothills petition against a hotel project there already has more than 4,700 signatures.
Roberts constantly reminds herself of the incredible power of the natural world. “We save things, but we are also facing much more enormous global challenges,” she reflects. “It’s going to take tremendous effort to address our climate change issues. This is Mother Nature. We don’t have the last word.”
As she looks to the future, she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to empower those trying to solve land use problems in their communities. “Educate yourself,” she suggests. “Find out who’s making the decisions, get in touch with your local organizations, and engage in various aspects of land use planning.”