From Loving Land to Saving It

September 27, 2010

A longtime Bay Area resident, Janet Santos Cobb grew up loving the land that she eventually went on to help preserve as parkland, working for the East Bay Regional Park District. In 1986, Janet’s first assignment as the district’s assistant general manager of public affairs was to raise the $9 million to acquire Pleasanton Ridge. She resigned her post in 1988 to lead the campaign for Measure AA, a bond measure to provide $225 million for purchase of East Bay parkland. Thanks in part to Janet’s skillful leadership, the measure received the two-thirds majority required for passage, resulting in the addition of 30,000 acres of public parkland in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Janet served on the board of directors of the Planning and Conservation League, a statewide advocacy group, for many years, working to pass bond measures to preserve open space, trails, and recreation facilities. She has also served as a board member with Save the Bay and the Yosemite Restoration Trust, and as executive director of the California Oak Foundation. Today, Janet Cobb is executive officer of California Wildlife Foundation, which has recently incorporated California oaks into its project work.

BN: How long have you lived in the Bay Area?

JC: My parents migrated from Nebraska to work in the Richmond ship yards, and I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 69 years. I grew up riding horses through the oak woodlands and grasslands from El Sobrante to Orinda and beyond, and my horse and I won the Mount Diablo trail ride three times. We trained at the old Cutter Laboratory Ranch in Pinole Valley and in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland.

BN: It seems you have some great open space memories from growing up here in the East Bay. Do you have a favorite Bay Area park?

JC: I have special associations with certain parks — my favorite fragrances are oak leaves and dry grass in Briones, followed closely by redwood and pine-perfumed air on cool, foggy mornings in Redwood Regional Park, and along the Stream Trail on a hot summer day. And I remember attending Girl Scout Camp at Alvarado Park, which is part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. This park had a roller skating rink, and we skated at every opportunity. And for five cents I could take the bus to Richmond Natatorium, where I learned to swim. The Natatorium [a.k.a. “The Plunge”] has recently been restored and reopened, much to the community’s delight.

Looking back, I realize what a treat it was to have been versed in the natural world and to have had easy access to low-cost recreational opportunities. But choosing a favorite park is like choosing a favorite child: Impossible.

That said, I have lived on a floating home in the Berkeley Marina since 1994 and I cannot stress how important San Francisco Bay and its wetlands are to the livability of this region. I feel fortunate to be involved in restoration projects in the North Bay and South Bay through California Wildlife Foundation’s many project partners, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.

BN: What issue do you find most pressing today?

JC: It’s not so much any single issue, but the fact that our citizens simply don’t understand how their governing system works, and this lack of understanding, in many instances, hinders responsible action. We need basic civics lessons at every level if we are to use our increasingly scarce resources wisely. We need to wake up and act much more boldly. We’ve lost 95% of our wetlands and forests. That is irresponsible by any measure. It happens one puddle and one tree at a time, but it adds up to a diminished region, climate instability, and an unsustainable ecological system.

The state budget impasse hindered many restoration projects last year, and it looks like the same thing will happen again this year unless elected officials act responsibly.

About the Author

Ingrid Hawkinson was Bay Nature's marketing director until January 2011, when she returned to school to pursue a career in nursing.