Saving Land, From Hilltops to the Bay

February 1, 2011

For over 30 years, Lennie Roberts has been one of the Bay Area’s leading voices for open space protection and against sprawl. As long-time legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills, Roberts has played a key role in many critical open space battles on the Peninsula and in the South Bay. She also played a major role in the effort to create the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972.

Today, Lennie continues to work for protection of our irreplaceable natural resources and open space lands, from the farm fields and scenic vistas of the San Mateo coast, to the forested ridgeline of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the shores of San Francisco Bay.

BN: How did you get started as an environmentalist?

LR: I was born in Oakland, and have lived in the Bay Area all my life. I grew up roaming all over the hills of Orinda, which was very much “country” at the time. I also spent time each year at our family’s apple and sheep ranch in Mendocino County. My first environmental activism was in 1950 when I was 13 years old. I wrote to Governor Earl Warren and asked him to preserve the Hendy Woods in Mendocino County — these old growth trees had survived the first blitz of logging in the 1800s but were about to be cut. Governor Warren wrote a personal letter back to me saying he shared my love of the redwoods and would see what he could do. It’s now a state park!

My first environmental activism was in 1950 when I was 13 years old. I wrote to Governor Earl Warren and asked him to preserve the Hendy Woods in Mendocino County.

Having seen the post-World War II boom pave over much of our orchards, farms, and ranches, I became convinced of the need for land (and Bay) preservation. Harold Gilliam‘s articles in the San Francisco Chronicle also provided a major influence for me at the time.

I joined the board of the Committee for Green Foothills in 1968, and became the committee’s Legislative Advocate for San Mateo County in 1978.

BN: What are some of your favorite parks and preserves?

LR: I have too many favorites! Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is near our house, and as one of the original docents, I love to see what’s going on in any season. Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, near Redwood City, has spectacular Spring wildflower displays, and Windy Hill Open Space Preserve in Portola Valley offers wonderful hiking at any season. And then there’s Heritage Grove Park near La Honda, which has some of the oldest and largest redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

BN: What are your key environmental concerns now?

LR: Cargill Inc.’s proposed new city of up to 30,000 people on restorable baylands in Redwood City is one. Another is the mixed-use development called “Big Wave,”  adjacent to Pillar Point Marsh, between Princeton and Moss Beach on the San Mateo coast.

BN: What would you like us to be aware of regarding the Cargill project?

LR: The Cargill project has just begun the environmental review process, but Redwood City should not have even seriously considered this project. Development on Cargill’s low-lying restorable property is anathema to good planning, and would require enormous expenditures for new roads, utilities, and levees. It would be entirely counterproductive to ongoing efforts to direct new development along key transportation corridors, such as the Grand Boulevard initiative for El Camino Real, and into revitalizing urban downtown areas. The challenge we face is the apparently unlimited deep pockets of Cargill and its development partner, Arizona-based DMB.

The best outcome would be for these 1430 acres to be acquired as an addition to the Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge and restored for habitat. I’m confident that in the end, this battle will be won!

BN: What advice can you offer regarding effective tactics for conservation?

LR: Keep communicating, and keep voicing your opinions. The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t burn bridges, you’ll be amazed how former adversaries can become your allies in the future.

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.

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