September 20, 2014

Sierra Club files suit to protect California coast

marin

Marin coastline; Photo by Louis Nuyens.

In 1976, the California Legislature enacted the Coastal Act, which created a mandate for coastal counties to manage the conservation and development of coastal resources through a comprehensive planning and regulatory program called the Local Coastal Program. New action in Marin County threatens to weaken these coastal protections, but the Sierra Club is fighting back.

Last month the Club filed legal action to challenge a dangerous amendment to Marin’s Local Coastal Plan. The amendment was submitted by Marin County and approved by the Coastal Commission in May. If allowed to stand, Marin’s amended Coastal Plan would substantially weaken environmental protections and set a precedent for poor process and lack of environmental review along the entire California coast. The result would be to open up our coastline to increased development and allowed uses without public process.

The Coastal Commission’s approval of the Local Coastal Plan Amendment ignored five years of repeated warnings from the Sierra Club, other environmental groups, and even its own staff, that the document was in violation of the California Coastal Act. The Coastal Commission’s action could result in less environmental review and protection for coastal areas than in similar areas outside of coastal zones. This would create a confusing and unequal application of land use planning laws.

Marin’s Local Coastal Plan update needs to be more protective of the environment than the original 1981 Plan—not less. The Sierra Club believes that if allowed to stand, the Marin County amendment will set a statewide precedent and result in more inappropriate development and less environmental protection for California’s sensitive coastal areas.

The Bay Chapter’s Marin Group has set up a Marin Coastal Defense Fund to help protect and preserve our spectacular California coastline. For more information or to make a donation, visit the Group website.

—Elena Belsky, Sierra Club Marin Group

East Bay, along with California, moves forward with Community Choice energy

10440739_10152020396947723_3945628812076948721_nMomentum for Community Choice energy has only been building during the months-long fight against Assembly Bill 2145—nicknamed the “Utility Monopoly Protection Act”—that which would have put up major roadblocks to the implementation of Community Choice programs in California (see “AB 2145, renewable energy wrecking ball: down but not out”). AB 2145 failed to make it to the Senate floor for a vote before the state legislature adjourned on August 31st, and is now dead. With that hurdle cleared, clean-energy advocates throughout the state are energized and re-focusing on local initiatives to create or improve Community Choice energy programs from Sonoma to San Diego and everywhere in between.

In the Bay Area in particular, there has been a groundswell of movement on Community Choice. The cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, and San Pablo, as well as Napa County, have all expressed interest in joining Marin Clean Energy. Officials from Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, along with the cities within those counties, are exploring options for creating their own Community Choice programs. Alameda County has taken a leadership role in creating an East Bay clean power program—and officials in Contra Costa County are warming up to the idea. The Bay Chapter has been actively engaged in the East Bay efforts to develop a Community Choice program, convening monthly organizing meetings with likeminded organizations and activists who want to democratize and transition our energy system to 100% renewable electricity.

On June 3rd, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to allocate $1.3 million for the study and formation of a Community Choice energy program. The county’s Community Development Agency put forward a timeline of 18 months for a feasibility study for the program, followed by another 18-month period for prepping for program launch and implementation.

One of the largest components of the feasibility study is an analysis of the energy-load data from 1.55 million county residents and establishing a plan for serving the county’s energy needs. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has jurisdiction over the unincorporated portions of the county, which represents only 10 percent of the county’s energy load. In order for the feasibility study to be as robust and accurate as possible, individual cities within the county will also have to proactively opt-in for their load data to be included in the study; the Sierra Club and its partners are advocating for these cities to do so.

Other important components of the first 18-month period include setting up a community advisory board for the program and engaging in community outreach so that residents throughout Alameda County are informed and involved in the transformation and localization of our energy system. The extent of Contra Costa County’s participation in this program or in a separate Community Choice effort remains to be seen.

WhatYouCanDo

If you live in Alameda County, contact your city manager to ensure your city is included in the Community Choice feasibility study.

If you live in Contra Costa County, call your supervisors and let them know you are supportive of Community Choice! Find your supervisor’s contact information here.

Assessing the fallout: partial victories, opportunities lost with Chevron refinery project

checronThe Chevron refinery expansion project approved by the City Council this summer is a partial victory for Richmond residents concerned with clean air, climate disruption, safety, and jobs. At the same time, however, the deal represented critical missed opportunities including a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and additional safety upgrades.

It was a long and difficult fight. Chevron spent millions on mailers, billboards, and “citizen” rallies to promote what it claimed was simply a “modernization” project. They continually repeated the mantra “Modern equals cleaner.” How many times did we hear the comparison of a new car to an old car? Chevron spread money freely to sway public opinion and win endorsements.

Contrary to the rhetoric, Chevron’s real goal was to retool the refinery to enable it to process higher-sulfur crude oil—a process that results in more greenhouse gases and more toxic contaminants. The approval guaranteed Chevron that ability.

What We Won

Environmental and community-based groups fought hard to use the  approval process as an opportunity to reduce locally-produced greenhouse gasses, reduce toxic contaminants in the air, and make progress toward sustainable energy production. The Sierra Club worked with our allies—the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Communities for a Better Environment, Richmond Progressive Alliance, California Nurses Association, 350 Bay Area, and the Sunflower Alliance—to mobilize Richmond residents to countless trainings, community meetings, and hearings to weigh in on the project throughout the environmental review process.

With environmental groups forcing attention to the project and the August 2012 Chevron refinery fire still fresh in the community’s collective memory, the city council’s approval included important concessions. Ultimately, Chevron was required to accept greater limitations on the sulfur content of its crude, and agreed that the expanded facility would produce no increase in greenhouse gases. Since toxic emissions are generally co-pollutants with greenhouse gasses, toxic emissions will likely also be reduced. Chevron will also have to replace more piping than originally proposed and reduce diesel particulate matter. Even at the last minute, Chevron was forced to make further concessions, including $90 million in community investments over the next decade (with $8 million for green-energy programs), up from a previous pledge of $60 million.

These significant victories were the result of a mobilized community that was aware of the issues from years of organizing and education; a coalition of organizations that came together to counter the massive Chevron misinformation campaign with its own materials and outreach; and a Planning Commission (appointed by the progressive mayor and councilmembers) that was willing and able to stand up to Chevron’s intense pressure.

Opportunities Lost

Unfortunately, the city council was unwilling to stand up to Chevron and endorse all of the Planning Commission’s forward-thinking recommendations, which, if adopted, would have resulted in an even safer, more environmentally friendly project. Recommendations that were left on the table would have required: the retrofitting of tug boats; ships docked at the refinery to turn off their engines; and the facility to develop a plan to continue to reduce toxic emissions. Furthermore, the $90 million Community Benefit Agreement did not include funds to save Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo, which treated most of the patients who sought medical help after the 2012 refinery fire.

The Battle Continues

Local environmental groups are considering a legal challenge to the city council’s decision, based on the fact that some final details of the agreement were introduced without an appropriate and legal review period. The Sierra Club will report on any developments with regard to the potential lawsuit.

For its part, Chevron is continuing to campaign. It has already given $1.6 million to a Political Action Committee to elect Nat Bates as mayor and Charles Ramsey, Donna Powers, and Al Martinez to the city council. If elected, these individuals would carry out Chevron’s political agenda and squelch the progressives on the council who demanded a cleaner and safer refinery. The Sierra Club has endorsed the Team Richmond candidates: Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez, and Jael Myrick for Richmond city council and Tom Butt for Mayor.

The eight-year fight surrounding the Chevron expansion project demonstrates two important points. First, when a community organizes, it can force concessions—even from powerful multinational corporations. And second, in these situations there are rarely complete victories.

—Mike Parker, Eduardo Martinez, and Jess Dervin-Ackerman

A Sierra Club intern joins the fight for refinery regulation

toon oil 2It was only the second time I had been to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District office in San Francisco… and I was already boycotting a meeting. Fifteen or so organizers from local environmental and community groups had come from all over the Bay Area to comment on the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule, a new regulation that would institute improved monitoring standards for oil refinery emissions and potentially require refineries to reduce their emissions over time.

In anticipation of our presence, however, Air District staff had moved the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule to the end of the agenda at the last minute, presumably in the hope that most of us would have to get back to jobs, doctors appointments, or kids long before the item would be heard before the Air District Board. So, we gathered as a group, and after some deliberation decided to walk out on the meeting, with two representatives volunteering to stay behind and voice our complaint to the Board.

The group’s frustration was not just about one wasted morning. Rather, the consensus was that the agenda switch was just the latest example in the Air District staff’s long-standing pattern of undermining and ignoring community input on this rule and other community protections we and our allies have sought. The rule—originally proposed to address the issue of refineries switching over to lower-quality crude such as the infamous Bakken and Canadian Tar Sands—has been repeatedly delayed and weakened by Air District staff since its initiation in June of 2012. A proposal put forward last year by the local steelworkers’ union and a coalition of local environmental groups for 20% emissions reductions by 2020 was seemingly ignored by Air District staff, and no other method for reducing refinery emissions and quelling community health and safety concerns has been offered since. Instead, in April of this year, Air District staff removed the proposed cap on emissions from the Rule entirely, stating that the intention was never to reduce emissions, just to monitor them.

Community members from the Sierra Club, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the National Resource Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment, Global Community Monitor, the California Nurses Association, and Crockett-Rodeo United to Defend the Environment, and more have been present at full Board and subcommittee meetings for two years now, seeking an answer to the question: are we going to clean up our air or just study ourselves to death?

For too long, the Bay Area’s five oil refineries have been polluting our air and water and pouring money into local politics to ensure they can continue their dirty, harmful practices. In the Bay Area alone, air pollution kills nearly 2,000 people each year. The Sierra Club believes that it’s well past time for the Air District to take strong and bold action to protect our communities from the toxic air pollution spewing from these facilities.

For the most recent Board meeting on September 3, each group mobilized to turn out community members and draw attention to the Refinery Rule. The Sierra Club’s email alert resulted in over 760 emails to the Air District. This finally had an effect: many Board members spoke up, calling publicly for a rule with teeth that includes the emission reductions that are needed to safeguard community health. Air District staff acknowledged the comments from the community and board, and stated its plans to present on the Rule at the next Stationary Source Committee meeting on October 1. Among the supportive Board members was Director John Gioia, the chair of the Stationary Source Committee. The Sierra Club and partners hope that with Director Gioia’s support, the committee will officially recommend that the full board ask for emission reductions as a part of the Refinery Emissions Tracking Rule slated to move forward by the end of 2014.

The Bay Chapter will continue to closely follow the Air District’s actions over the coming weeks and months. With continued community input and Board support, there is still hope for stronger regulations that prevent toxic polluters from poisoning Bay Area families.

Add your voice to the growing movement in the Bay Area calling for strong and bold action to reduce dangerous emissions and carbon pollution from the refineries along the Bay. Write a letter to the Air District here.

—John Ribeiro-Broomhead is a sophomore at Stanford  University. He just completed a summer internship with the Bay Chapter’s conservation program.

Water bond virtues and vices lead Sierra Club California to a neutral position on Prop. 1

Sacramento Delta.

Photo via Daniel Parks on Flickr Creative Commons.

The $7.5 billion Water Bond (Prop. 1 on the November ballot) passed the legislature with near-unanimous votes and has been signed by the Governor. This is a very complicated bond with billions of taxpayer dollars at stake. The Club’s “no position” stance acknowledges the benefits of the bond, while also taking into account major concerns.

The Good:

There are some very substantial environmental benefits outlined in the bonds. These include about $1.3 billion for non-controversial watershed restoration; $810 million for regional water management, storm water management, and efficiency; and $900 million for groundwater treatment, planning, and management. We strongly support these conservation and restoration programs. The bond will allocate more than $500 million to ensure safe drinking water for low-income disadvantaged communities in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and provide funding to clean up groundwater pollution in the Los Angeles basin. Real dollars will be available to ensure that communities around the state that are literally without water because of severe drought and serious groundwater pollution will get clean drinking water.

The proposition also explicitly prohibits spending any of the funds on the construction, design, maintenance, operation, or mitigation of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Governor Brown’s proposal to build twin tunnels around the Bay Delta in order to ensure the continued export of unsustainable quantities of Delta water to Southern California.

The Bad:

So what’s not to like? Unfortunately the water bond also authorizes $2.7 billion (more than one third of the total bond package) for development of three environmentally damaging water storage projects. Because the water bond required a 2/3 vote in both houses of the legislature, Republicans were able to drive a hard bargain and obtain the $2.7 billion for surface storage in the Central Valley, including three projects Sierra Club has opposed because they are over-priced, inefficient and unneeded. These are the proposals to raise the Shasta Dam, and to build two new dams, one off-stream using Sacramento River water at Sites (Colusa County) and one upstream of Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River (Temperance Flat).

New above-ground storage projects would not only damage their local ecosystems, but would be bad investments, providing little additional water at enormous cost. According to an analysis done by the Fresno Bee, the five major reservoir projects being studied by the State (Temperance Flat, Sites, and raising the Shasta, Los Vaqueros, and San Luis Reservoir dams) would provide only an additional 520,000 acre feet of water in a dry year at a combined cost of $8.86 billion dollars. That’s a cost of $17,000 per acre-foot, or 8 times the record prices being paid for water in this critically dry year! The reason new and raised dams won’t deliver much additional water is because most of the water they are capable of storing is already spoken for.

The world is much different today than during the dam-building heyday in the 20th century. Climate disruption has begun and precipitation patterns are already changing. New dams won’t respond to that. The sooner the special interests that drive dam development in this state recognize this 21st-century reality and focus instead on moving aggressively to enable regional resiliency through conservation, efficiency, recycling, storm water capture, groundwater management and the like, the better off we will all be.

Oakland’s Zero Waste win threatened by misleading corporate campaign

Waste FlyerOn August 13, Oakland’s City Council made a courageous decision to adopt a recycling and composting contract that incorporates green and forward-looking elements including:

  • source separation of trash, recycling, and compostable materials for all Oaklanders;
  • use of a local EBMUD facility for anaerobic digestion of Oakland’s food waste and conversion to clean energy;
  • collaboration with Civicorps, a local organization that provides training and job placement to underprivileged youth;
  • augmented bulky waste pick up to prevent illegal dumping;
  • decent wages for recycling workers, many of whom work and live in Oakland; and
  • building a multimillion dollar state-of-the-art recycling facility on Oakland’s Army Base.

California Waste Solutions (CWS), which was awarded the contract, was the only company that agreed to implement these and other benefits for Oakland residents at consumer rates lower than their main competitor, Waste Management. Currently, Oakland City Councilmembers and City Staff are working closely with CWS to ensure that the transition to the new contract happens smoothly and timely.

Unfortunately, Waste Management—which lost the bid due to their proposed higher rates and unwillingness to incorporate many of the contract’s green elements—is now gathering petitions to force a costly special election for Oakland taxpayers in an attempt to overrule the City Council decision. Don’t be fooled by these petitions, which are using inaccurate and false information. If you have questions, you can call or email your councilmembers, Mayor and/or City Administrator to receive accurate information. Don’t fall for an expensive scam.

Together, we can build an Oakland that keeps local money local, treats all Oaklanders fairly, and builds its economy on green, collaborative, and sustainable values.

Rooftop solar threatened in Alameda

Rooftop solar. Photo via 64MM on Flickr CC.

Rooftop solar. Photo via 64MM on Flickr CC.

The future of rooftop solar in Alameda is uncertain. Local utility Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) is considering the successor to its Net Metering Energy program. Under the net metering, solar customers sell only their surplus energy to AMP at the wholesale price for renewable energy. The alternative Feed in Tariff (FiT) proposal would require customers to sell all their power to the utility at wholesale prices before buying it back at higher retail prices. AMP would also get the value of the Renewable Energy Credit , which presently goes to the solar customer. As proposed, the FiT program would be a major disincentive for solar. We anticipate that as a result of this program, little or no new solar would be installed in Alameda. Moreover, such action in Alameda could set a precedent that would impact solar statewide and nationally.

The Alameda Public Utility Board meets on the third Monday of each month and the FiT proposal is expected to be heard within the next few months. To get involved in the campaign, contact Ruth Abbe at Ruth.Abbe at gmail.com.

—Ruth Abbe

Rain, snow, and fire on the John Muir Trail

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Teri Shore on the John Muir Trail.

It was my 14th day on the John Muir Trail when the early morning snowstorm hit me as I ascended the 12,130-foot mountain pass. I crouched down next to a boulder and tree for safety, while I decided what to do next: turn back, sit it out, or keep going?

Thankfully, a group of hikers from Oakhurst soon came up the trail behind me, and together we chanced it to the top. The snow, wind, and cold followed us up and over. After two hours of mayhem, we dropped down below tree line as the sun emerged. We made hot water and warmed up. Later I learned that anyone who happened to have been on a high pass that morning was pelted by snow—and survived. But the bad weather sent many folks home.

Anyone who backpacks regularly in the Sierra Nevada knows that sudden afternoon showers are a regular occurrence. But this summer, monsoon-driven rainstorms dumped far more than was usual. And snow falling at sunrise took everyone by surprise.

After leading backpacking trips for the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter for nearly 20 years, I decided to finally through-hike the John Muir Trail (JMT) this year in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The JMT is an epic, 211-mile path through the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite to Mount Whitney—the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. Along the way, the Trail winds through three magnificent wilderness areas: Yosemite, Ansel Adams, and John Muir. It took me 21 days to cover 185 of the 211-mile JMT, starting in Tuolumne Meadows on July 7 and summiting Mount Whitney on July 27.

With food and water, my packed weighed about 30 to 35 pounds. I ate lots of oatmeal, Krave jerky and string cheese, and instant mashed potatoes. My food drops were at Red Meadows and John Muir Ranch, and I paid a packer to carry in my last resupply over Kearsarge Pass. Like most people who hike at high altitude, I lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat chocolate and nut butter, foods I usually wolf down.

I was impressed to see a number of solo women hikers like myself out on the trail. We all got the same questions before we left, such as, “Won’t you be scared?” and “What happens if you get hurt?” and even “Are you carrying a gun?” We all agreed that we felt safer on the JMT than walking downtown in any city.

After the terrifying snowstorm on Pinchot, my thoughts turned to the 13,152-foot Forester Pass still ahead. As with Pinchot, fellow travelers I met on the trail would help me over the pass—this time, Majoet and Denis from Quebec. And again, the ascent wouldn’t be without incident. As we approached, Denis spotted smoke. Then, hikers coming down the mountain told us they had seen trees going up in flames. First snow, now fire! Concerned, our small party continued climbing to get above tree line, where, at least in theory, there was no fuel for a fire to burn. Within an hour a state fire department helicopter showed up to check on the fire. We made camp short of the pass and eventually the small blaze died down, though we could smell smoke throughout the night. In the morning, we climbed three hours to get to the top of Forester Pass, where I said goodbye to my companions and went on toward Mount Whitney and home.

Teri Shore is an avid backpacker and wilderness advocate who has led Sierra Club backpack trips for the San Francisco Bay Chapter Backpack Section since 1996. She adores Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada and Trinity Alps. She has climbed Mount Shasta and many non-technical Sierra peaks over 9,000 feet including Mount Conness, Mount Dana, and Mount Hoffman. She has also completed long treks in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Read Teri’s trail journal and see more photographs from her trip online here.

Tirelesss wilderness advocate: the Bay Chapter’s Vicky Hoover

Vicky Hoover at Kugururok Camp, Alaska.

Vicky Hoover at Kugururok Camp, Alaska.

Q: What do Ansel Adams, Edgar Wayburn, William O. Douglas, Jacques Cousteau, David Brower, Wallace Stegner, Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and Vicky Hoover all have in common?  A: They all received the John Muir Award, the Sierra Club’s highest, honoring “a distinguished record of leadership in national conservation causes, such as continuing John Muir’s work of preservation and establishment of parks and wildernesses.” It was in 2004 that the Bay Chapter’s own Vicky Hoover received that honor, prompting Chapter Wilderness Committee colleague Alan Carlton to write in the Yodeler: “If anyone epitomizes the spirit of John Muir, it is Vicky Hoover. She is a legendary backpack leader, a tireless and extremely effective wilderness advocate, and a dedicated Sierra Club staff member.”

Fast-forward to 2014: it’s Vicky’s 28th year as a wilderness leader, and she is more effective and widely respected than ever. No longer on staff at Sierra Club (she retired in 2010 after 24 years of service), Vicky donates her prodigious energy full-time to protecting wild places. For the past four years her focus has been on using the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act as a catalyst to publicize and promote wilderness to a broader and more diverse American public. As co-chair of Wilderness50—a coalition of federal agencies and non-profit organizations—Vicky has organized events large and small across the country (You can find a list of events at www.wilderness50th.org, including the major National Wilderness Conference to be held this October in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Vicky has worked to ensure that every local Sierra Club chapter is involved in the anniversary celebrations. She has also helped raise awareness of the anniversary by working with the media and by pushing for official proclamations in many states, counties and cities across the country.

Vicky was born in Manhattan, in the heart of New York City, but spent most of her formative years in Washington, DC. Her family spent summer vacations in rustic cabins in state forests and parks in western Maryland or West Virginia, hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. Vicky moved west to attend college, earning her BA from Oberlin College and going on to earn an MA in economics from University of Michigan.

Vicky was a young wife and mother of two small children, Nathan and Frances, when she first got involved with the Sierra Club outing’s program in 1967. The family had moved to California in 1962 and quickly discovered the magnificence of high Sierra hiking. Soon, she and her husband Bill were climbing peaks and leading Sierra Club outings, starting with family-oriented burro trips.  Through years of training and practice, Vicky became an accomplished outdoorswoman and mountaineer, by 1981 climbing all 247 peaks on the Sierra Peaks Section list (for an account of those years in Vicky’s own words, see http://tinyurl.com/vickysclimbs, pp. 8-11). Over the years Vicky has led countless Club outings, mostly in the Sierra Nevada but also in places as far-flung as Alaska, Utah, and New Zealand.

Vicky’s training as a wilderness advocate began in 1985 when she moved to San Francisco and took a part-time job at the Sierra Club National office as staff assistant to Dr. Ed Wayburn. Under the mentorship of Dr. Wayburn, who had previously served five terms as Sierra Club President, Vicky “learned the ropes” of wilderness politics, grassroots organizing, and effective lobbying. As Vicky says, “Wilderness is a political thing.” In those early years Vicky was staff for the Alaska Task Force, mobilizing people in the lower 48 states to support wilderness protection in Alaska, particularly the Arctic.

Vicky had already been volunteering at the Bay Chapter’s Berkeley office for several years when, in 1985, she joined the Chapter’s Wilderness Committee. She would go on to chair the committee from 1987 to 1997. Influenced by her years of wilderness enjoyment, Vicky would become especially involved with forest planning and the new campaign for the California desert. With Vicky at its helm, the Committee was a leader in the successful eight-year campaign for the California Desert Protection Act. Vicky remembers a marathon lobbying trip to Washington, DC in which she and Elden Hughes “tramped the halls of Congress” for a solid week. Shortly after passage of that landmark legislation, she organized phone banks to help defeat the anti-wilderness Utah Public Lands Management Act. Vicky and the Wilderness Committee went on to participate in many other successful wilderness campaigns in California, Nevada, Utah, and Alaska.

In the late 1980s, to familiarize herself with areas being considered for protection, Vicky began leading trips to the Southwest desert, which she continues to do to this day. Her trips engage activists in repairing damage to wild places, doing mapping and inventory work, and building support for new wilderness designations. Among desert activists, Vicky is said to have a magic touch: if she visits an area being considered for wilderness designation, lo and behold, it becomes wilderness soon thereafter! Veteran wilderness activist Marge Sill of the Toiyabe Chapter writes, “To be a participant in one of Vicky’s trips is an experience to be cherished. Vicky Hoover is the outstanding representative of what is best in the Sierra Club.” Don Forman, longtime Yodeler editor recalls:

I recall going on several car camping trips Vicky led in the desert—Death Valley, Joshua Tree, East Mojave—and later realized that she was ‘learning the desert’ and helping build awareness of desert issues within our Chapter. At that point she already knew the Sierra Nevada like the back of her hand. Over the course of her career, Vicky has kept expanding her range, capacities and effectiveness as a wilderness advocate, not only at the Chapter and state levels, but nationally.

On top of all this, Vicky has chaired the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wilderness Committee since it was formed in 1997; written numerous articles for the Yodeler, the Desert Report, the Alaska Report, and other publications; and edits Words of the Wild, a quarterly Club newsletter focusing on wilderness. In the early 1990s, Vicky received two national Sierra Club awards: one for her outstanding work in the Sierra Club’s national and chapter outings programs, and the other a Special Service Award “for strong and consistent commitment to conservation or the Club over an extended period of time.”

As a leader, Vicky patiently educates and encourages others to care for wild places and work for their protection. She works methodically over months and years, building relationships with sympathetic federal agencies and legislative staff. Her goal is to connect and mobilize individuals and organizations that share her sense of urgency.  “Once harmed, once altered, the wild qualities of an area are lost and you can’t ever get it back,” says Vicky. “I’m alarmed every day as I see new developments being built and open space being torn up. I believe that every bit of roadless land that we have now should stay that way to compensate for all of the development.”

One secret of Vicky’s success is that she blends work with what to her is play: being in the wilderness. Her drive and tenacity come from her deep love of the earth’s wild places. As she puts it, “Mingling outings into conservation work has been at the essence of almost everything I do.” She is famous among desert activists for serving delicious, expertly-prepared wilderness breakfasts and dinners from the tailgate of her car. With her warm smile and gentle encouragement, Vicky clearly enjoys introducing new people, especially young people, to wild places.

Vicky often takes off into the wilderness (without a cell phone or computer). She has traveled widely on several continents, visiting Alaska over 30 times. She has traveled widely on several continents. At home she dotes on her three grandchildren, loves going to the opera, and enjoys hosting friends and family at her San Francisco “B&B.” And although she has driven thousands of miles in her “campaign car,” a Toyota 4Runner, she cycles to work daily and is a dedicated walker and public transit-user when in cities.

Of her ability to work on wilderness advocacy in a concentrated way over long periods of time, never appearing to get discouraged, Vicky says simply, “I don’t think of it as dedicating myself to a cause; the cause is not separate from me—it’s part of my life. It’s what I am.”

—Anne Henny

Extreme cyclist and activist: Zeke Gerwein

Zeke at the Canadian Border“Any of you ride your bike at least three times a week this summer?” asked a P.E. teacher at Berkeley’s King Middle School at the start of the fall term. He was not prepared for Zeke Gerwein’s answer. Between June 15 and August 18, Zeke logged 3,400 miles, biking from Tecate, at the Mexican border, through the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades to Canada, and then down the coast to Arcata. In the hottest areas, he was usually on the road by 6:15 am; in more temperate zones he donned his helmet at 8 am. Depending on the elevation, mileage, weather, wind direction, and fitness of the adult accompanying him, he biked from two-and-a-half to 14 hours a day, six days a week. On the last day of his journey, after 110 miles on the road, Zeke and his companion rode into Arcata 45 minutes after sunset.

The 13-year-old planned this adventure—and he planned it very carefully—not to assure himself a place in a book of records, but to raise money for the Sierra Club, to raise awareness about climate concerns, and to demonstrate how to truly see the world and leave only narrow (non-carbon) tire prints. This summer’s tour raised the stakes from last year’s, when Zeke bicycled 1,851 miles from the Mexican border to Seattle and collected $3,000 for the Sierra Club  Bay Chapter.

Zeke’s was an educational enterprise on multiple levels. An extraordinarily articulate young man, he shared his story and learned from people he met along his route.  Since his return home, has shared his experiences with others. Publicity generated by his long and unique journey also has alerted many to the imminent dangers of global warming. And Zeke learned more about climate change on the road than he could ever have learned at a desk.

Although he had prepared himself well and had already determined not to ride through intolerably hot areas, Zeke was still surprised by the implacable heat. Before his body adjusted to 115-degree weather, he suffered heatstroke in the Mojave Desert. In Ashland, Oregon, where very hot summer temperatures might be expected to reach 88 in normal years, the thermometer reached 103. Zeke saw the earth itself suffering too. He bicycled alongside vast burnt areas in central and northern Washington State, where raging wildfires had destroyed hundreds of homes.

Despite these omens, Zeke was impressed by those he met along the way who are kind to the land. In eastern Washington, he camped in an orchard, transformed from 20 acres of highway debris and planted by a couple who had immigrated from Mexico. The couple gave Zeke 20 pounds of stone fruit to eat on his journey.

Zeke was always accompanied by one of eight adults. For 11 days, from Crater Lake to Mount Rainier, that companion was his father, Joel.  For three days, between Kings Canyon and Yosemite, Zeke’s 70-year-old grandfather rode beside (or behind) him. Most nights the bicyclists camped out, but occasionally one of the adults would feel the need for a real bed, and the pair would stay in a motel. They carried some food with them and ate some meals in restaurants or in front of grocery stores. Twice a day, Zeke would phone home to reassure his pediatrician mother and his 10-year-old brother that he was fine.

Back in Berkeley, Zeke tends to his classes. He likes math, geography, history, and he loves to read (Chaim Potok and John Steinbeck are among his favorite authors) and write (he’s catching up on his trip blog). But that P.E. teacher needn’t worry. Zeke still rides his bike about 60 miles each weekend.

You can show your support for Zeke’s Ride by making a donation to the Bay Chapter.

—Karen Rosenbaum