Vigilance is still required even after 40 years of protecting open space, officials warn at 'Founders' Day' | Off Deadline | Jay Thorwaldson | Palo Alto Online |

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By Jay Thorwaldson

Vigilance is still required even after 40 years of protecting open space, officials warn at 'Founders' Day'

Uploaded: Sep 21, 2013

Four decades of acquiring open space lands and 62,000 acres later, vigilance is still needed to protect the forested areas looming above Palo Alto and northwestern Silicon Valley, officials warned at an upbeat hilltop celebration this month.

Several hundred attendees and public officials gathered at a noontime Saturday (Sept. 14) event at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve along Page Mill Road in Palo Alto to celebrate the 1972 creation of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, commonly known as MROSD.

From the hilltop site they scanned a panorama that swept from Mt. Umunhum in the south up the Santa Cruz Mountains spine toward San Francisco, along the Skyline Ridge.

They listened under a large white canopy to state and local officials recount the early formation efforts starting in 1970 that led to voter approval in 1972 in Santa Clara County and four years later in San Mateo County.

The attendees, of all ages from strollers to wheelchairs, heard both historical anecdotes and plans for the future -- and a warning that the forested mountain lands need continuing attention and protection.

State Senators Jim Beall and Jerry Hill said the most recent threat was a strongly pushed proposal to allow extensive permanent logging rights in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which among other things would mean log-carrying helicopters flying over the protected lands, hiking trails and sweeping ridgetop vistas.

But in just a week before the anniversary event the logging provision was dropped from the legislation, AB904, they recounted.

MROSD General Manager Steve Abbors said the teamwork of Hill and Beall was key in the defeat of the logging measure. He said the issue is an example of how continuing watchfulness is vitally important in the protection and management of public lands.

Beall recalled his early support -- and petition signature-gathering for the creation of the district -- when he was still a student at San Jose State University.

"Those were exciting times," he said, citing creation of the coastal-protection act, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and increased environmental awareness generally.

"My father grew up in the mountains in the 1930s," Beall recounted, adding that his father hiked many early trails. His father picked prunes one summer but the orchard owner never paid because the owner, John Steinbeck, went to London to sell his latest book: The Grapes of Wrath.

"We call that story, 'The Prunes of Wrath,'" Beall said.

Hill, indicating the sweeping vista of open lands from the hilltop, painted an alternative picture: "Think of what this could have been!" he declared, citing "freeways and housing developments.

"It takes a team effort" for such successes, he said, referring to his involvement with a working group that resulted in the district boundaries being extended to the San Mateo County coast.

Abbors introduced a bevy of public officials who had a hand in the formation of the district, including leading co-founder, Nonette Hanko of Palo Alto. Councilman Larry Klein was a member of the organizing committee, along with other residents, alive and deceased.

Former state Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, now serving on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, noted he has been recognized as being strong on environmental issues, including open space.

He asked the audience to recall back through the years of U.S. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2 and Obama.

"Nonette Hanko has outlasted them all," in serving on the MROSD Board of Directors, he said, introducing her.

Hanko recalled how a February 1970 editorial in the normally conservative Palo Alto Times served as a "kick in the butt" for environmentalists when it declared that if they were serious about saving lands they should follow the 1930s example of the East Bay Regional Park District: get voter approval for a tax-funded district and buy lands at fair market value.

After an initial response of being hurt by the criticism, she said she realized that with that key support creating a district might be possible for permanent dedication of lands.

The newspaper also supported annexation of San Mateo County lands through a petition effort, bypassing the county's Board of Supervisors that earlier opposed its formation as a two-county district.

Abbors said the district focused strongly on acquisition of lands in its early decades and now is evolving toward a stronger focus on land management and extending public access through its network of trails and protected areas that will be there "10, 20, 30, 40, 100 years from now."

He quoted the late Mary Davey, an early supporter and former board member, in saying the district is "a forever kind of thing."

Note: Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson was involved in drafting the 1970 Palo Alto Times editorial for then-Editor Alexander Bodi. Thorwaldson can be emailed at [email protected] with a cc: to [email protected] He also writes blogs for (below Town Square).