The Berkeley Remix Season 7, Episode 3: “Save Mount Diablo’s Future”

episode 3
Mount Diablo Sunrise from Marin County. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

In Episode 3, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s future. From addressing the challenges of COVID-19 to fundraising efforts to protecting land and biodiversity in the entire Diablo Range to mitigating the impacts of climate change to expanding membership and partnerships, Save Mount Diablo still has a lot of good work ahead. This episode asks: what challenges does Save Mount Diablo face today? What can Save Mount Diablo do about climate change? What does the future of Save Mount Diablo look like?

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project!

LISTEN TO EPISODE 3 ON SOUNDCLOUD:

PODCAST SHOW NOTES:

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Burt Bassler, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, and Egon Pedersen. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, and edited by Shanna Farrell. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. 

Original music by Paul Burnett.

Album image North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Episode 3 image Mount Diablo Sunrise from Marin County. All photographs courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about these images, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Amanda Tewes: EPISODE 3: Save Mount Diablo’s Future

[Theme music]

Shanna Farrell: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re listening to our seventh season, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo.”

Farrell: I’m Shanna Farrell. 

Tewes: And I’m Amanda Tewes. We’re interviewers at the Center and the leads for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Tewes: This season we’re heading east of San Francisco to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In this three-part mini-series, we look at land conservation through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. 

Farrell: It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

Farrell: In this episode, we explore the future of Save Mount Diablo. 

Farrell: ACT 1: What challenges does Save Mount Diablo face today?

[Soundbed- ambulance]

Tewes: On March 16, 2020, counties across the Bay Area issued a shelter-in-place order because the COVID-19 pandemic was on the rise. While this impacted life for everyone, it interrupted the work that Save Mount Diablo was doing as people stayed at home and the future was uncertain. 

[Soundbed- doors locking]

Tewes: But executive director Ted Clement knew that life wouldn’t stop, and people needed to know that they weren’t alone, perhaps more than ever. So he decided to light the beacon at the top of Mount Diablo. Think of a lighthouse shining on the top of the highest mountain in the Bay Area.

Ted Clement: We started a special program lighting the beacon every Sunday night and letting it shine until Monday morning, to really create that symbol of hope and gratitude for nature, as well as all of our first responders. 

Farrell: The beacon was originally lit in 1928 by Charles Lindbergh to provide light to aviators in the early days of commercial flight. The beacon beamed every night until December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was lit sporadically until it was restored in 2013, ensuring that it could shine for many years to come. 

John Gallagher: I’m the one that lights the beacon. [laughs]

Tewes: That’s longtime Save Mount Diablo supporter John Gallagher. He helped light it every Sunday during the first year of the pandemic. He remembers the first time he did this, with help from Ted.

Gallagher: [laughs] The two of us drove up and turned it on. [laughs] And then of course, again, everybody is so paranoid about meeting together. You know, Ted and I are wearing masks and think, Should we really be standing up in that confined space at the beacon, you know, unprotected? Nobody knew. 

Clement: They really stood out in those dark days. And we did that beacon lighting, kept that up for an entire year. We did it from April 2020 to April 2021.

[Soundbed- fire]

Farrell: And as people stayed inside during the early days of COVID, they started to value their outdoor spaces even more. This feeling intensified on September 9, 2020, when the sky stayed an eerie orange all day as wildfires burned across the Bay Area and smoke filled the air. As these fires further forced people inside, many began to think about the environment and care more about the future of the planet. 

Clement: It’s a silver lining amidst the pandemic. I think so many people have discovered nature, because there weren’t many places they could go, so many places were shut down. Nature is a better option. 

Tewes: Ted’s right. As Bay Area residents were spending a lot more time outside, they began to consider financially supporting organizations dedicated to preserving nature, like Save Mount Diablo. These donations kept Save Mount Diablo alive during this precarious time. Here’s board member Scott Hein.

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Scott Hein: We actually had some of our best fundraising campaigns ever during the pandemic, if you can believe it. And I think a big part of that was people wanting to contribute to something positive during those dark times. But I also think there was an increased appreciation of the work we do, and how important parks are and how they helped so many people endure the pandemic. 

Farrell: Save Mount Diablo has always had the goal of conserving land, which includes buying more property. And even before the financial uncertainties of the pandemic, fundraising was a key effort. One of its ongoing projects was the Forever Wild Capital Campaign, which started around 2012 with the goal of raising money for land acquisition. This wrapped up in 2021. This campaign was so successful that it raised money for other program areas, like legal funds and stewardship. 

[Soundbed- cash register]

Clement: We completed Forever Wild, this $15 million capital campaign, and it’s the largest, most consequential fundraising campaign in our organization’s history. And the campaign made a tangible, lasting difference, not only for our organization, but the whole Mount Diablo area. We conserved nine important properties; those will now be permanently protected and continue to benefit our area. 

Tewes: All this sets up Save Mount Diablo to think about the next fifty years. Land conservation director Seth Adams’s big goal is to protect the entire Diablo Range. This is a huge undertaking because the range is 180 miles long and 20 miles wide. But of course, this effort requires money. Here’s Seth speaking about this work.

Seth Adams: Mount Diablo State Park—20,000 acres—has 10 percent of the state’s native plants. Over and over again down the Diablo Range, small areas have incredible biodiversity, species we haven’t even discovered yet. Because so much of it has been locked away in private hands since the Spanish got here that it’s intact, it’s unexplored, it’s unknown, and so a big part of what we’re doing is making it known. [laughs] And that level of intactness, that level of biodiversity, it’s one of the two or three hotspots for the entire state. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Protecting these lands, and the biodiversity that exists within them, is increasingly important as the climate warms and the pressures of development creep in. If Save Mount Diablo is able to protect the entire range, it can connect precious habitat corridors.

Adams: Rather than thinking about parks as islands where you go to see some relic of what was there before, the cities need to be the island surrounded by protected lands for basic ecosystem functions and beautiful views and proximity to open space and things like that. Rather than a park here or there, we need to connect all of the parks across the entire statewide, landscape-level distances. 

Tewes: Expanding the organization’s mission to protect the entire Diablo Range has real impacts for the future of California. If Save Mount Diablo can realize Seth’s vision of cities as islands instead of having parks here and there, it will mitigate the impacts of climate change and development. More land protected means less traffic, cleaner air, and fewer threatened species. Longtime supporter and early board president Egon Pedersen agrees.

Egon Pedersen: I think it’s wonderful that they carry on Mary Bowerman’s goal to preserve the mountain and expand open space. I really admire them expanding beyond Mount Diablo, also. This is also open space for wildlife, so the more wildlife areas you can connect together, the more beautiful chance we have for survival of all the wildlife—plants and animals. So I think that’s beautiful.

Farrell: Here’s Seth again.

Adams: The things that were achievable were just the background noise. The bigger picture stuff is when you start thinking about policies and funding measures and new programs and expansions and things that you haven’t done before. 

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 2: What can Save Mount Diablo do about climate change?

Gallagher: One year, there was a fire. I’m not sure where it was nor what year it was, but I could see the glow of the fire, and that’s a little disconcerting. It’s kind of hard to sleep when you can see the glow of a fire, even though it might be five miles away and there’s really nothing to worry about whatsoever. That was a little eerie. 

Tewes: That was John Gallagher again talking about spending the night on the mountain before Save Mount Diablo’s annual Moonlight on the Mountain event. Each year, he’d sleep in the back of his pickup truck before the fundraiser. 

[Soundbed- truck engine]

Farrell: John had a front-row seat to one of these fires, but many of the people who live in the towns surrounding Mount Diablo have to prepare for fire season each year. They keep a go-bag at the ready, waiting to evacuate if a fire creeps too close. This means that climate change is on the minds of all those involved with Save Mount Diablo. Now its programs are designed with this crisis in mind.  

[Soundbed- fire]

Bob Doyle: And now we go from fires to drought to the point where the heat is killing people. You know, you have these really big events—fires, droughts—but now you have the secondary impact, which is the smoke, people dying from heat. And now we’re going into the drought cycle that these reservoirs are not refilled; they’re already way, way, way low. So you know, my attitude is: Mother Nature’s pretty pissed. 

[Soundbed- rainstorm]

Tewes: That’s Bob Doyle, one of the original six members of Save Mount Diablo, talking about the impact that fires have on life in the Bay Area. It’s also a concern for Abby Fateman, executive director of the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy. In California, wildfires are directly connected to rainfall.

Abby Fateman: Water is absolutely critical to what we’re looking at, and it’s being affected by drought. It’s not just drought, it’s the timing of the rain. So if we get all of our rain right at the beginning of the year, and then it doesn’t rain for the rest of the season, that’s a problem. Or if it doesn’t rain until March, and rains for like a month and a half, that’s a problem. So it’s not just how much rain, it’s when it arrives that we’re struggling with.

Farrell: As we feel the effects of climate change more acutely, Save Mount Diablo and its partners have started thinking critically about how to tailor their goals to fit into the future. 

Fateman: So we need to adapt, right? We’re committed to managing these lands in perpetuity for the species, and I don’t think we have all the answers on how we do that as climate continues to change. And I don’t really know what the endpoint is. Trying to figure out how to manage the lands with any immediate emergency versus what is our long-range plan for what’s really going to happen.

Doyle: It’s going to be a tremendous sacrifice for everybody. So you’ve got to deal with it. [laughs] You’ve got to deal with it. You can argue over what, how, and when, but it is very much accelerated and it’s frightening. A hundred and fifteen degrees in Portland, Oregon; a hundred, you know, what, fourteen, fifteen in Canada?

Tewes: That’s Bob again. In response to the changing climate, Ted initiated a climate action plan for Save Mount Diablo.  

Clement: We’re really, really excited about it, and it’s already having a big impact on us. For example, our largest fund, the Stewardship Endowment Fund, as it’s laid out in our Climate Action Plan, we’ve got it invested in a completely fossil-free portfolio. We are starting massive tree-planting programs. 

Farrell: Seth values Ted’s leadership on this. 

Adams: He understands nature is the cure, and land is the answer in a lot of cases. It’s deeply related to carbon and how we handle climate change positively or negatively. But you know, we’ve started thinking about that in a more nuanced way, and that led to the Climate Action Plan, doing things in a thoughtful way, with urgency. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Here’s Abby Fateman again.

Fateman: We’re spending more time advocating for funding for research on climate change. We are advocating for money on: how do we respond to drought, how do we respond to fire, how do we manage our lands? You know, we’re at the urban-wildland interface, we have an obligation to keep communities safe, as well as species safe. 

Tewes: This all means that Save Mount Diablo—and its partners—have their work cut out for them for the next fifty years. Here’s longtime board member and treasurer Burt Bassler.

Burt Bassler: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t see us not being needed anymore. The threats to the environment are real, climate change is real. Land preservation, in a small way, is important to mitigate climate change. We’re not going to outlast our usefulness.

[Theme music] 

Farrell: ACT 3: So what does the future of Save Mount Diablo look like?

Farrell: Looking to the future of Save Mount Diablo, the organization needs to expand its stakeholders, including the people who use the land. Ted thinks about this a lot.

Clement: Sometimes there’s a lot of conflict and tension between different outdoor user groups, maybe between the mountain bikers and the hikers, or the rock climbers and the birders, you know? To me it’s always a little comical when I see such passion and tension between these groups. I’m like, do you understand what’s going on in the world right now? [laughs] You know, this little spat with the mountain bikers or whatever, that’s small, small potatoes. We’ve got a climate crisis right now, or we’ve also got a mass species extinction event. We actually need to change our thinking. And clearly, you know, the people that recreate outdoors love nature, and they love it in different ways and they exercise in different ways, but clearly they love getting out there. So let’s put the judgment aside. 

[Soundbed- bicycles]

Tewes: Save Mount Diablo doesn’t just want to expand the different groups that appreciate the mountain, it also needs new blood and fresh perspectives to continue the work. John Gallagher agrees.

Gallagher: As a board, we’re always talking about: how can we get some younger people on the board? You know, we’re all a bunch of old white guys, and so forth. Well, the fact is every organization talks about that

Clement: And then diversify. We have got to invite more people into conservation. We’ve got to show respect to more types of communities, ethnic communities, different outdoor user groups. We need to embrace one another, recognize that we need more people engaged in taking care of nature, which we love. And let’s actually welcome more people into the tent, and get them on the team all working in the same direction. 

Farrell: Women also need a seat at the table. Here’s Abby Fateman. 

Fateman: You know, one of my concerns is: who is the next group of people, and it always surprises me who it is, right? I mean, I go to meetings and I’m the only woman in the room—still. I’m the youngest person in the room, and I’m not that young. But I wonder about that, and I worry about it. 

Tewes: Bob Doyle first got involved with Save Mount Diablo when he was young. Now he’s focused on bringing in younger generations to keep the organization alive and rethink what’s possible. 

Doyle: I think about that so much today with the issues of equity and inclusion and, you know, the whole social youth effort. They’re going to ask, “Why can’t we?” rather than, you know, “Why should we?” 

Farrell: Like Bob, Ted also wants to bring younger generations into Save Mount Diablo’s work. Here’s Seth Adams speaking about that. 

Adams: Ted’s got a real focus on youth and conservation collaborations with youth and youth education, and the solution to a lot of our problems has to lie with educating youth, and that leads in every direction, too. 

Tewes: Involving younger activists and supporters is important because climate change will have a big impact on them. Here’s Save Mount Diablo board president Jim Felton discussing this.

Jim Felton: One major thing is that I’m trying to do my best for our community and for the future generations. This land use, it’s not necessarily my problem in my lifetime, it’s my kids’ problem and their kids’ problem, and are we going to have places that people want to go and be outdoors and enjoy the wilderness right here in the Bay Area? 

Farrell: Bob knows from experience that this work is a lifelong commitment. 

Doyle: It’s a long game, but other young people involved, when they ask me, I said, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m talking years, and that’s how you make progress. It takes a long time, but it’s amazing if you focus and have a commitment. 

Tewes: Bob has seen this commitment pay off. 

Doyle: One thing about the past is everybody was pessimistic. We weren’t going to save Mount Diablo; it was just so much growth, everybody wanted real estate development, nobody listened, like save Mount Diablo from what? And I think that story is a very positive, successful story. Don’t take the fun out of environmental activism. It gets sometimes too intense, too serious, and we always like to say, “Parks make life better.”

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Farrell: Here’s Jim Felton again.

Felton: As I said, I think the future is going to look different. We’re going to get more involved in the Diablo Range, we’re going to get more involved in education, we’re going to continue to be involved in some of the land-use issues in our geographical area. 

Tewes: Ted is also optimistic about the future of Save Mount Diablo. 

Clement: We’ll have more and more work to do in the next fifty years as we shore up the Diablo Range, make sure that Mount Diablo does not lose its connection. Yeah, there’s a lot of good conservation left to do. 

Farrell: Even with fifty years of land conservation in the rearview mirror, Save Mount Diablo still has a lot of good work ahead. 

[Theme music]

Farrell: Thanks for listening to “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” and The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1953, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. 

Tewes: This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Burt Bassler, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, and Egon Pedersen. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. Thank you to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thanks for listening and join us next time!




The Berkeley Remix Season 7, Episode 2: “Save Mount Diablo’s Present”

episode 2
Lime Ridge Open Space. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

In Episode 2, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s present. From supporting ballot measures and fundraising efforts to cultivating relationships with nature enthusiasts and artists to collaborating with outside partners, Save Mount Diablo continues to “punch above its weight.” This episode asks: now that Save Mount Diablo has conserved the land, how does it take care of it? How does Save Mount Diablo continue to build a community?  How are artists activists, and how do they help support Save Mount Diablo? How does Save Mount Diablo sustain partnerships to conserve land? 

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project!

LISTEN TO EPISODE 2 ON SOUNDCLOUD:

 

PODCAST SHOW NOTES:

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Bob Doyle, Ted Clement, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, John Kiefer, Shirley Nootbaar, Malcolm Sproul, and Jeanne Thomas. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, and edited by Shanna Farrell. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. 

Original music by Paul Burnett.

Album image North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Episode 2 image Lime Ridge Open Space. All photographs courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about these images, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Amanda Tewes: EPISODE 2: Save Mount Diablo’s Present

[Theme music]

Shanna Farrell: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re listening to our seventh season, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo.”

Farrell: I’m Shanna Farrell. 

Tewes: And I’m Amanda Tewes. We’re interviewers at the Center and the leads for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Tewes: This season we’re heading east of San Francisco to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In this three-part mini-series, we look at land conservation through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. 

Farrell: It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

Farrell: In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s present.

Tewes: ACT 1: Now that Save Mount Diablo has conserved the land, how does it take care of it?

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Tewes: As we heard in our last episode, Save Mount Diablo was successful in accomplishing its original goal of expanding the Mount Diablo State Park from 6,788 acres to 20,000. It was also able to protect 90,000 acres of land that surrounded the mountain. These dreams were hard fought. Now that the organization had saved this land, how did it care for it? As we know, at first it relied on volunteers and supporters. Some of the volunteers who wanted to help beyond giving money found their way to different committees, like Stewardship and Land Acquisition.

Jim Felton: When I first started, we used to get together maybe four times a year, all the stewards, and talk about the problems and things that needed fixing. And of course, I’d go to a site that wasn’t mine to watch and help with the fence or help with some problem that needed fixing. Near Curry Canyon, there’s another property out there where the culvert got full of trees, and we all just had to climb in there and pull them out. 

Farrell: That’s Jim Felton, who was a member of the Stewardship Committee before becoming president of Save Mount Diablo’s board. Each member of the Stewardship Committee is responsible for maintaining a parcel of land. 

Felton: Well, it was once a month to check it out. So most of the time it was checking things out, but then there were jobs to do. We found bamboo or Arundo it’s called, Arundo in the creek in our property, and we wanted to get it out of there because it tends to spread, and it’s a very invasive species. So I spent quite a few hours digging and using a pick just getting that out of the river, and it hasn’t come back. 

[Soundbed- river rushing]

Tewes: Some of the land hadn’t been maintained in some time, so it required a fair amount of cleanup. John Gallagher got involved with Save Mount Diablo in the year 2000. He started on the Land Committee and then moved to the Stewardship Committee. Here he is talking about the work he put in to care for neglected properties. 

John Gallagher: I can’t tell you the number of trailers full of old car tires that we had hauled off, for example. Piles of pipe, barbed wire, and so forth that we’ve hauled off to the recycle center or whatever.

[Soundbed- construction, truck hauling garbage]

Farrell: There was no cost to being involved with Save Mount Diablo in this way. Jim Felton remembers it was just “gas and time.” 

Felton: For old guys, it was pretty messy projects, but no, no cost but just gas, but time, really, and a sore back. 

Tewes: But there was joy in this hard work. John Gallagher says:

Gallagher: And of course it’s all outdoors. You know, we get to go places where other people don’t get to go, and I like that. 

Farrell: As Save Mount Diablo moved beyond its original function as an advocate for land conservation, it realized it needed to build relationships with people who owned property near its land parcels. Here’s land conservation director Seth Adams.

Seth Adams: Well, the unusual thing about Save Mount Diablo is that we started as an advocacy organization and then added acquisition functions. 

[Soundbed- door knocking]

Adams: If we buy a piece of property, we’re going to be in contact with the neighbors, and more likely than not, we’re going to protect land next door to that property because they get to know us, and they see that we’re upfront and responsible and do what we say we’re going to do and we’re nice and we’re not confrontational. And buying a property is always a gateway to the surrounding properties. 

Tewes: These relationships mattered, especially when it came to land acquisition. Here’s board member and former president Scott Hein.

Scott Hein: The idea is to try to develop relationships with long-time landowners who may have property that you would like to acquire at some time, so that when they’re ready to sell they’ll think about you. You know, they might not give you a bargain, but at least they won’t be opposed to thinking about doing a deal with you, and so that’s the sort of general idea. And so it takes developing relationships and maintaining those relationships over time and communicating. It’s something you have to be proactive about. The landowners aren’t going to come and find you; in most cases, you have to go find them, and then figure out what kind of relationship they want to have. 

Adams: When a landowner is going to sell their property, they typically want the highest value. There are some that are really enlightened, and they have come to you because they want to see their properties protected, and that’s growing, but it wasn’t the norm in the early years. There’s a lot of land-rich, cash-poor landowners around Mount Diablo. 

Farrell: That was Seth again. The organization has to prioritize which properties it wants to acquire. Here’s Seth talking about how to consider those decisions.

Adams: Let’s say we know that our priority list has 180 properties on it, and we have a Landowner Outreach Subcommittee that meets monthly, and we go over to the top twenty of those priorities.

Tewes: The volunteers in the Land Committee still play a big role in acquiring land. Here’s John Gallagher again.

Gallagher: We keep a list about that and then try to decide if the cost of the property is worth it. Just as you and I might decide to buy a new couch or something like that, you just have to make that calculation. Well, I really like it, but is it worth it, do I need it that badly? And the Land Committee makes those decisions and recommendations. “Hey, listen, there’s a nice piece of property, but it’s totally surrounded by houses, and even though it adjoins a state park, it will never be a place for access or anything else, it would just be another parcel. If it’s really cheap, let’s go for it.” Or we say, “We need this one, this is something we’ve looked at, it’s been on our list for twenty-five years.” 

Farrell: Here’s Seth again. 

Adams: And then you wait for those times in people’s lives when they either put it up on the market or you know something is going to happen. This landowner’s husband died and so that’s a life change, which probably is going to result in opportunity. It’s the four D’s: death, divorce, disaster, disease, [laughs] and those are the times when conservation is most likely to happen. 

Farrell: Jim Felton also explains that building relationships with neighbors is part of Save Mount Diablo’s stewardship model.

Felton: We’ve had events for neighbors, some of our sites, and barbecues and things. And some people really like Save Mount Diablo in the neighborhood and some people just don’t like them at all, and they were really nasty. It’s too bad because, I mean, what we’re doing is preventing somebody from building ten houses next door to them, but they didn’t like it. They saw it almost as government intrusion, that type of behavior. 

Tewes: The organization knows how to strike when the iron is hot. In the late 2000s, during the recession, it saw an opportunity. John Gallagher remembers:

Gallagher: We didn’t have very many properties anyway, and then during the recession, we acquired a whole bunch of them, bang, bang, bang, bang. And they were often distressed properties that had junk on them or gates that didn’t work or fire abatement that wasn’t being done.

Farrell: Save Mount Diablo doesn’t just acquire new lands, it supports political action as a way to conserve open space. This means it also backs local ballot measures that limit growth of new development in Contra Costa County. Here’s Scott Hein.

Hein: Prior to the establishment of the urban limit line, there was a lot of speculative development going on around the County in all the cities in the County, and it was really difficult for Save Mount Diablo or anyone interested in protecting that land to get their hand around it.

[Soundbed- construction]

Tewes: Urban limit lines are important. They stop development from happening, which can in turn, protect plants and animals. 

[Soundbed- bird noises]

Tewes: In 1990, County voters approved Measure C, the 65/35 Ordinance, which required at least 65 percent of land be preserved for agriculture, parks, and other open space. In 2006, Contra Costa County residents voted to extend this limit for up to another 30 years.

Farrell: As Save Mount Diablo got more involved with local politics, it became more visible. As a result, it drew more people to the organization.

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 2: How did Save Mount Diablo continue to build a community?

John Kiefer: I love the mountain, but in reality, it’s more accurate to say I love the people that love the mountain.

Tewes: That’s longtime Save Mount Diablo supporter John Kiefer. It takes a whole community to rally around the organization, and this includes those with varying interests in the natural space. One group that loves the mountain include those who support wildlife like falcons. 

[Soundbed- peregrine falcons]

Farrell: The chemical DDT had been a commonly-used insecticide since the 1940s. It was sprayed all over, mainly to kill mosquitoes. But DDT caused a lot of damage, including around Mount Diablo. It destroyed bird populations because it thinned the eggshells of baby birds like peregrine falcons, killing them before they could hatch. By 1950, peregrines had disappeared from Mount Diablo. And in 1970, they were listed as an endangered species in California. DDT was nationally banned in 1972 after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson brought its dangers to light. That same year, there were only 2 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons left in the entire state of California. 

[Soundbed- sad sounds of birds]

Tewes: Over a decade later, in 1989, peregrine falcons were reintroduced to Mount Diablo by wildlife biologist Gary A. Beeman. Seth Adams and Save Mount Diablo played a key role in this work by gathering volunteer supporters and helping to fund it. Here’s Shirley Nootbaar, who lives near the mountain and loves peregrines. 

Shirley Nootbaar: [laughs] The Peregrines, you know, were first started back on the mountain back in the end of the eighties. They tried to encourage nesting. They would have prairie falcons incubate the vital eggs of peregrines that they had produced in probably zoos, and that was the way they finally got the wild peregrines to start in Pine Canyon, which is right near where I live.

Farrell: These falcons have an ardent group of supporters, including the Peregrine Team in Pine Canyon, which was founded in 2015. This is a natural history group that assists park rangers during nesting season. Thanks to its efforts, there are now about 400 pairs of peregrine falcons in California, which matches estimates from pre-DDT levels. Shirley is actively involved with this group.

Nootbaar: Last year, they did not produce any chicks. This year, they did, and it was exciting. The Peregrine Team was overjoyed. The pair of peregrines had four eggs that blossomed into chicks, and everybody was so excited, but a great horned owl came along and ate them.

[Soundbed- peregrine falcons]

Malcolm Sproul: Everybody loves peregrine falcons; you know, it’s a sexy, you know, dynamic bird.

Tewes: That was Malcolm Sproul, who works in environmental planning. He was also Save Mount Diablo’s board president when the organization started to participate in BioBlitz. BioBlitz is a day-long event where naturalists and citizen scientists inventory all species of plants and animals living in a designated area. Malcolm plays a big role in Save Mount Diablo’s BioBlitz.

Sproul: I’m a participant, a very willing participant. You go out to an identified area, and you’re trying to document as many species as you possibly can in a twenty-four-hour period. And my expertise is birds and mammals, you know, a little bit of plants. If I see something interesting, I can record it and tell people. But primarily, I’m out there because of wildlife, and it’s just fun to get out in the field. And it’s a chance to get together with other people with similar backgrounds and interests, and share that. Then the organization loves to use it as a way to say how valuable properties are. 

[Soundbed- birds and frogs]

Farrell: During BioBlitz, the group often identifies over 700 species that live in the Diablo Range. 

Sproul: To me, that’s the real value of it. It’s when you find something that you didn’t know was there, and you can find maybe why it’s there, but that’s a little piece of information that we didn’t have before. 

Tewes: BioBlitz brings new people to the mountain. They also act as a gateway to another Save Mount Diablo educational event: Four Days Diablo. Here’s Scott Hein talking about this.  

[Soundbed- gravel crunching, people walking through dirt]

Hein: So it’s, you know, thirty to forty miles, depending on the side trips we take. Three nights we hike entirely on public lands the whole way, except for in more recent years we’ve detoured onto our Curry Canyon Ranch Property, and we get permission to hike out through a private ranch on that day. You can hike from Walnut Creek to Brentwood and immerse people in the work that we and our partners have done for, you know, the last fifty years. There’s no better way to expose people to the work we do and the importance than getting them out on the land. 

Tewes: John Gallagher says:

Gallagher: At the time, Seth was leading every hike, so he was able to brag and brag and brag about what Save Mount Diablo had done with this property and that property.

Sproul: We take people out for four days. They get spoiled—I mean, they have to hike. It’s hot sun and things like that, and you get blisters, and some people can’t make it. It’s some work. But it’s taking people out into the areas that have been protected, and showing them what they have helped protect.

Tewes: That was Malcolm Sproul.

[Soundbed- people walking]

Farrell: Indeed, this event also helps develop relationships with potential donors. Another event that brings these donors back to the land is Moonlight on the Mountain. This fundraising dinner every September takes place at an area called China Wall. And it takes effort to get out there.

Felton: So it’s on a flat mesa area on this ridge right next to what’s called China Wall, which is a geological formation that’s pretty unique, a lot of just outcroppings. We’d light that up with spotlights, so as the sun goes down, it is all beautifully lit, and the visuals are really amazing. And of course some years, you get the moon, some years, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Tewes: That’s Jim Felton. Here’s Scott Hein again.

Hein: So the idea with Moonlight on the Mountain is: bring 500 of our closest friends up onto the mountain and have a white tablecloth sit-down dinner, sitting outside, not under tents or anything like that, and have an evening of, you know, learning about the organization and making contributions and bidding on artwork and experiences and things like that. So it’s completely unique, right? I don’t know of any other events like it in the Bay Area, where you bring that many people outside in the environment, sitting in front of the mountain.

Tewes: This is a beloved event. It draws volunteer support from many. For instance, John Gallagher helps set up for the event. The night before, he sleeps in his truck on the mountain. 

Gallagher: Once in a while, the cows will come around and stick their nose in my nose while I’m asleep, you know, in the bed of my truck.

[Soundbed- cow noise]

Gallagher: [laughs] And of course I hear the coyotes calling, which is always a delight. But you know, the wind comes up and the fog comes in or something like that, and it’s just nice and quiet and serene. 

Farrell: While some of these events bring in money, they all build community around Save Mount Diablo. Another way the organization does this is through educational efforts. If you don’t know about the land, you can’t love it enough to preserve it. Here’s executive director Ted Clement talking about the program on Mangini Ranch Educational Preserve, where community groups and schools can explore the land.

Ted Clement: I started to hear more and more from teachers that were doing our Conservation Collaboration Agreement Program that it was powerful for the students. And they really liked that students were out on our properties having these intimate experiences in nature and there was no one else there, not like a state park with lots of outsiders and other people wandering around. The teachers said it just felt very safe and intimate. And we want to make it as easy as possible and as affordable as possible for all these different groups of people to get out there and have a really special, intimate experience in nature. It’s their property for the day.

[Theme music]

Tewes: ACT 3: How are artists activists, and how do they help support Save Mount Diablo?

[Soundbed- river flowing]

Tewes: Mount Diablo is a beautiful place, with its sprawling vistas and rolling hills, where grasslands give way to wooded areas. It’s been a source of inspiration over the years for many artists. And Save Mount Diablo has been lucky to attract a community of these artists, like Shirley Nootbaar, Scott Hein, Stephen Joseph, and Bob Walker, who care about the mountain enough to capture it in their paintings and photographs. 

[Soundbed- camera clicking]

Tewes: These pieces illustrate the beauty of the range, and why it’s worth preserving. 

Farrell: Shirley Nootbaar, who lives in Walnut Creek, started painting the mountain in the 1970s. She sees the landscape through an artist’s eyes.

Nootbaar: The trees are a rich green and right now the grasses are golden and the sky is blue, I mean those colors, green, kind of a raw umber or raw sienna kind of color, and the beautiful blue of the sky. So as far as the colors of painting the mountain, it kind of depends on what your mood or your idea at the time is, and it changes all the time. 

Tewes: Shirley taught watercolor classes and brought her students to the mountain to paint what they saw. She also got involved with the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. 

Nootbaar: In 1983, I think it was, they were able to open up the museum at the top of the mountain after it was closed for a number of years. We formed an art committee through the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association, and the art committee created these various shows, probably four times a year, and hung work of the various people that would submit work, and it was different themes of either a particular area or maybe it was a high school group or whatever; could be photography, as well, of course. Yeah, I thought it was very successful. 

Farrell: Photographs are also an important part of Save Mount Diablo’s advocacy. Scott Hein is a nature photographer and takes photos for the organization. Seth Adams even sends him out on assignment to photograph land around the mountain.

[Soundbed- more camera clicking]

Hein: Not all the lands we protect are easily accessible, and not every person has the time or the ability to get out on the land, and so photographs are the next best thing. They’re the way that we can communicate that beauty to people who can’t experience it in person, and conservation photography has been a critical tool going almost all the way back to the beginning of land conservation.

Tewes: Scott’s work has many admirers, like Shirley. 

Nootbaar: Scott Hein in the Save Mount Diablo organization does a beautiful job with photographs. 

Farrell: Before Scott was Bob Walker. Remember him from episode one? 

Hein: Bob Walker was involved with the organization and doing nature photography and conservation photography from 1982 to 1992, when he passed away. He was a real environmental advocate, who was also a fantastic photographer. He was just relentless in photographing, and taking people out there to hike and learn about it. 

Jeanne Thomas: His photography told a story. And the mountain, you looked down and could see development coming up and say, “Oh, if it weren’t for the park, the development wouldn’t stop.” 

Tewes: That’s longtime volunteer and donor Jeanne Thomas. She also loves to take photographs on the mountain, including of local wildflowers. There’s a strong connection between Mount Diablo and these artists. Here’s Shirley Nootbaar again, talking about what the land has meant to her. 

[Soundbed- bird and animal noises]

Nootbaar: I love where I live, I love to hear the birds, and I love the animals, and when I go up into the park, I’m always aware of that. I’m not a botanist, I’m not a biologist, I’m not a zoologist, I’m not a geologist, but I do appreciate all of those things. It’s much my therapy and my love.

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 4: How does Save Mount Diablo sustain partnerships to conserve land? 

Farrell: From the beginning, Save Mount Diablo has been an organization that’s worked collaboratively with outside partners. This has become an even more important part of its model. The organization works with the California State Park system, as Mount Diablo is a state park. It also collaborates with the East Bay Regional Park District and the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy to accomplish its goals. 

Tewes: In 1988, Save Mount Diablo original member Bob Doyle started working for the East Bay Regional Park District. Though he was working for the Park District, which was founded in 1934, he never forgot about his roots with Save Mount Diablo. Bob and Seth Adams worked together to pass a local bond measure that would provide funding to both entities. Here’s Bob discussing the impact of that measure and the longevity of that relationship. 

Bob Doyle: As the state got less and less money for expanding the state park system, the Park District was getting more. In 1988 was the big change, and Bob Walker and along with Seth and everybody else, really worked to pass the first bond measure in the history of the Park District, and I co-wrote it and wrote the acquisition section. And you don’t invent it, you create it with people who are going to fight for it. And so I made sure that there were money for those regional parks surrounding Mount Diablo and for new ones. And I think we need every environmental group, every land trust to be walking in the same direction to get more money not just for their cause, but for everybody’s cause, which is called saving this planet.

[Soundbed- nature and animal noises]

Farrell: Another of Save Mount Diablo’s significant partners is the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy. The Conservancy was formed in 2007 and grew out of the Habitat Conservation Plan, or the HCP. Planning for the HCP began in the late 1990s. It was written as a way to satisfy the federal Endangered Species Act, with a lot of help from John Kopchik, director of conservation and development for Contra Costa County. 

Tewes: The nuanced goals of the HCP are to protect open space, enhance over 30,000 acres of habitats and natural systems, and to streamline wetland and regulatory compliance. The Conservancy was formed to help make these goals a reality. The way it accomplishes these goals is by buying, restoring, and protecting large parcels of land in East Contra Costa County that are home to hotspots for biodiversity. It issues permits for the land it owns and reinvests the money in buying even more land to protect. Often, the Conservancy will buy land in the Diablo Range and work with Save Mount Diablo to manage and preserve it. 

Farrell: Abby Fateman, who is now the executive director of the Conservancy, works closely with Save Mount Diablo. She was hired by John Kopchik in 2002 to help with the next steps of writing the HCP and forming the Conservancy. Here she is talking about how instrumental John Kopchik was in forming those partnerships. 

Abby Fateman: I think one of the reasons why the HCP worked or was adopted was really because he was able to build trust with all these different groups. He had relationships with the private landowners, with the developers, with Save Mount Diablo and other groups, and they were genuine.

Tewes: One of the ways that Save Mount Diablo and the Conservancy work together is by looking at maps and assessing which parcels of land are most critical to preserve. They start small and build from that foundation. 

Fateman: We like to bite things off in smaller pieces and understand them and work on them and then that’s an achievable goal. And then when that’s sort of handled, then we can expand our understanding of our goals. And “Save Mount Diablo” as a slogan was something that people could relate to. They could see the mountain, they could see development, they could see people trying to develop on the mountain, and they could rally around that. 

Farrell: The partnership between Save Mount Diablo, the East Bay Regional Park District, and the Conservancy is crucial. All three entities bring different strengths to the table to accomplish a common goal.

Fateman: Properties become available once a generation, and if somebody wants to sell it to you, if you have a willing seller or you’re able to compete for it, then you should go for it. Save Mount Diablo plays a huge role in actually executing on those things, making land acquisition happen, as does the East Bay Regional Park District. And they move very differently. You know, Save Mount Diablo is a nonprofit organization that can move very quickly and they’re much more nimble than my agency or East Bay Regional Park District. We might have more money available in the longer term, but we can’t show up at a land auction and bid on something. We can’t, there’s no way that that could happen, but Save Mount Diablo can.

Tewes: These strengths benefit all three partners, though sometimes with differing points of view.

Fateman: Save Mount Diablo fights certain development projects that they think are bad, and just because we have an HCP and just because they are our stakeholder doesn’t mean that they don’t fight those. We still provide permits for projects that they don’t agree with, and that’s okay, they don’t give that up, there are people fighting that fight. What we’re saying is we’re removing this one place, which is in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and how people mitigate for that from that battle. 

Farrell: Here’s Bob Doyle again, talking about it from the Park District’s perspective.

Doyle: Even though I was in charge of the Land Acquisition Program for the District, and it had money at that time, there were things that I just couldn’t do as the manager or the public agency side. Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance and People for Open Space were all doing those things. The landowners always accused us of a grand conspiracy, and to some degree, there was an effort to work together, absolutely, to preserve as much property as possible. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Tewes: The partnership between these three entities benefit the cause of land conservation in Contra Costa County. 

Doyle: You can’t do these things, no matter how great the effort is and the talent is in an institution, without activism and public support. 

[Soundbed- nature noises]

Fateman: We have a successful, active, engaged nonprofit like Save Mount Diablo that is well funded and positioned; and we have this larger, regional agency, East Bay Regional Park District; and then the Habitat Conservancy. And I think we have managed to be able to work together in a way where we really thrive on each other’s strengths. You know, we don’t coordinate on every single action or movement we make, but we know when we can tap each other’s superpower and use it, and I think that separates us from other regions, it really does. And that’s why we see so much conservation happening in Contra Costa County versus other regions is that we sort of have it dialed in. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than not having each other to work with. 

Doyle: That collaboration is the only way that we can take on such a difficult, difficult task politically and economically of climate change.

Fateman: We haven’t finished that goal of saving the mountain, but gosh, we’re so much closer than we were fifty years ago when all this started. It’s kind of amazing. 

Tewes: Save Mount Diablo also appreciates these relationships. Here’s executive director Ted Clement thinking about the importance of working in teams, even within the organization. 

Clement: Ultimately, good land conservation is good teamwork, and it’s only going to last long term if it is about a team, and a strong team that can carry the work on going forward. 

Farrell: Join us next time as we learn about the future of Save Mount Diablo.

[Theme music]

Farrell: Thanks for listening to “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” and The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1953, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. 

Tewes: This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Bob Doyle, Ted Clement, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, John Kiefer, Shirley Nootbaar, Malcolm Sproul, and Jeanne Thomas. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. Thank you to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thanks for listening and join us next time!

 


The Berkeley Remix Season 7, Episode 1: “Save Mount Diablo’s Past”

episode 1 photo
Mary Bowerman Trail. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

In Episode 1, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s past. From its origins in the environmental movement to its successful political activism to its incorporation as a nonprofit, Save Mount Diablo built a solid foundation for fifty years of land conservation. This episode asks: why save Mount Diablo? What did it take to save Mount Diablo? What sustained Save Mount Diablo?

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project!

 

LISTEN TO EPISODE 1 ON SOUNDCLOUD:

PODCAST SHOW NOTES:

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Scott Hein, Egon Pedersen, and Malcolm Sproul. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, and edited by Shanna Farrell. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. 

Original music by Paul Burnett.

Album image North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Episode 1 image Mary Bowerman Trail. All photographs courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about these images, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

 

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Amanda Tewes: EPISODE 1: Save Mount Diablo’s Past

[Theme music]

Shanna Farrell: Welcome to The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center at the University of California, Berkeley. You’re listening to our seventh season, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo.”

Farrell: I’m Shanna Farrell. 

Tewes: And I’m Amanda Tewes. We’re interviewers at the Center and the leads for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Tewes: This season we’re headed east of San Francisco to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In this three-part mini-series, we look at land conservation through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. 

Farrell: It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

Farrell: In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s past.

Farrell: ACT 1: Why Save Mount Diablo?

[Soundbed- bird noises]

Tewes: Mount Diablo looms large in the landscape of the East Bay. It’s vast, with an elevation of  3,849 feet. It’s home to coyotes, bobcats, black-tailed deer, gray foxes, and peregrine falcons who live among bright, colorful flora like manzanita trees and fairy-lantern flowers. Snow blankets the mountaintop in the winter. Mount Diablo covers 20,000 acres, which make up a California State Park. It is surrounded by 90,000 acres of protected land, where Alameda whipsnakes and red-legged frogs and California poppies scatter. It’s located in Contra Costa County in The East Bay, which is about forty miles east of San Francisco.

[Soundbed- traffic noises]

Farrell: Mount Diablo almost didn’t look this way. In fact, here’s Malcolm Sproul describing the surrounding area in the mid century:

Malcolm Sproul:  It was exploding. I mean, this was a period of very rapid residential development, freeways being built. I mean, I remember as a kid going out to Walnut Creek, and a two-lane road to go out through Lafayette and Orinda, for example. 

Farrell: Population in the East Bay boomed during WWII, attracting people with wartime jobs. While not everyone stayed when the war ended, those who did were joined by family members. In fact, from 1950 to 1970, the population of the Bay Area grew from 2.6 million to 4.6 million. That’s a 173 percent increase. This meant that housing and infrastructure had to keep up. 

[Soundbed- traffic noises]

Farrell: In the 1950s, the region built highways and freeways, and began construction on BART, the Bay Area’s metro commuter system, to take East Bay residents to their jobs in San Francisco. 

Sproul: The sixties and the seventies, in particular, saw a tremendous amount of this growth. Just conversions of thousands and thousands of acres of land.

Tewes: This could have meant that the East Bay sacrificed open space to development. But this didn’t happen, and we can thank conservation activists for that.

Farrell: As a response to these pressures, a group of six people got together to take action. Save Mount Diablo held its first meeting on December 7, 1971 at Heather Farms Garden Center in Walnut Creek, California. Their goals were simple: save the land, support the state park, and prevent further development in the East Bay. 

Egon Pedersen: There was just one day my wife said, “Hey, I see here in the paper there’s a, there’s a group called Save Mount Diablo. They want to save the mountain.” And I said, “No, how could that be?” Whenever we drove into Diablo, down on the stone poles at the road it said, “Mount Diablo State Park.” 

[Soundbed- birds]

Tewes: That was Egon Pedersen. A Danish immigrant who fell in love with the natural beauty of his adoptive home in the East Bay, Egon served as Save Mount Diablo’s first vice president, and then as president from 1974 to 1977. And Egon is right. The existence of the state park was definitely a challenge in conserving Mount Diablo lands. At that first meeting on December seventh, the group addressed this. Here’s how Bob Doyle, one of those first six activists, remembers this:

Bob Doyle: And I really thought that was a hurdle because most people look at it and go, “Look, there’s no threat there, it’s all state park.” From the very beginning, the discussions at the formal meetings was really focused on these discussions of, you know, what do we do, what’s this, what’s this property, there’s no money, how do we get some money? So it was very, very clear that it was to be 100 percent focused on expanding the state park. It was really focused on the fact that Mount Diablo State Park had not been receiving its fair share, as we looked at it, of statewide money. 

Farrell: But Mary Bowerman and Arthur Bonwell, the two co-founders of Save Mount Diablo, were ready to take on this challenge. Mary was a botanist and wrote her dissertation on the flora of the mountain. Art was active in both the Contra Costa Park Council and the Sierra Club, where his involvement with Mount Diablo started. Here’s Bob again, talking about his first impressions of Mary.

Doyle: I remember being very nervous of meeting this prestigious PhD and pioneer botanist from Mount Diablo. Well, she had a British accent. She was very quiet, and she had these eyes that would penetrate you, and just very curious and very, I would say, cautious in her conversations. 

Tewes: Bob also worked closely with Art Bonwell. They met at the first meeting of Save Mount Diablo. 

Doyle: Art was, you know, an active bicyclist, Diablo Wheelman, and was an engineer by trade, by vocation, and just very interesting, probing, strong, asking questions.

[Soundbed- noises of protest]

Farrell: The early 1970s was a moment of activism in politics, social justice, and inspired a burgeoning environmental movement. Young people played important roles in all of this.

Doyle: We’re talking about Vietnam War, we’re talking about Nixon, we’re talking about assassinations of presidents. It was very tumultuous. 

Tewes: There were a lot of grassroots environmental organizations popping up all over the country, many of which of were in the Bay Area. Think Save the Bay, Save the Redwoods League, Sierra Club, and more. This moment also saw the publishing of foundational books, like Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, A Sand County Almanc by Aldo Leopold, and Population Bomb by Paul Erhlich. 

Farrell: This, on top of major environmental disasters like the Cuyahoga River repeatedly catching on fire and the Santa Barbara oil spill—both in 1969—all set the stage for a strong environmental movement in California and beyond.

[Soundbed- noises of protest]

Doyle: It was just a very heady time in the late sixties and early seventies. The first Earth Day happened, it was the environmental movement, so I think a lot of young people were looking for something positive to do, and you couldn’t be more positive than to try to save the earth. And because of the guidance of these other people, we really focused on the local things. 

Tewes: Mostly, though, it was people from the area who cared about the fate of the mountain. 

Doyle: It was really focused on our immediate area. Well, if you look at the early membership, the majority was from Concord, of the members. Peg Kovar, that was Walnut Creek, and Egon Pedersen was Danville. But most of them were from the area, so we cared about our area and Mount Diablo being the center point of that. 

Farrell: The group had their work cut out for them. In 1971, the state park was confined to only the top of the mountain, just 6,788 acres of the summit. None of the low-elevation trails that exist today were around then. Also, none of the city or regional open spaces had been created yet, but the threat of real estate development was closing in on the mountain.

[Theme music]

Tewes: ACT 2: What did it take to save Mount Diablo?

Tewes: It took a mixture of youthful energy and experienced activists, a reliance on political goodwill, and money. 

[Soundbed- cash register ]

Tewes: These things always require money. 

Pedersen: We were just trying to be a little, peaceful group getting money from contributions, buy a piece of land. 

Farrell: People had a strong desire to take action. In this vein, Egon wrote to Gov. Ronald Reagan—yes, that one—to try to secure funding for the fledgling organization. 

Pedersen: Well, I just wrote to him that Mount Diablo was a very important recreational area, and I said if he could consider buying some land that I really, really, really would appreciate it. And lo and behold, a couple of months after, he actually allocated money for buying land around Mount Diablo. Yeah, he wrote me a nice letter and said he really appreciated I was telling him about how important it was to expand the land in such an area with such a big population, it was important to have a place for recreation that people could go and enjoy their life; also for the wildlife on the mountain, it needed more space so it could survive. 

Tewes: Bob Doyle remembers the contributions of East Bay representatives in Sacramento like John Nejedly and Daniel Boatwright.

Doyle: You know, it was all about Sacramento money, very little was raised by Save Mount Diablo in the early years, but it was really about getting bond measures on the ballot and getting them passed and getting the appropriations through the state budget. And we had champions in Sacramento to do that; Boatwright and Nejedly being the foremost at that time. 

Farrell: Save Mount Diablo needed this money to buy land and to expand the state park beyond those initial 7,000 acres. But state funds weren’t the only way to support the organization. In order to raise the money, Save Mount Diablo had to raise awareness of the organization’s mission to get people to donate to its cause. 

Doyle: So we really started trying to get articles in the paper about what’s threatened and how beautiful Mount Diablo is, and really started picking off environmental writers in the newspaper. 

Tewes: Not to mention, Save Mount Diablo had bumper stickers. Group members could drive around Contra Costa County with their cars as moving billboards for the organization. Even teenage Malcolm Sproul had one! Here’s Bob and Egon Pedersen again, talking about another mechanism for raising both money and awareness.

Doyle: One of the early things we did was there were a lot of walkathons and hike-a-thons. I guess that’d be comparable to GoFundMe now. That was the mechanism for people to raise money. 

Pedersen:  We made between 2 and $3,000 every time we had a walkathon, so at that time, that was pretty good.

[Soundbed – cash register]

Doyle: That really got more people and kids involved because they were doing the hike. 

Farrell: Indeed, one of the strengths of Save Mount Diablo was that it attracted people of all ages. This fostered intergenerational communication, with a younger crowd learning from their elders, and the older activists drawing inspiration from youth. People like Mary Bowerman had lessons to impart to the younger members. As to what Malcolm Sproul learned from Mary? 

Sproul: I think it’s focus. Mary had properties she knew to be important. She had a picture, a big picture. She had the vision of wanting to see it protected. She wasn’t a big political advocacy person, but she was big on wanting other people to buy the property. And if we could, if we had the money, to also protect property. So she was very, very much focused on people like the State acquiring land, on getting bonds passed and the money could be used for acquisition. She knew the land and she knew the things she felt needed to be protected. 

Tewes: Here’s Bob Doyle again.

Doyle: When you’re young and you have these kind of older wizards, it’s interesting because if you’d say anything, they’d say, “Are you sure, how do you know that?” I mean, it’s kind of the testing of facts to be careful. 

Tewes: Another generational difference in their approach to saving Mount Diablo had to do with their comfort in participating in the democratic process.

Doyle: Who wants to go to a meeting for three hours, four hours? And I think that generation of people was really used to sitting at a board meeting for four hours. Another very wonderful environmental activist was Jean Siri, who was an urban activist in west Contra Costa. But she would be famous for sitting at a board of supervisors meeting knitting the whole time, you know, hours and hours sitting there and then finally got up, and basically she probably yelled at the board of supervisors. She was very, very strong and wonderful. And people were willing to put in that time, and a lot of that time, you’re fidgeting.

[Soundbed – applause, gavel noise]

Farrell: This may have been a new strategy for Bob and his generation, but there was space for young people, too.

Doyle: The emphasis there, although most people in Save Mount Diablo were, you know, in their fifties and sixties at the time, they really wanted a voice for youth at the time and so they really encouraged me to speak. 

Tewes: By fostering the connection between different generations of activists, everyone felt like they had buy-in, everyone felt like they had a role in saving Mount Diablo. This made the group special and helped build a membership base. Members used this approach to reach the larger community—they went out and talked to people, meeting them where they were. As president, Egon Pedersen did just that. 

Pedersen: And I figured the only way I can do it [is] to offer something for them. I can’t just go and knock on doors and everything. I called all the libraries, for one thing, and asked if they’d like a talk on Mount Diablo. And of course, all the libraries wanted that. 

Farrell: Egon took a people-centered approach in understanding the cultural history of the mountain, so the community understood the significance of saving it. 

Pedersen: Then after that, it got to be a lot of word of mouth. There was always somebody that said, “Hey, can you come and talk in my school? Can you come and talk to my class? Can you come and talk to the garden society? Can you talk to the women’s club in Berkeley?” I loved to do that. So I thought it was a good way to spread the word.

Tewes: Another approach that supporters used to convince people of the value of the mountain was photographs. One such photographer was Bob Walker. Bob was well-known for taking beautiful pictures of the sweeping landscape of Mount Diablo and its surroundings. He would often show up to someone’s house unannounced and ask if he could walk on their property to take the photos. 

[Soundbed- camera shutter clicks] 

Tewes: He got to know a lot of people—and potential supporters—this way. Bob Doyle remembers the value of this to Save Mount Diablo.

[Soundbed- camera shutter clicks] 

Doyle: Bob had a knack of educating people with incredible enthusiasm without being confrontational. It was more of always promoting and educating the beauty of something through his pictures rather than being in a fight. That was Bob’s skill, he could really convince people. And he went around doing slideshows at libraries and schools and in chambers of commerce and all over to show the beauty of the parks we had and why these areas need to be preserved. 

[Theme music]

Farrell: ACT 3: What sustained Save Mount Diablo?

Scott Hein: When the organization was first founded, Art and Mary thought that their work would be done in five years. They had no intention of the organization being around in perpetuity. They figured they’d protect the lands around the mountain and be done with it, and they’d be able to go on to other pursuits. Now of course, that didn’t happen. [laughs] And it obviously wasn’t realistic. 

Farrell: That was Scott Hein. He and his wife, Claudia, are longtime supporters of Save Mount Diablo. Scott served as board president from 2013 to 2019, and as a conservation photographer for the organization. Scott remembered that despite what the founders thought, the organization was not able to accomplish all its goals in the first five years. In fact, it took much longer than that. 

Tewes: In order to create longevity and continue to work towards its mission to conserve lands, Save Mount Diablo members realized they needed to formalize their grassroots organization. They established a non-profit in 1980.

Doyle: To get more broader donations from people, we needed the legal status of donations and nonprofit status. There were some concerns about that, but we hired this incredible lawyer, Robert Jasperson, who was a longtime lawyer for Save the Redwoods League and was the Sierra Club lawyer. I knew him from Save the Redwoods League and so I asked him when he was in more private practice if he’d help, so he did the incorporation stuff for us and just said, “It’s just much better for your IRS designation and stuff to get the donations, and it’s a formality that we needed to do.” 

[Theme music]

Farrell: This set Save Mount Diablo up for the long term.

[Theme music]

Farrell: In 1988, Save Mount Diablo was 16 years old. And it was a big year for the group. It protected several parcels of land on the mountain, including Castle Rock and the Boy Scout Camp Force in Lower Rock City. It helped pass a couple of critical measures, like the State Park Bond and Measure AA, which provided $225 million to the East Bay Regional Park District, one of Save Mount Diablo’s allies, which was also dedicated to preserving open space. It also grew its network from 400 supporters to 1,500. But yet, there was still more work to do.

Tewes: Up until that year, the organization was entirely run by volunteers. Though there was a core group of volunteers who had been faithfully active for more than a decade, others would come and go. Save Mount Diablo knew it needed to hire someone to keep working towards its goal of expanding the state park and protecting the surrounding lands. Here’s Bob Doyle talking about the events that led up to hiring the organization’s first staff member. 

Doyle: I had gotten a grant and we hired a college student out of St. Mary’s College to do a nonprofit organizational study for what Save Mount Diablo should do and what the options were. John Steere did the study, saying, you know, “If we really want to do x, y, and z, you need to hire somebody, and here are your opportunities to do that.” So that was the step to say, “Okay, we could hire somebody part time.” 

Farrell: The first person that Save Mount Diablo hired was Seth Adams, a young environmentalist who had moved to the Bay Area a few years earlier from the East Coast. This was also in 1988.

Doyle: We interviewed a bunch of people, and we weren’t paying much. And Seth came out as the most committed and articulate. He got the job and has continued to do that. He had the courage and the knowledge to get through stuff that was really difficult. There was just so much development being proposed, and he got very good. We did some initiatives and referendums because that’s what we had to do at the time.

Tewes: Hiring Seth gave Save Mount Diablo the ability to keep going. 

Seth Adams: When I was hired at Save Mount Diablo, I didn’t try to just focus on getting two things done. I threw fifty things up in the air and wanted to work on all fifty. [laughs] That’s sort of the structure of an entire organization, which is what I helped create, in terms of going from all volunteer to professional. It turns out that starting things, for me, I think is the most important thing, and scaling up just happened through a lot of work through a lot of people, but if you get things rolling, they take on a life of their own.

Tewes: After Seth was hired, the volunteer base only grew larger. Save Mount Diablo was even able to add more staff in following years. Together, they were able to accomplish a lot. In 1989, the organization acquired the 631-acre Morgan Ranch, protected 330 acres of open space on Crystyl Ranch and a portion of Round Valley, and fought three Contra Costa landfill proposals that would have encroached on the area that they were trying to save. From 1991 to 1993, they stopped development at Chaparral Spring and Clayton Ranch. And from 1993 to 2004, they expanded Lime Ridge Open Space, Round Valley, Riggs Canyon, a part of Black Diamond Mines, and Cowell Ranch.

Farrell: By 2007, Save Mount Diablo had expanded the state park to 20,000 acres. Now, the park encompassed the entirety of Mount Diablo. The founders’ original mission had finally come to fruition. What’s more, around the mountain, the group protected 90,000 acres of land, and counting. Here’s Scott Hein again talking about these accomplishments. 

Hein: When we were founded in 1971, there were just under 6,000 acres of protected parkland in our area of interest, and well over 110,000 acres today. That’s success, by any way you measure it. 

[Soundbed- animal noises]

Tewes: Saving Mount Diablo has truly been a team effort. 

Hein: Save Mount Diablo, even now, but even more so back then, has been an organization that really punches above its weight, so to speak. We accomplished far more than an organization our size should, and that’s because of the hard-working staff, but also the board members and other volunteers that made it happen. 

Farrell: This effort to save the mountain is emblematic of a time and a place. It’s part of the Bay Area’s DNA. Save Mount Diablo could only have grown out of this burgeoning environmental movement when there were a lot of eager activists in the Bay Area. And in the early seventies, there was still time to save Mount Diablo. Here’s Ted Clement, the organization’s current executive director. 

Ted Clement: The San Francisco Bay Area is known for advocacy. And Save Mount Diablo is a leader in using advocacy so effectively to help with land conservation, and that’s a proud part of our history.

[Theme music]

Tewes: Join us next time as we learn about Save Mount Diablo’s current work.

Farrell: Thanks for listening to “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” and The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1953, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. 

Tewes: This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Scott Hein, Egon Pedersen, and Malcolm Sproul. A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. Thanks to Andrew Deakin and Anjali George for production assistance. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and join us next time!

 


The Oral History Center Presents The Berkeley Remix Season 7: “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo”

album photo
North Peak from Clayton Ranch. Photograph courtesy of Scott Hein. For more information about this image, visit Hein Natural History Photography.

Set in sprawling Contra Costa County, forty miles east of San Francisco, the “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo” podcast season celebrates fifty years of environmental activism and land conservation around Mount Diablo through the consequential work of a local grassroots organization—Save Mount Diablo.

In season 7 of The Berkeley Remix, a podcast of the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley, we head to Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. In the three-part series, “Fifty Years of Save Mount Diablo,” we look at land conservation in the East Bay through the lens of Save Mount Diablo, a local grassroots organization. It’s been doing this work since December 1971—that’s fifty years. This season focuses on the organization’s past, present, and future. Join us as we celebrate this anniversary and the impact that Save Mount Diablo has had on land conservation in the Bay Area and beyond.

This season features interview clips from the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

A special thanks to Save Mount Diablo for supporting this project. 

Episode 1: “Save Mount Diablo’s Past.” In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s past. From its origins in the environmental movement to its successful political activism to its incorporation as a nonprofit, Save Mount Diablo built a solid foundation for fifty years of land conservation. This episode asks: why save Mount Diablo? What did it take to save Mount Diablo? What sustained Save Mount Diablo?

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Scott Hein, Egon Pedersen, and Malcolm Sproul. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Episode 2: “Save Mount Diablo’s Present.” In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s present. From supporting ballot measures and fundraising efforts to cultivating relationships with nature enthusiasts and artists to collaborating with outside partners, Save Mount Diablo continues to “punch above its weight.” This episode asks: now that Save Mount Diablo has conserved the land, how does it take care of it? How does Save Mount Diablo continue to build a community?  How are artists activists, and how do they help support Save Mount Diablo? How does Save Mount Diablo sustain partnerships to conserve land? 

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Bob Doyle, Ted Clement, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, John Kiefer, Shirley Nootbaar, Malcolm Sproul, and Jeanne Thomas. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

Episode 3: “Save Mount Diablo’s Future.” In this episode, we explore Save Mount Diablo’s future. From addressing the challenges of COVID-19 to fundraising efforts to protecting land and biodiversity in the entire Diablo Range to mitigating the impacts of climate change to expanding membership and partnerships, Save Mount Diablo still has a lot of good work ahead. This episode asks: what challenges does Save Mount Diablo face today? What can Save Mount Diablo do about climate change? What does the future of Save Mount Diablo look like?

This episode features interviews from our Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project and includes clips from: Seth Adams, Burt Bassler, Ted Clement, Bob Doyle, Abby Fateman, Jim Felton, John Gallagher, Scott Hein, and Egon Pedersen. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.




Changing My Perspective: Save Mount Diablo and the Study of Oral History

Andrew Deakin is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in political science. He enjoys backpacking, reading, and tending to his vegetable garden. He was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time he worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Andrew
Andrew Deakin, OHC URAP intern

Last fall, combing through undergraduate research positions, a post caught my eye. The Oral History Center was looking for undergraduates to work on a podcast documenting the history of the conservation organization Save Mount Diablo. Finally! I was astounded that a research opportunity could indulge so many of my interests: journalism, history, podcasts, public policy, and, of course, my love for the outdoors. After reading the project description, I knew I would apply. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I had my interview for the position that I learned exactly what oral history is. Since working on this project, I’ve developed an appreciation for a discipline that, frankly, I didn’t even know existed until recently. I found oral history to be an exciting, unadulterated way to engage with the past. Instead of reading from a dry, unappealing textbook, I learned to experience history through the recorded lives of individual people. Although one person’s perspective doesn’t always offer a complete historical picture, it’s invigorating to witness lived history through the personal experience, and sometimes life story, of another person.

         One interview in the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project that I made a deep personal connection with was with long-time supporter of Save Mount Diablo, John Kiefer. Like most of the interviews I reviewed, John’s began with his childhood. John was born in 1934 in Menlo Park. He was raised in a rural environment. For John, Menlo Park was “Pure, pure country. Try to grasp a vision of not very many homes, and most of the homes that were there were built in the late 1800s. There were some newer ones that had been built in the thirties and forties and fifties—that was new.” Maybe I have a romantic view of a rural childhood, but I couldn’t help but envy this aspect of John’s upbringing. I grew up in suburban Orange County, California. Try to grasp a vision of many identical homes, most built in the last 30 years, that are spread evenly like butter over what once must have been pristine Southern California chaparral.

Later in John’s interview, he put my experience into words. John said, “The average person, unique and marvelous, [isn’t] connected to nature.” John calls this modern experience of feeling disconnected with nature “Nature Deficit Disorder,” which he thinks “is a serious problem among our youth.” I’m thankful that as I grew up, I was a member of my local Boy Scout troop where I garnered my love for the outdoors. We often went camping in Caspers Regional Park, and I had the chance to spend time camping and backpacking in the Anza-Borrego Desert, Zion National Park in Utah, and Catalina Island. These experiences were especially transformative for me, and I fostered some of my strongest friendships while in the outdoors. John’s interview gave me a historical perspective to realize that the way I and many people of my generation are raised is novel, and perhaps not healthy either. John does amazing work combatting this issue, and I found his tenacity to get youth involved in the outdoors inspiring.

After a stint in the military, John decided he wanted to travel. For John, his decision was simple. He remarks, “I had a yearning to travel, and so I had gone to school with a few good friends from Central and South America, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the place for me.’” John’s retelling of his early adulthood was informative of my own experience. I, too, yearned to travel and, much like John, set my eyes on a foreign country somewhat arbitrarily and decided I would spend this summer there. I’ve been taking French courses and enrolled in the French Department’s summer abroad program in Paris. It was heartwarming to hear John recollect so aptly what the archetype of young adulthood is. John reminisces, “So what was that period of my life about? Well, it was, in fact, like the fable…where one leaves home with a bag of clothes…in search of the holy grail, which simply means…to start to experience who you are beyond your family.” John’s retelling of his young adulthood relieved some doubts I had about treating this period of my life so whimsically. John’s interview taught me it’s okay to take risks and to find myself while I’m still young. John’s existentialist philosophy really stuck with me, and I thank him and the process of oral history for leaving me with that. In the end, John applied his love of nature to his work with Save Mount Diablo. I hope that, given John’s experience, I will be able to apply my own love of the outdoors in my future work.

I’m honored to have partaken in the production of the Save Mount Diablo podcast for its fiftieth anniversary. It’s a historical practice I never considered, and I’m left with new tools to better understand history going forward. It was refreshing to do work on a tangible product, something that has real value and will be consumed by a wider audience. Learning about the lives of all the wonderful people who work for Save Mount Diablo gave me both a historical framework to understand the land conservation in the East Bay and the personal wisdom from these peoples’ life stories. This project informed me about the process of podcast production and storytelling, something I thought I might enjoy, but never had the chance to pursue. Although John’s interview impacted me the most, we did not use much of his material for the podcast. Deciding which quotes neatly weaved into the narrative we were telling taught me how to tell a compelling story and when to cut content when necessary. Now, as the semester is ending, I understand the processes, some difficult and some exhilarating, but all satisfying, to produce this kind of media. It has given me the experience to determine where I might go from here and if I have a future working in the media. I thank the Oral History Center and my URAP mentors, Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, for this fulfilling and incredible opportunity, and I hope this research opportunity continues for future undergraduates to discover the joys of oral history.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Growth and (Re)connection: My Experience with the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project

Anjali George is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Sociology. She enjoys reading, dancing and being in nature. She was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time she worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Anjali
Anjali George, OHC URAP intern

When I joined the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project offered through The Oral History Center’s Berkeley Remix podcast, I really did not have any idea what I was doing—I had no experience in oral history, very little knowledge of Save Mount Diablo and no understanding of podcasts beyond the fact that I enjoy listening to them. Yet, I knew immediately that this was something I deeply wanted to do. Despite my lack of experience, I have always been fascinated by the practice of oral history and the importance of documenting and sharing history in a way that is accessible to the public. From what little I knew of Save Mount Diablo at the time (a land trust and conservation organization in the East Bay), I felt drawn to its mission and values, and I knew I wanted to be part of this effort to celebrate and preserve its history through the podcast.

 As I worked through the Save Mount Diablo interviews that had been compiled for this oral history project, I learned so much more about the organization and environmental conservation in general, as well as about myself and my own relationship with the environment. I think what I initially found compelling about the organization was its focus on fostering education and community in order to sustain its more physical goals, like fundraising and land conservation. Ted Clement, who has been Save Mount Diablo’s executive director since 2015, had so many insightful thoughts and experiences that he shared in his interview. Hearing him speak about how the climate crisis, at its core, is “a materialization of our very poor relationship with nature,” very clearly put the organization’s education branch into perspective. Ted explained that the widespread disconnect between people and nature calls for an entire cultural realignment, which is where education comes into play. After stepping into his role in the organization, Ted immediately prioritized education as a primary goal, so that the broader community can start to transform its cultural values and develop a healthier, more meaningful relationship with nature. He spoke of earth-centered cultures, in which nature is considered sacred, placed “at the center of the value system.” Listening to Ted’s interview, it became clear that Save Mount Diablo is more than just a land trust and conservation organization—its efforts to spread awareness and educate the public, coupled with its desire to connect people to nature and to one another, make its work so much more impactful in creating sustainable change.

 Even with my lack of oral history experience prior to this project, I have always found it so crucial to understand history in general, not only to learn from the past, but also to preserve it. And in that sense, I have a deep admiration for the practice of oral history and the way it preserves and passes along different histories, especially regarding topics and perspectives that often get overshadowed or overlooked. Working with Ted’s interview—as well as all of the other interviews that had been conducted—really reinforced the importance of oral history for me, in the sense that hearing the history from those who actually experienced it adds so much more depth and understanding to the story. On the more technical side, I hadn’t previously understood the complexities of creating a podcast—or more broadly, even taking primary sources and turning them into a developed, cohesive story. By listening to the interviews and reading through the transcripts, I quickly began to recognize what pieces of information were important to get across to the audience. From there, I learned how to develop a narrative that conveys the relevant information while also speaking to the audience and making them care about the story. Even the thought process that goes into crafting a compelling story—drawing on charismatic speakers, finding quotes that are both significant to the story and also entertaining to hear, summarizing information that might be too dense or nuanced for an audience to bother sitting through—there are so many small details to take into consideration to be able to turn those initial interviews into a finished product. 

I learned so much more than I could have expected from working on this project—about working with primary sources and creating a story, about environmental conservation, about myself and how I want to move through this world—and I’ll continue to carry this experience with me and apply it in other aspects of my life and my learning. I’ve learned how to look at any given information and pull out the important themes, how to string different stories together to paint a broader picture, how to think about what appeals to an audience and how to make them care. Even outside of a storytelling framework, these skills easily transfer over to different parts of my life, from critically analyzing academic content to carrying conversations in my daily life. Moreso, hearing Save Mount Diablo’s history and accomplishments, even hearing how its relationship with nature and conservation efforts has changed over the years, has genuinely inspired me to rethink my own relationship with nature and what I can do in my own life to reconnect with the natural world around me. In this tumultuous time, with the pandemic and the increasing severity of the climate crisis, I think it is very easy for people to feel hopeless or to feel like the damage done is irreversible. However, I believe documenting Save Mount Diablo’s history and its accomplishments is an important reminder that there are people on the ground putting in the effort, doing the work that needs to be done, creating change and making a real impact on the climate crisis. I think this podcast can be not only a celebration of Save Mount Diablo’s work, but also a source of hope and motivation for the listening audience to persevere and to keep doing our part—no matter how big or small—and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in this project.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Episode 2 of the Oral History Center’s Special Season of the “Berkeley Remix” Podcast

Lately, things have been challenging and uncertain. We’re enduring an order to shelter-in-place, trying to read the news, but not too much, and prioritize self-care. Like many of you, we here at the Oral History Center are in need of some relief.

So, we’d like to provide you with some. Episodes in this series, which we’re calling “Coronavirus Relief,” may sound different from those we’ve produced in the past, that tell narrative stories drawing from our collection of oral histories. But like many of you, we, too, are in need of a break.

The Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1954, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world.

We’ll be adding some new episodes in this Coronavirus Relief series with stories from the field, things that have been on our mind, interviews that have been helping us get through, and finding small moments of happiness.

Our second episode is from Shanna Farrell.

Episode 2

These are strange, challenging times that we’re living through. As we shelter in place near and far, trying to reduce our chances of contracting the coronavirus, each day brings news of something else, the dust barely settled from the day before. It’s forced us to adapt quicker than we thought possible. Or maybe that’s just me.

As the fallout from this global pandemic unfolds, I’ve been watching as an industry I love – food and beverage – has begun to collapse. Bars and restaurants all over the world, including in the Bay Area, have closed their doors indefinitely. There are over half a million restaurant workers in San Francisco alone, many of whom are scrambling to stay on their feet. My partner, who manages a bar in the heart of a thriving neighborhood, was temporarily laid off, along with over 1,000 other employees in his company alone.  But as their income and health insurance evaporated, people in the service industry have banded together, creating fundraisers and support groups. Maybe there is hope in the dark.

This community-driven spirit is one of the reasons why I cherish the food and beverage industry. It’s also made me think about Rebecca Solnit’s 2009 book, Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Solnit chronicles how people pull together in times of crisis from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to 9/11. As a realist who tries my best to be optimistic, I’m hoping that we can all take a page out of this book – restaurant industry and beyond – and emerge from this pandemic stronger than when it found us. 

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Paradise Built in Hell, a chapter called “The Mizpah Cafe” about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

The Mizpah Cafe

The Gathering Place

The outlines of this particular disaster are familiar. At 5:12 in the morning on April 18, 1906, about a minute of seismic shaking tore up San Francisco, toppling buildings, particularly those on landfill and swampy ground, cracking and shifting others, collapsing chimneys, breaking water mains and gas lines, twisting streetcar tracks, even tipping headstones in the cemeteries. It was a major earthquake, centered right off the coast of peninsular city, and the damage it did was considerable. Afterward came the fires, both those caused by broken gas mains and chimneys and those caused and augmented by the misguided policy of trying to blast firebreaks ahead of the flames and preventing citizens from firefighting in their own homes and neighborhoods. The way the authorities handled the fires was a major reason why so much of the city–nearly five square miles, more than twenty-eight thousand structures–was incinerated in one of history’s biggest urban infernos before aerial warfare. Nearly every municipal building was destroyed, and so were many of the downtown businesses, along with mansions, slums, middle-class neighborhoods, the dense residential-commercial district of  Chinatown, newspaper offices, and warehouses. 

The response of the citizens is less familiar. Here is one. Mrs. Anna Amelia Holshouser, whom a local newspaper described as a “women of middle age, buxom and comely,” woke up on the floor of her bedroom on Sacramento Street, where the earthquake had thrown her. She took time to dress herself while the ground and her home were still shaking, in that era when getting dressed was no simple matter of throwing on clothes. “Powder, paint, jewelry, hair switch, all were on when I started my flight down one hundred twenty stairs to the street,” she recalled. The house in western San Francisco was slightly damaged, her downtown place of business–she was a beautician and masseuse–was “a total wreck,” and so she salvaged what she could and moved on with a friend, Mr. Paulson. They camped out in Union Square downtown until the fires came close and soldiers drove them onward. Like thousands of others, they ended up trudging with their bundles to Golden Gate Park, the thousand-acre park that runs all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. There they spread an old quilt “and lay down…not to sleep, but to shiver with cold from fog and mist and watch the flames of the burning city, whose blaze shone far above the trees.” On their third day in the park, she stitched together blankets, carpets, and sheets to make a tent that sheltered twenty-two people, including thirteen children. And Holshouser started a tiny soup kitchen with one tin can to drink from and one pie plate to eat from. All over the city stoves were hauled out of damaged buildings–fire was forbidden indoors, since many standing homes had gas leaks or damaged flues or chimneys–or primitive stoves were built out of rubble, and people commenced to cook for each other, for strangers, for anyone in need. Her generosity was typical, even if her initiative was exceptional.

Holshouser got funds to buy eating utensils across the bay in Oakland. The kitchen began to grow, and she was soon feeding two to three hundred people a day, not a victim of the disaster but a victor over it and the hostess of a popular social center–her brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Some visitors from Oakland liked her makeshift dining camp so well they put up a sign– “Palace Hotel” –naming it after the burned-out downtown luxury establishment that was reputedly once the largest hotel in the world. Humorous signs were common around the camps and street-side shelters. Nearby on Oak Street a few women ran “The Oyster Loaf” and the “Chat Noir”–two little shacks with their names in fancy cursive. A shack in Jefferson Square was titled “The House of Mirth,” with additional signs jokingly offering rooms for rent with steam heat and elevators. The inscription on the side of “Hoffman’s Cafe,” another little street-side shack, read “Cheers up, have one on me…come in and spend a quiet evening.” A menu chalked on the door of “Camp Necessity,” a tiny shack, included the items “fleas eyes raw, 98 cents, pickled eels, nails fried, 13 cents, flies legs on toast, 9 cents, crab’s tongues, stewed,” ending with “rain water fritter with umbrella sauce, $9.10.” “The Appetite Killery” may be the most ironic name, but the most famous inscription read, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may have to go to Oakland.” Many had already gone there or to hospitable Berkeley, and the railroads carried many much farther away for free.

About three thousand people had died, at least half the city was homeless, families were shattered, the commercial district was smoldering ashes, and the army from the military base at the city’s north end was terrorizing many citizens. As soon as the newspapers resumed printing, they began to publish long lists of missing people and of the new locations at which displaced citizens and sundered families could be found. Despite or perhaps because of this, the people were for the most part calm and cheerful, and many survived the earthquake with gratitude and generosity. Edwin Emerson recalled that after the quake, “when the tents of the refugees, and the funny street kitchens, improvised from doors and shutters and pieces of roofing, overspread all the city, such merriment became an accepted thing. Everywhere, during those long moonlit evenings, one could hear the tinkle of guitars and mandolins, from among the tents. Or, passing the grotesque rows of curbstone kitchens, one became dimly aware of the low murmurings of couples who had sought refuge in those dark recesses as in bowers of love. It was at this time that the droll signs and inscriptions began to appear on walls and tent flaps, which soon became one of the familiar sights of reconstructing San Francisco. The overworked marriage license clerk had deposed that the fees collected by him for issuing such licenses during April and May 1906 far exceeded the totals for the same months of any preceding years in San Francisco.” Emerson had rushed to the scene of the disaster from New York, pausing to telegraph a marriage proposal of his own to a young woman in San Francisco, who wrote a letter of rejection that was still in the mail when she met her suitor in person amid the wreckage and accepted. They were married a few weeks later. 

Disaster requires an ability to embrace contradiction in both the minds of those undergoing it and those trying to understand it from afar. In each disaster, there is suffering, there are psychic scars that will be felt most when the emergency is over, there are deaths and losses. Satisfactions, newborn social bonds, and liberations are often also profound. Of course, one factor in the gap between the usual accounts of disaster and actual experience is that those accounts focus on the small percentage of people who are wounded, killed, orphaned, and otherwise devastated, often at the epicenter of the disaster, along with the officials involved. Surrounding them, often in the same city or even neighborhood, is a periphery of many more who are largely undamaged but profoundly disrupted–and it is the disruptive power of disaster that matters here, the ability of disasters to topple the old orders and open new possibilities. This broader effect is what disaster does to society. In the moment of disaster, the old order no longer exists and people improvise rescues, shelters, and communities. Thereafter, a struggle takes place over whether the old order with all its shortcomings and injustices will be reimposed or a new one, perhaps more oppressive or perhaps more just and free, like the disaster utopia, will arise. 

Of course people who are deeply and devastatingly affected may yet find something redemptive in their experience, while those who are largely unaffected may be so rattled they are immune to the other possibilities (curiously, people farther from the epicenter of a disaster are often more frightened, but this seems to be because what you imagine as overwhelming or terrifying while at leisure becomes something you can cope with when you must–there is no time for fear). There are no simple rules for the emotions. We speak mostly of happy and sad emotions, a divide that suggests a certain comic lightness to the one side and pure negativity to the other, but perhaps we would navigate our experiences better by thinking in terms of deep and shallow, rich and poor. The very depth of emotion, the connecting to the core of one’s being, the calling into play one’s strongest feelings and abilities, can be rich, or even on deathbeds, in wars and emergencies, while what is often assumed to be the circumstance of happiness sometimes is only insulation from the depths, or so the plagues of ennui and angst among the comfortable suggest. 

Next door to Holshouser’s kitchen, an aid team from the mining boomtown of Tonopah, Nevada, set up and began to deliver wagonloads of supplies to the back of Holshouser’s tent. The Nevadans got on so well with impromptu cook and hostess they gave her a guest register whose inscription read in part: “in cordial appreciation of her prompt, philanthropic, and efficient service to the people in general, and particularly to the Tonopah Board of Trade Relief Committee…May her good deeds never be forgotten.” Thinking that the place’s “Palace Hotel” sign might cause confusion, they rebaptized it the Mizpah Cafe after the Mizpah Saloon in Tonopah, and a new sign was installed. The ornamental letters spelled out above the name “One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin” and those below “Established April 23, 1906.” The Hebrew word mizpah, says one encyclopedia, “is an emotional bond between those who are separated (either physically or by death).” Another says it was the Old Testament watchtower “where the people were accustomed to meet in great national emergencies.” Another source describes it as “symbolizing a sanctuary and place of hopeful anticipation.” The ramshackle material reality of Holshouser’s improvised kitchen seemed to matter not at all in comparison with its shining social role. It ran through June of 1906, when Holshouser wrote her memoir of the earthquake. Her piece is remarkable for what it doesn’t say: it doesn’t speak of fear, enemies, conflict, chaos, crime, despondency, or trauma. 

Just as her kitchen was one of many spontaneously launched community centers and relief projects, so her resilient resourcefulness represents the ordinary response in many disasters. In them, strangers become friends and collaborators, goods are shared freely, people improvise new roles for themselves. Imagine a society where money plays little or no role, where people rescue each other and then care for each other, where food is given away, where life is mostly out of doors in public, where the old divides between people seem to have fallen away, and the fate that faces them, no matter how grim, is far less so for being shared, where much once considered impossible, both good and bad, is now possible or present, and where the moment is so pressing that old complaints and worries fall away, where people feel important, purposeful, at the center of the world. It is by its very nature unsustainable and evanescent, but like a lightning flash it illuminates ordinary life, and like lightning it sometimes shatters the old forms. It is utopia itself for many people, though it is only a brief moment during terrible times. And at the time they manage to hold both irreconcilable experiences, the joy and the grief.

——

Thanks for listening to The Berkeley Remix. We’ll catch up with next time, and in the meantime, from all of here at the Oral History Center, we wish you our best.

 


Episode 2 of OHC’s 5th Season of the Berkeley Remix Explores Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

Episode 2: There’s No Crying in Carpentry: Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community.

The park district employs hundreds of people, many of whom are women. This episode digs into the history of gender equality at the East Bay Regional Park District. It follows the stories of two women who worked in the Tilden Corp yard, which houses heavy machinery, and how they challenged traditional gender roles in the workplace. They each have their own stories of growing their careers during affirmative action, and the impact that their work had on equality for all district employees. 

All episodes feature interviews from the East Bay Regional Park District Oral History Project. A special thank you to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. Photos taken by Bob Walker from the Bob Walker Collection of the Oakland Museum, courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District. This episode includes interviews with Julie Haselden, Rachel MacDonald, and Stephen Gehrett. All music by Blue Dot Sessions: “Dorica Theme” and “A Palace of Cedar.”

To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz. 

The following is a written version of the episode.

 

Narrator:

We’ve been talking about equality in the workplace for decades , especially when it comes to gender. Throughout the 20th century, certain fields were perceived  as “masculine,” by nature. Jobs like construction, carpentry, engineering, and landscaping were seen as physically demanding — men’s work.

But  there have always been women who  challenged the status quo. We’ve all heard the story of Rosie the Riveter. During World War II, women at home took over factory jobs from men heading to war. These women worked as rivetors, welders,  machinists and woodworkers. Even professional baseball players.

And when the war ended, some women weren’t thrilled about giving their jobs back. By the 1960’s women began demanding equal opportunities  from employers. And they weren’t the only ones. 

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order requiring  government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Four years later, “sex” was added to that list.  

Affirmative action has come to mean a lot of things to different people, which we’re not going to look at in detail. The important thing is that, by the 1970s, it meant employers in California were paying new attention to the composition of their workforce. And hiring women into positions that had previously been held by men. One of them was Julie Haselden.

Haselden:

The park district at the time was interested in implementing affirmative action and trying to get women into nontraditional jobs. 

Narrator:

In an effort to hire more women, the East Bay Regional Park District sent  park rangers to attend classes at local colleges and recruit female employees.

Rachel McDonald was one of these early recruits. Rachel was a single mother who needed to work.  She decided to apply.

McDonald:

Well, I applied and I got an interview. Mostly I was asked appropriate questions based on my application and the job. I think the only one that I thought was inappropriate was when the head of personnel asked me if I thought I’d be able to be dependable since I had a child. Since someone else said, “Well, she’s been working all these years with a child.”

Narrator:

Despite a few interview hiccups, Rachel got the job in 1974.

McDonald:

I kind of fudged a little bit. I said I’d taken out a tree when I hadn’t. [laughter] But I really lucked out being hired. I really did.

Narrator:

As a struggling single parent, this job was significant.

McDonald:

Well, it was a whole change. I had been on welfare. When I was hired, I remember telling my social worker from welfare that I didn’t need it anymore because I had this job. He was so happy and impressed because I was going to be making more money than him. 

Narrator:

Rachel went from spending her days in a classroom to working outside,  performing maintenance work. 

McDonald:

I loved that work for most of the time I was on it. It was really hard physical work. We’d pave roads and prune trails, work with the heavy equipment operators on trails. I operated heavy equipment sometimes. That wasn’t really my thing. I talked with another ranger once that was on the crew. I said, “Oh, I hate it because of this. I don’t like all the fumes.” He just loved it. He said, “It makes me feel more manly.” 

Narrator:

Rachel was one of the first — and only — women to be hired into a  position that involved physical responsibilities. The women who worked for the district were mostly in administrative and educator roles. 

McDonald:

A bunch of us women were hired in ’74. It was mostly clerical and naturalists. I think maybe in planning and design. But in the field no.

Narrator:

Rachel was still largely unique in the district. Until, A few years later, when in 1980, Julie Haselden was hired by the park district. 

Haselden:

I was absolutely delighted when I got the job. It was tough.

Narrator:

Julie was hired as a truck driver and forklift operator. She’d learned to operate heavy machinery from her boyfriend who was a sculptor in West Oakland. Julie’s a self-described tomboy. She wasn’t worried about what her male coworkers would  think.

Haselden:

The guys that were working there, a lot of them were like, “Well, women can’t do that” I think I might have been hired by a guy who wanted to prove that women couldn’t do the work. “You want me to hire a woman? I’ll hire a woman. Watch this!” 

Narrator:

Both Rachel and Julie worked out of the Tilden Corp yard, which was where the district kept their heavy equipment and maintenance supplies. Julie describes it as a bit of a boys’ club, where she  was a novelty. 

Haselden:

My first day, I guess I was loading a truck, and all these guys from the main office came to see this chick. These guys were watching me, leaning up on the warehouse wall, and they’re smoking cigarettes [makes murmuring noises] and holding the clipboard and kind of pretending like they were actually doing some work, but they were actually just watching the new kid. One of the guys, who later became my manager, said, “So you think you can do a man’s job, huh?” I said, “You mean, smoke a cigarette and hold a clipboard and watch somebody else work? I can do better than that.” [laughter] Anyway, I said something along those lines. Everybody laughed, and so that kind of broke the ice. 

Narrator:

Rachel says a sense of humor was a necessity at Tilden Corp Yard.

McDonald:

I think it might have been easier for me than for some women because, for some reason, I really got along with the guys. I didn’t let the way some of them talked, I didn’t like shutdown or get, “Arrrgh,” about it. To some point I could kid back about it. I joked a lot with people so that they enjoyed being around me. Plus, I just tried to do a good job. I’d have things happen where men would make comments, like the guy at the place where we’d pick up the base rock. But mostly, for me it was okay. I just really got along well with people.

Narrator:

But not every interaction was as easy for  Rachel to manage. When she first started with the district, a co-worker made  unwanted advances toward her. 

McDonald:

He wanted to be more involved with me than I wanted to be and it was very unpleasant. 

Narrator:

Rachel reported this to her supervisor.

McDonald:

He said, “It doesn’t matter in terms of the best interest of the district. You should just work it out or go somewhere else.” 

Narrator:

She chose for the second option, and  went looking for another job in the district. But switching roles wasn’t easy — not every supervisor was willing to hire women. One manager even told her not to apply. 

McDonald:

He was the guy that the roads and trails supervisor reported to. I told him I’d like to apply for that opening and he told me that he really didn’t want a woman on the crew because I wouldn’t be able to do as much work as the guys or something. 

Narrator:

Discouraged, but not dismayed, Rachel  took the matter higher up the chain. She went to the chief of administration, who was under the general manager. 

McDonald:

He told the chief of maintenance that, “You can’t say that kind of thing. If she wants that job and if no one else has applied, she gets the job.” The chief of maintenance wasn’t happy with me about it but I wanted that job.

Narrator:

Julie had less trouble fitting in, even if the space was clearly dominated by men. 

Haselden:

The mechanic shop at Tilden at the time, great bunch of guys, liked them all, but they had a lot of pornography on the walls. I mean, like, pornography. I didn’t really even hardly notice it. My years being a Teamster, I was surrounded by it; it was just like wallpaper. 

Narrator:

But it bothered other women who she worked with. One  named Maggie, in particular. So Julie decided to step in. 

Haselden:

I felt if someone else is going to be offended, then I will absolutely support them. She was going, “No, that is absolutely not acceptable.” “Really? Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’s offensive, isn’t it?” You wouldn’t want anyone to come in here and feel uncomfortable. 

Narrator:

Julie and Maggie’s male co-workers weren’t happy that the women were rocking the boat.

Haselden:

So the guys were very resistant. So these guys were going, “No, no, what are you talking about? We just love beautiful bodies. It’s nothing ugly; they’re beautiful bodies.” And then some other woman—I can’t remember who—got a picture out of a male gay porn pinup and went down when no one was looking, put it up on the wall, because it was a beautiful body. They ripped that thing down, tore it in little tiny pieces, said how disgusting that was. 

Narrator:

This seemed to open some of the men’s eyes. 

Haselden:

That was kind of, they kind of went, Hmm, wait a minute. Maggie was the one that made that happen and got it to be a G-rated place. They resisted, and Maggie prevailed.

Narrator:

Julie encountered other setbacks at Tilden, but she always seemed to approach it the same  way. She dug into her work, determined to do her job well. 

Haselden:

I was never going to play the girl card. I became really good at the forklift. It was an old forklift that you had to double clutch, and it was really hard to operate, but just doing it so much, I got really good at it. 

Narrator:

Rachel, by comparison, leaned into her feminine side.

McDonald:

It’s embarrassing to say but I acted more cutesy then. Like that. I always had my shirt unbuttoned one button too many. It was actually my husband, when we were getting to know each other. He told me once, “You’ve got to button that one up because if you want to be respected, that’s part of it.” From then on I did. I was competent, I was knowledgeable, but sometimes I undercut myself by acting too cutesy. 

Narrator:

Rachel learned to command respect by being more confident in herself and her abilities, and by compartmentalizing parts of her professional identity.

McDonald:

I still liked to joke and have fun but that part of it, the “sexy” part of it stopped. 

Narrator:

Eventually , both Rachel and Julie found their groove. Both were tapped for a carpenter’s apprenticeship, which meant higher pay. Rachel applied in 1978.

McDonald:

I spent a lot of time around the carpenters in the Corp Yard, talking with them or fooling around. I just thought, “Well, it might be fun. I might enjoy the work.”

Narrator:

Julie applied in the 1980s. 

Haselden:

There were lots of people that applied. They had two positions to fill. Again, it wasn’t the primary focus, but they wanted to implement some more affirmative action. But the two guys that they chose, Fred Porter and Dennis Waespi both happened to be white guys. It was over that day, we found out that they were named, but somehow—I don’t know how, it was heaven—there was a meeting after that, and somebody went to bat saying, “We need to get a woman in the trades.” They figured that I was the best candidate for that, so they included another position, which was huge in funding and planning. I was delighted.

Narrator:

The carpenters apprenticeship was a big commitment.

Haselden:

The program included seven thousand hours on the job, sixteen one-week classes, so it was four classes a year for four years, and each one of those classes was one week on.

Narrator:

Julie remembers her first few weeks. 

Haselden:

I had aptitude and energy but I had no building skills. I mean, I had delivered a lot of tools, I had handled a lot of tools, I had watched a lot of work, but I just didn’t really have a lot of experience. Which is kind of a good thing, I think, because I was just open. I was open. The first few weeks and months were very bloody fingers, [laughs] blisters, hard work.

Narrator:

But Rachel found that she didn’t enjoy the work. 

McDonald:

Well, I didn’t like being up on a roof. Not a flat roof.

Narrator:

Rachel also wasn’t getting much respect from the men in the program. 

McDonald:

All the guys pretty much were these old farts who really didn’t treat me with respect. They wouldn’t let me do anything really. Also the person who was head of all the crews like that, he didn’t treat me very well and he didn’t like having a female there.

Narrator:

Things hadn’t changed much when Julie started the program a few years later.

Haselden:

People weren’t as nice there. They were more competitive, young—and I was thirty at this point—no, I was thirty-five. These guys are all young and crazy. Anyway. It wasn’t always easy… It was uncomfortable. At work, I knew people, I just felt comfortable, I felt accepted. There were always a couple jerks, but I would avoid them, and no problem there. Even the teachers at the apprenticeship school would make wisecracks and just be pretty much unpleasant and kind of let me be in the class. It was just a very competitive, very guy thing. 

Narrator:

After two months, Rachel ultimately decided to withdraw from the apprenticeship.

McDonald:

When I’d go to work in the morning I was so depressed. I thought, “This really isn’t for me.” 

Narrator:

Julie, on the other hand, decided to stick it out because the payoff was worth it for her. 

Haselden:

If we had completed our apprenticeship, we had earned that job.

Narrator:

After completing the apprenticeship, Julie went on to work as a journeyman for the next 19 years. 

Haselden:

It felt really good. I felt good. It was well compensated, as far as the pay.

Narrator:

Rachel took another path. After she left the apprenticeship program she went back to the Roads & Trails crew. While she was deciding what to do next, she and her friend Dennis got to talking.  

McDonald:

We both realized we wanted to do something different and we came up with this idea. we’d do an exchange for two months, where he would work on roads and trails and I would work on Redwood. We didn’t see past that. We thought, “It’ll be a change for us, that maybe it will help us to decide what we want to do next and to try it out.” 

Narrator:

This switch gave Rachel the opportunity to do more administrative work, which she enjoyed. 

McDonald:

I discovered that I was really good at dealing with personnel and was really good at treating everybody the same. I got feedback about that during the years.

Narrator:

Rachel found that she had a talent for managing people. 

McDonald:

I just discovered I was really good at planning the work and figuring out what people liked to do and what they were good at and giving them opportunities to do it, to do new things. I would always meet with staff and ask them what their interests were and if you could do whatever you wanted on the job, what would you like to do? I tried to find something that fit in with that.

Narrator:

Motivated by this discovery, Rachel began taking management classes at UC San Francisco. This earned her a promotion to unit manager, where she got to play to her strengths. 

McDonald:

I was in the office more. I was always really clear about what I expected. When I was a unit manager I made sure everyone in my unit had a job clarification. I met with each crew and we went through and just talked about and agreed upon what the expectations were because I think that’s a big deal. A lot of people don’t know what their boss wants.

Narrator:

Her male colleagues gave her more respect, which was evident when she encountered sexim outside of the district. 

McDonald:

When I was a supervisor at Redwood I again had to deal with a lot of sexism because we had a lot of contractors doing work now. I remember on a few occasions where I’d be standing with the contractor and maybe one of his guys and then with some of my crew. I remember the contractor looking to one of my male staff and saying, “So what do you want to happen here?” He said, “You’re talking to the wrong person. She’s the supervisor.” They were good about it and they didn’t seem to be resentful.

Narrator:

Her response to this treatment changed, too.

McDonald:

Like I had to tell one guy, he worked for PG&E. He was the supervisor. Because they have to come in every year and trim trees for their power lines, I’d go with him out in the field first and we’d talk about what was going to be done. This guy had a habit of always calling me babe. I had to tell him more than once, “Don’t call me babe.” Finally he stopped. 

Narrator:

Julie and Rachel made different decisions about the apprenticeship program, but their choices had a lasting effect on both of their careers. after completing the apprenticeship program. Julie  went on to work on the Roads & Trails crew, in a management role.  

Haselden:

I was also running projects. I didn’t have any experience with asphalt, but I went to some classes, went to some seminars, and I started designing. I would do the drawings, I would do the scope of work, write up the contract, write up the bid proposal, get the contractors to come on site, select the contractor, develop the contract documents, run the project, be on the job, and then pay.

Narrator:

Julie’s work earned her praise from her supervisors, including Stephen Gehrett, her manager of several years. 

Gehrett:

Julie Haselden became the first woman carpenter, and she did, [laughs] and the reason why is she could dish it out like she got it, which was nice. And at the end of her career, I don’t think there’s anybody who disliked her. She’s just a wonderful lady.

Narrator:

She continued working on the Roads & Trails crew until she retired in 2011.

Affirmative action ended in California in November of 1996 when Proposition 209 was passed.  It amended the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education. 

However, affirmative action had lasted long enough to get Rachel and Julie into the district. The two women had a lasting impact on the culture of the organization. While Rachel made changes at an administrative level, prioritizing equal treatment, Julie was a trailblazer in the field and has seen more women entering the trades.

As a result of these two women, and others like them, the district became a leader in gender equality.

Haselden:

I think the park district was really a forerunner for including and appreciating women, and they were given opportunities to go up in the hierarchy. Yeah, a lot of women have become supervisors and managers, and they’re doing great jobs. You wanted somebody that was a good worker and knew how to get along on a crew. Gender and color and size and shape does not matter.

Narrator:

For a short window of time, women like Rachel and Julie gained access to jobs that had previously been out of reach. And the ripple effects of those hires have been paving new pathways for women into this type of work, and redefining what is and isn’t possible in certain roles.

Thanks for listening to the Berkeley Remix, a podcast from the Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Founded in 1954, the Center records and preserves the history of California, the nation, and our interconnected world. This episode was produced by Francesca Fenzi and Shanna Farrell. 

This episode features interviews with Rachel MacDonald, Julie Haselden, and Stephen Gehrett that are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. A special thanks to the district and Beverly Ortiz. To learn more about these interviews, visit our website listed in the show notes. I’m your host, Shanna Farrell. Thank you for listening to The Berkeley Remix, and please join us next time!

 


The Oral History Center Launches Season 5 of the Berkeley Remix Podcast

Set in the parks of the East Bay hills, the Hidden Heroes podcast season is about people who have made a difference: fighting fires, breaking gender barriers, preserving the land. 

In season 5 of the Berkeley Remix, we’re diving into the long history of the East Bay Regional Park District, which was founded in 1934. All of the episodes are set in the East Bay parks and are about people who’ve made a difference. Some are stories that you’re already familiar with, but haven’t heard quite like this. Over the course of three episodes, we’ll explore the park district’s integral role in fighting the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, of being on the forefront of gender equality in the workplace, and how the districts efforts to preserve land benefited the public — through the lens of the local equestrian community. 

 

Episode 1: You Really Love Your Land, Don’t You: Expansion of the East Bay Regional Park District

The first episode of the season dives into public use of the park. Since the district was formed in 1934, it has acquired 125,000 acres that span 73 parks. The episode begins with the role that one special volunteer-turned-employee played in convincing ranchers and landowners to sell their property to be preserved by the park district. Without the work of this man, and others like him, the  public would not have access to this land. This includes the local equestrian community, whom we hear from in the rest of the episode, exploring how the district became a haven for horse lovers. This episode includes interviews with Judy Irving, Don Staysa, Judi Bank, and Becky Carlson who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District, especially Beverly Ortiz and Brenda Montano. 

Photos from the Bob Walker Collection at the Oakland Museum of California

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 

 

Episode 2: There’s No Crying in Carpentry: Gender Equality in the East Bay Regional Park District

The park district employs hundreds of people, many of whom are women. This episode digs into the history of gender equality at the East Bay Regional Park District. It follows the stories of two women who worked in the Tilden Corp yard, which houses heavy machinery, and how they challenged traditional gender roles in the workplace. They each have their own stories of growing their careers during affirmative action, and the impact that their work had on equality for all district employees. This episode includes interviews with Julie Haselden, Rachel MacDonald, and Stephen Gehrett who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz.

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar”

 

Episode 3: (Once in a) Career Fire: The East Bay Regional Park District Fights the Tunnel Fire

This episode explores the role of the EBRPD Fire Department in fighting the historic 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. It explores how the fire got so bad, and the early work that district employees did to prevent large wildfires. It features interviews with district employees who managed the land and, later, who fought on the frontlines of the fire, including Anne Rockwell, Stephen Gehrett, Michael Avalos, Paul Miller, and John Nicoles who are part of the East Bay Regional Park District Parkland Oral History Project. To learn more about these interviews, visit the Oral History Center’s website.

This episode was produced by Shanna Farrell and Francesca Fenzi

A special thanks to the East Bay Regional Park District and Beverly Ortiz. 

All music by Blue Dot Sessions:

  • “Dorica Theme” 
  • “A Palace of Cedar” 
  • “Drone Birch” 
  • “Feather on the Crest”