Photo: Evan Lovett-Harris

Greenbelt Alliance Mourns Passing of Board Leader John Chapman

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of long-time Greenbelt Alliance board member John Chapman after a nearly year-long battle with cancer. John had served on the Greenbelt Alliance Board since 2003 and as President of the Board from 2009 until earlier this month.

“John’s love for the Bay Area was unwavering,” says Jeremy Madsen, Greenbelt Alliance Executive Director. “He inspired and motivated everyone at our organization to go the extra mile to protect the Bay Area’s amazing landscapes and make our cities and towns great places. John was an outstanding leader, a mentor, and most importantly, a friend. I will miss him profoundly. The Bay Area has lost a true champion.”

For over 25 years, John volunteered his time to protect the Bay Area’s open spaces and make cities and neighborhoods vibrant and sustainable—with a focus on his home county of Contra Costa. In the 1990s, he was a leader of the opposition to the sprawling Dougherty Valley development, not far from his Danville home. John was instrumental in conserving Cowell Ranch, near Brentwood, which will now be enjoyed for generations as the John Marsh State Park. John also successfully fought a toll freeway around the eastern side of Mt. Diablo.

Long before the local food movement was popular, John understood the importance of Bay Area farms and ranches. He worked closely with the City of Brentwood and local farmers to raise over $12 million that have been used to permanently protect family farms in eastern Contra Costa County. While serving on the boards of the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust and the Richmond Community Foundation, John coordinated a collaboration betwen the two, the Richmond Farm 2 Table CSA. This effort brings fresh fruits and vegetables directly from Contra Costa farmers to Richmond residents, with reduced-cost boxes for low-income families.

Over the years, John became a passionate advocate of smart growth and infill development, including the award-winning Contra Costa Centre Transit Village. While serving as Board Chairman of the East Bay Community Foundation (EBCF), he founded the Livable Communities Initiative, which worked to build environmentally, economically, and socially healthy urban communities through grant-making and consensus-building. Working with EBCF, John played an instrumental role in helping set the stage for the Uptown area of Oakland. John went on to help establish the Great Communities Collaborative (GCC), a partnership of Bay Area advocacy organizations and foundations that works with communities to create visions for smart growth with transit-oriented development. GCC is recognized as a model collaborative by smart growth experts around the nation who have worked to replicate it from Boston to Denver.

John has left an amazing legacy. He will truly be missed.

In the album below, Greenbelt Alliance would like to share some of our happiest memories with John over the past 11 years.

In lieu of flowers, the Chapman family suggests making a charitable donation in John’s honor to an organization of your choice.

Photo: Evan Lovett-Harris



16 Comments on “Greenbelt Alliance Mourns Passing of Board Leader John Chapman

  1. John was my mentor and my friend. He was a great mind, a true friend and an inspiration. I’m am so very sad and I will miss him always.

  2. It was a pleasure to know John. His efforts to diligently work to preserve open space and improve socio-economic conditions have made important differences throughout Contra Costa County. His leadership and eloquence will be missed by many that had the opportunity to collaborate with him. My condolences to his family.

  3. John was a wonderful man and leader. He helped create the Funders’ Network as it is today and we were honored to work with him and others to create the Great Communities Collaborative. He will be sorely missed.

  4. John embodied integrity to me and showed how awake privilege need not be stuck in guilt. Rather he demonstrated how to go further than charity without a lot of fuss. Also, by creating a great collaborative, he created community. A big sigh here today. Can we name something of him -a trail, an award, a bus stop?

  5. What a blessing and joy to know John. I’m so grateful for all he has given and left us with – guidance, friendship, joy, love, peace, spirit, and inspiration. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.

  6. John has been such an important person in my life, both professionally and personally, and I know I am not alone. John embodied a spirit and force of life that will life on, and he has been an inspiration to so many with his passion for change, his willingness to roll up his sleeves in the challenging and messy process of making change, and for always being positive and enthusiastic and encouraging through it all. I have learned so much for him, he was a joy to work alongside. And, we will continue to learn from him as I am absolutely confident his legacy will live on in many ways, through his lovely family and friends and for the tangible outcomes in Bay Area communities he worked so hard to achieve.

  7. John was such an extraordinary person that it will take a long while to digest his influence on me. In the two years I have known him it is easy to comment on his gentle yet determined hand and will to be of service to humankind…without any reference to himself. I am honored to have known him and witness one of the finest examples of what a human being can be.

  8. John was inspiring, friendly in so many ways and helped me to think more strategically. Doing small tasks that built up to successes on the larger scale – John worked this way and he will inspire me always and forever.

  9. I understand and appreciate Mr.Chapman’s motivation. What stands out for me is his willingness and dedication to create Sangha: Community and Equanimity, selflessly and purposefully. I feel humbled and grateful he lived in this lifetime.
    Peace, compassion & equanimity, Sally

  10. John, was the brightest star in the Greenbelt firmament. His optimism was so important to me – it buoyed me through some challenging issues. He was a thoughtful leader who helped us all find the path to success. He will be greatly missed.

  11. Feeling at a loss of words at this news. i first met John when he was at East Bay Community Foundation and I was leading the development of The Uptown apartments at Forest City, one of the centerpieces of Mayor Jerry Brown’s plan to revitalize downtown Oakland. John brought together community stakeholders, City staff and our team to forge compromise solutions where all parties felt their voices were heard. Over the years that followed, I knew John to be a man of compassion, integrity and passion for the causes he believed in (which were many). It is a sad day. Our community has truly lost a “great one”.

  12. John’s legacy in Bay Area conservation of ag lands, and in connecting local food and farms to families and communities — is remarkable. A bow of gratitude to him for a life of such deep service to so many.

  13. As so many have stated, John was truly inspirational. I very much enjoyed all of the times that we got together to talk about things that were important to both of us … but more than that … always marveled at the energy and devotion John had to making them happen. The impact of his interests and passions were so far-reaching and evident everywhere I travel around the East Bay. I can see the very positive effect he had on not only shaping the environment we live in and appreciate now, but also recognize the very positive current that he helped instigate that will shape what we will have in the future.

  14. John was the champion we needed, the steady ‘hand on the tiller’ when we were revving our newly-minted TOD plan from ‘wonk-dom’ to reality in San Leandro.

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