By Julie Johnson, The Press Democrat
The footprints of the late Bill Kortum’s environmental activism could cover a map of Sonoma County. They stretch back decades to the successful fight to keep a nuclear power plant off Bodega Head and forward to current-day developments like the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit project and efforts to stop a controversial plan to charge fees at state beaches.
Speakers who came together Friday at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma to read from a book chronicling Kortum’s legacy reflected the broad network of activists he collaborated with and mentored as they became central players in North Coast environmentalism.
Former North Coast Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, who became a dogged advocate for coastal preservation, said Kortum launched her career in politics when, during his short time as a Sonoma County supervisor, he appointed her to the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women.
“Of all the people in my life whom I’ve held in high esteem, I’d know how I was doing if Bill Kortum was pleased or displeased,” said Woolsey, who retired in 2013.
Woolsey and eight others read from “Bill Kortum: A 50 Year History of Environmental Activism in Sonoma County” by John Crevelli, a longtime Santa Rosa Junior College history instructor and friend to Kortum.
About 100 people in the standing-room-only audience at the back of the Kentucky Street book store gathered for the 7 p.m. reading held in honor of the upcoming Earth Day on April 22.
Sponsored by the Sonoma County Conservation Action, Sierra Club, Coastwalk, Greenbelt Alliance and North Bay Jobs with Justice, the group is hosting another reading from Crevelli’s book at 7 p.m. Saturday at the local book chain’s Healdsburg store at 106 Matheson St.
Crevelli, who died last May, and Kortum, who died in 2014, were peers on many fronts. Both were native sons of Sonoma County who grew up on chicken ranches to become avid hikers and environmentalists dedicated to preserving the county’s coastline and open spaces.
Seated in the third row, Crevelli’s widow, Debra Crevelli, and two of his four children, Monica and Renee, listened as the speakers took turns reading from passages of the richly detailed narrative of local environmental history.
“I’m going to sit here and soak it all in,” Debra Crevelli of Healdsburg said before the reading began.
Former state Sen. Noreen Evans, who is running for the west county’s supervisor seat, read a passage about the political climate when Kortum and others fought to defeat PG&E’s plan to build the nuclear power plant on Bodega Head — on the San Andreas Fault.
Evans said looking back at Kortum’s legacy was especially timely because of the potential for the California Coastal Commission to allow state parks to start charging fees at beaches. The commission is considering the fee plan in a move that several of the speakers Thursday said goes against the preservation and public access Kortum spent decades fighting for.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” Evans said.
Kortum was a veterinarian whose decades of activism curtailing unchecked growth and preserving the coastline and open spaces have left an indelible mark on projects across the region. And his legacy is present in projects just yet coming to fruition — such as the newly expanded marine sanctuaries off the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.
Woolsey said the origins of the SMART commuter railway can be linked back to conversations in the 1990s between Kortum and others involved in a heated debate over widening Highway 101.
“We prevailed and we will have the SMART train,” Woolsey said. “I wish Bill Kortum could be on it the day it starts.”
Kortum’s widow, Lucy Kortum, read a passage about her husband’s opposition to the Warm Springs Dam, which was central to his platform when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1974. Lucy Kortum said the opposition to the project influenced the final, smaller design built in 1983.
“The dam that you see now wasn’t the dam that was proposed,” she said. “As Bill says, ‘Never give up.’”
Other speakers included Mark Green, development director with the Conservation Corps North Bay; Pam Torliatt, who served as mayor of Petaluma from 2007 to 2011; Tom Roth, a top aide to Woolsey who managed the campaign to expand North Coast marine sanctuaries; Matt Maguire of Friends of Lafferty Park, a group advocating for public access to the city-owned Laffery Ranch property, a 270-acre hillside site off Sonoma Mountain Road; and Rick Theis, founder of the nonprofit Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy in Santa Rosa.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.
This article was originally published by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.