The Evers family has been an integral part of Greenbelt Alliance for decades. Their passion for the environment and commitment to smart growth in the Bay Area are rooted in their family history. From activism to spearheading policy, to providing unwavering support—without the Evers, the Bay Area would not be what it is today.
Beginning in the 1930’s, it was Sepha Evers’ environmental activism that set the stage for her family. Sepha—along with Portia Forbes, Caroline Livermore, and Helen Van Pelt—realized that the completion of the Golden Gate Bridge would trigger development in Marin and threaten the county’s open spaces and natural wonders. As Bill, Sepha’s son, said, “The bridge was being built and they realized Marin was going to be inundated—they did not want it to become like Los Angeles.” So, these four crusaders formed the Citizens Survey Committee, which evolved into the Marin Conservation League, an organization that was critical to making Marin the special place we know today.
The women achieved several early wins, including raising capital to fund the production of Marin’s first general planning maps and transforming a former paper mill, burdened with back taxes and controversy, into the current Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
They continued fundraising over numerous years, to purchase lands that now belong to various parks and preserves, including Mount Tamalpais, Stinson Beach, and Angel Island. As Sepha’s grandson, Elliot, explains, “Some of the resources these women helped preserve are today the most significant components of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They helped protect nearly all of the undeveloped land from Marin to Drake’s Bay.” That’s miles and miles of land along the Northern California coastline that is now safe from development.
“They helped protect nearly all of the undeveloped land from Marin to Drake’s Bay.”
Sepha’s passion was clearly reflected in her son Bill, who spent his life deeply involved with environmental organizations throughout California. As a founding member of People for Open Space (now Greenbelt Alliance), Bill constantly showed his commitment to protecting the natural lands that make the Bay Area special.
In a video interview with Bill by Shaping San Francisco, he recalls the early days, “I used to go to Dorothy Erskine’s house once a week up on Chestnut. I’m the guy that got them to change the name to Greenbelt Coalition, but Larry Orman liked Alliance so now it’s Greenbelt Alliance. I said we need something that people understand. A greenbelt around the Bay Area.” Larry reaffirms Bill’s impact on the organization, saying “Bill was a tremendous visionary and effective civic leader—especially with Greenbelt Alliance….he had the boldness and grasp of things that made his thinking extremely powerful to all of us.”
In addition to leading several environmental organizations, in 1978 Bill became the head of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic Development—serving under both Mayors George Moscone and Dianne Feinstein. And, in 1969, Bill wrote a white paper on San Francisco’s environmental regulations that is often considered the foundational documentation for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Bill was a tremendous visionary and effective civic leader—especially with Greenbelt Alliance….he had the boldness and grasp of things that made his thinking extremely powerful to all of us.”
Like his mother before him, Bill passed his strong work ethic, love for the environment, and passion for the Bay Area on to his sons, Will and Elliot. “All of the skiing, hiking, and camping we did as kids really gave us an appreciation for the outdoors and instilled in us the values we hold for the natural beauty of the Bay Area,” Will remembers.
Will and Elliot’s commitment to environmental stewardship evolved as they witnessed the negative impacts of unregulated growth on the Bay Area’s diminishing open spaces. “It’s special because we have open space, which gives us a high quality of life,” explains Elliot. “I knew early on that growth in the Bay Area was going nuts and started asking questions about how we could preserve this place.” Like their grandmother and father before them, Will and Elliot were inspired to pick up the baton and continue their family’s legacy.
Will became involved with Greenbelt Alliance when he joined the Board of Directors in 2004. His father’s history with the organization, coupled with Greenbelt Alliance’s critical work, convinced Will to engage at a deeper level. “Greenbelt Alliance was the only environmental organization working in all nine counties of the Bay Area. Back then, they were doing more on the conservation side, establishing urban growth boundaries in places that badly needed regulation. It was really important work that resonated with me.” Will also wanted to do what he could to support the policy-driven work that Greenbelt Alliance focuses on—feeling that the results are more impactful and cost-effective than other methods.
“Greenbelt Alliance was the only environmental organization working in all nine counties of the Bay Area. Back then, they were doing more on the conservation side, establishing urban growth boundaries in places that badly needed regulation. It was really important work that resonated with me.”
Will served on the Board of Directors for eight years. He was instrumental in helping Greenbelt Alliance evolve from a focus on conservation into the only Bay Area organization that addresses both land protection and smart growth development. “Over the years, the notion of cities getting denser and therefore healthier became a reality. I supported Greenbelt Alliance’s adoption of this theme and the goals that come with it.”
Will left the Board in 2012 to focus his efforts on the League to Save Lake Tahoe, one of the many organizations his father founded. Will, now the Vice President of the Board at the League, continues to support Greenbelt Alliance in various ways, including passing on the family board position to his brother Elliot.
Elliot’s interest in joining Greenbelt Alliance’s Board was grounded in his passion to support strategies for preserving the Bay Area’s open spaces while ensuring the local economy continues to thrive on its strengths in tech and intellectual capital. The more the region grows, the more he wants to do his part. “I want to see the Bay Area continue to have a healthy economy while being a place my kids and grandkids can live and thrive. In my view, the best way to do that is to raise funds and do whatever little bit I can to help Greenbelt Alliance.”
“I want to see the Bay Area continue to have a healthy economy while being a place my kids and grandkids can live and thrive. In my view, the best way to do that is to raise funds and do whatever little bit I can to help Greenbelt Alliance.”
Elliot believes that now more than ever, the organization’s primary challenge is to focus on how the Bay Area manages the growth that shows no signs of stopping. “How do we build housing to accommodate growth while protecting our open spaces?” Elliot asks. It’s that growth, after all, that’s threatening the resources that make this place unique.
Greenbelt Alliance’s work to both preserve open space lands and encourage transit-oriented development within cities and towns motivates Elliot’s commitment to contribute to the organization’s most impactful programs. “I think it’s important that Greenbelt Alliance focuses on the places that are at risk. Whether it’s Coyote Valley because of growth in the South Bay, or Sonoma County because the temptation after the fire is to go rebuild without thinking it through.” But in order to protect these lands, Elliot continues, “we need to keep focus on smart growth and thoughtful planning.”
The Evers family have been working for nearly 85 years to ensure growth happens in a way that preserves the landscapes that make the Bay Area special. Their work has helped shape our region into a place where both natural lands and urbanization can thrive.
Continue the Evers family legacy by supporting Greenbelt Alliance’s work to protect lands at risk of development and encourage equitable growth in the right places. Together, we can preserve the Bay Area’s landscapes and ensure this place remains extraordinary for generations to come.
Photos courtesy of the Evers Family.