Lennie Roberts to be honored Sunday for 30 years of conservation

The Almanac
September 22, 2008

Lennie Roberts to be honored Sunday for 30 years of conservation

By Marion Softky
Almanac Staff

When Lennie Roberts was first honored by the Committee for Green Foothills in 1986, Anna Eshoo — then president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, now a representative in Congress — called her “one of our most precious natural resources.”

After 22 more years of consistent, persistent efforts in behalf of preserving hills and open spaces and wild creatures in the county, she is being honored once again by one of the Peninsula’s leading conservation organizations.

“Celebrating Lennie Roberts: Nature’s Inspiration” will honor Ms. Roberts’ “30 years of continued volunteer leadership” on Sunday, Sept. 28, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at a private estate in Los Altos Hills.

Actually, Ms. Roberts has been pushing environmental issues large and small for more than 40 years. As a young mother in Ladera, she plunged into the movement to “Save the Bay” from being filled for development. She took posters by Ladera School kids to Sacramento to help pressure the Legislature into passing a law to protect the Bay and control development along its shores.

“We involved children — which is what you always need to do,” she says in an interview in the garden of her Ladera home.

In 1968, Ms. Roberts joined the board of the Committee for Green Foothills; in 1978, she became its legislative advocate for San Mateo County. Since then, she has been the voice of the committee from the grass roots to the halls of government. She has been so effective that the San Mateo County Times once called her “the sixth member of the Board of Supervisors” — the other five are elected.

Over those 40 years, San Mateo County — and much of the Bay Area — has undergone a tectonic shift, as the environmental movement gained momentum. Development plans were blocked and new institutions formed. Elected officials began to listen and go along.

“Now it’s almost mandatory to be green,” Ms. Roberts says proudly. “County elected officials have got the message.”

Supervisor Rich Gordon, who will introduce Ms. Roberts at the celebration, says, “For multiple decades, Lennie has been the go-to person, and leader on all environmental issues in this county.”

Saving land
Many of Ms. Roberts efforts have gone into creating solutions rather than fighting to stall projects. She takes particular pride in helping to create the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1972 to buy and manage land for open space. She pushed for its expansion into southern San Mateo County in 1976, and to the Coastsde south of Pacifica in 2004. The district now manages more than 55,000 acres of permanent open space in three counties.

Ms. Roberts is also proud of the 1986 passage of Measure A — with 64 percent voter approval — to protect the Coastside from sprawling development. The measure’s 38 policies that can only be changed by a county-wide vote include a provision prohibiting on-shore oil facilities to support oil drilling off the county coast. “That’s hot again,” she notes.

But the special triumph of Ms. Roberts, Olive Mayer of Woodside and the conservation community is the success in pressuring Caltrans into building a tunnel to bypass Highway 1 along Devil’s Slide, which occasionally falls into the Pacific.

Their 35-year fight to prevent Caltrans from building a multi-lane bypass through Montara Mountain — which would open the Coastside to development — culminated in 2005 with a groundbreaking for a two-bore, two-lane tunnel through Montara Mountain.

When the first excavations were made for the actual tunnel, Caltrans selected Ms. Roberts to don a hard hat and drive the earth mover for the first drill.

“It was quite amazing; Caltrans went from enemies to friends,” Ms. Roberts says. “If you can change Caltrans, you can change the Pentagon.”

Tickets to “The Celebration of Lennie Roberts: Nature’s Inspiration” start at $100 if still available. For information, call 968-7243, ext. 314; or make reservations online at greenfoothills.org.

Rich Gordon on Lennnie Roberts
San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, who will introduce Lennnie Roberts at the Committee for Green Foothills celebration Sept. 28, describes her as the “go-to” person on all environmental issues in the county.

“Lennie has been effective because she is able to identify what’s important, when to draw a line in the sand, and where to compromise or negotiate,” he says. “She gives you good information. She always has her facts well-prepared, which makes her reliable and someone you can count on.”

Speaking as an electeded official, Supervisor Gordon adds, “When you can trust information, it assists in decision-making.”

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