Remembering Tom Jordan, 1933-2023

Tom Jordan

The Green Foothills community is saddened to learn of the recent death of Tom Jordan, one of our earliest board members.

Tom was born in 1933 in Florida, and grew up in Louisiana and Virginia, where he developed a deep love of nature, exploring nearby creeks, forests, and wild areas.

After graduation from Princeton, military service in Korea and obtaining his law degree from Harvard, Tom was hired by a large San Francisco law firm and moved to North Beach in 1960. There he met his wife, Linda, and in 1965, their young family moved to Palo Alto. Tom noted that along his daily commute from Palo Alto to his new law office in San Jose, 50% of the adjacent land was still covered with bountiful pear orchards.

As he watched the iconic orchards of the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” being rapidly chopped down and paved over, Tom became increasingly alarmed. Equally disturbing was the rampant filling of tidal marshes, sloughs, and wetlands along the edge of San Francisco Bay to create large swaths of “new” buildable land.

What to do? Tom wasted no time in seeking out like-minded citizens to advocate for sensible land use planning and new environmental laws that would mandate protection of the Bay and other irreplaceable natural resources.

In Service to the Natural Environment

In 1966, Tom joined the board of Committee for Green Foothills (as we were known then), and served as President from 1967-68. He transitioned to our Advisory Council and provided valuable advice and support from 1969-75, and served a second stint on the board between 2003 and 2009.

Some of the most important and lasting victories during Tom’s tenure on our board include the permanent establishment of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), the California Coastal Act, the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Tom also served for many decades on the board of Save the Bay, and was a founding board member of the Peninsula Conservation Center, now Acterra/Action for a Healthy Planet.

Civic Engagement

In 1967, Tom became deeply involved in an epic Palo Alto political battle between the “pro-development” group versus the “residentialist” forces in a bruising recall election. Only residentialists Enid Pearson and Kirke Comstock – both of whom also served as Green Foothills board members – survived. The residentialists doubled down, and by 1971, they had regained the majority of Council seats. Tom wryly noted in a 2009 Palo Alto Weekly feature interview: “since then, all council candidates have run as environmentalists whether or not they later voted that way.”

Tom’s courteous demeanor, quick smile, and generosity with his time and advice, have been crucial assets for environmental activists as we turned the tide from the 1960’s prevailing attitude of “growth everywhere is good” to a more nuanced approach that recognizes the vital importance of protecting the open space, farmlands, and natural resources of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

In addition to his generosity of time and talent, in 2016 Tom established a restricted fund for Green Foothills to draw upon in the event of an urgent need for legal advice/action.

We are deeply grateful for Tom’s unstinting advice, strategic thinking, and persistence. These qualities will be even more important as we face future unprecedented challenges of increased drought, fire, and flooding, due to climate change.

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