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Charles Hinkle, a former Sonoma County supervisor and environmentalist who was recalled from office during a volatile era of growth and tax battles, died Saturday in Iowa where he lived in retirement.

Hinkle, 86, was one of two county supervisors, including Bill Kortum, who were recalled in 1976, in a campaign instigated by the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association.

Recall proponents insisted the issue was "excessive taxation" and "fiscal irresponsibility," while anti-recallers said it was really about future growth.

"He was in direct conflict with those who wanted to build, build, build," said his daughter, Robyn Kocher of Dakota City, Iowa.

Hinkle was described Sunday as a central player in some of the county's early environmental efforts.

"He was a key figure in advocating much more rigorous regulation of development," former west county Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer said Sunday.

He said Hinkle helped lay the foundation for future general plans that called for city-centered growth along Highway 101, the protection of agriculture and open space.

Hinkle served one, four-year term at a time when the population in the county mushroomed and the debate over how to regulate growth intensified.

Kortum said Sunday the recall forces that targeted him and Hinkle "hit us on taxes," but that was really a front by the "development and land speculation community."

"We had called a moratorium on all lot splits in the county until the General Plan was completed," Kortum said. "We knew it was a politically risky thing to do. But the county was being cut up very rapidly."

Hinkle had a feisty, sometimes described as abrasive personality, that did not always serve him well in the political arena.

"He was an irascible person when he wanted something. It was his way or the highway," said his daughter. "To be in politics and survive you have to be able to have diplomatic skills, something he didn't have."

She said her father had a defensiveness, a temper and fundamental insecurities that came out as bluster. But he looked out for the underdog.

"He was a sweetheart in so many ways. He really cared about people. He cared about the poor and the needy," she said, due in part to his own childhood poverty growing up during the Great Depression.

Born in Washington State, Hinkle grew up in Oregon, where his father was a handyman and his mother a nurse.

Before graduating high school he signed up for the U.S Navy and became part of the "Seabees," or construction battalion.

He served in the South Pacific during World War II and also was in the Navy during the Korean conflict.

After obtaining his G.E.D., he went on to get a bachelor's degree in 1954 from the University of Pacific in Stockton, where he met his future wife Mary Jean Heath. They were married 54 years, until her death in 2007.

It was around 1960, that the couple moved to Santa Rosa with Hinkle working as a full-time salesman for Swift & Co. meats.

A Cessna pilot and SCUBA enthusiast, Hinkle served as a volunteer with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Underwater Recovery Team. He was also president of the Sonoma County Reef Runners, a diving club.

It was his love of diving that led him toward environmental awareness, according to his family.

"He was starting to see the trend was pro-development and developers wanting to build as many houses on the shoreline and preventing access," his daughter said.

Hinkle, along with Kortum, helped start Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands (COAAST), which galvanized voter support and ultimate approval of public access to the coast enshrined in the California Coastal Act.

With no background in elected office in 1972, he ran and was elected supervisor in the Third District, which includes Santa Rosa.

After Hinkle was elected, he was appointed to the Golden Gate Bridge District board of directors, and realized "a dream come true" to get the opportunity to actually walk the bridge's cable, according to his daughter.

"He had no fear. He loved that," she said.

But things were less dreamy in the county supervisorial chambers.

Koenigshofer noted it was prior to the landmark Proposition 13, a taxpayer revolt that stabilized property taxes.

"There was a tremendous amount of tension at that time over property taxes" which fluctuated dramatically, depending on the size of the county budget, Koenigshofer said.

"The other part of it was the question of growth management policy," he said.

Hinkle found himself in the crosshairs of recall proponents, who cited the escalating tax rates. But he claimed most of his opposition was from land developers.

At the same time he was recalled, he also lost re-election to a second term.

In what was described at the time as a somewhat bitter farewell, Hinkle charged that a "dirty" and "vicious campaign" was waged against him personally. He also blamed The Press Democrat for unfair treatment and being in cahoots with the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association.

In 1978, Hinkle moved to Iowa with his family, to "escape politics" and re-establish his wife's homestead and manage family property.

But within within eight months he was elected mayor of Dakota City, with a population of around 1,000 residents. He also went on to become civil defense director for the surrounding county.

In the early 1990s, he and his wife Jean moved to the foothills on the outskirts of Las Vegas, N.M.

Around that time, she wrote "All Political Power," a book chronicling Hinkle's political experiences in Sonoma County.

According to his family, Hinkle had health issues including Parkinson's Disease and diabetes. He died from complications after a fall, in which he fractured his arm and pelvis.

In addition to his daughter he leaves sisters Sara Dickens of Sanford, N.C., and Sue Goff of Medford Ore., and two grandsons.

A gathering in his memory will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Humboldt County Museum in Dakota City, Iowa.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com