History lesson accompanies Coastal Cleanup Day

Volunteers from Roseland picked up trash and met with Bill Kortum, the grandfather of Sonoma County’s environmental movement.|

With several harbor seals looking on from the ocean, eight volunteers from Roseland picked bits of trash from the beach north of Jenner on Saturday morning, contributing to the 30th annual Coastal Cleanup Day, a statewide event that has its roots in Sonoma County.

They also connected with Bill Kortum, the grandfather of the county’s environmental movement, who offered a brief history lesson on how the campaign to preserve the Sonoma Coast from development resounded throughout California.

Under a cloudy gray sky, the refuse pickings were surprisingly slim, considering the nearly milelong beach’s heavy use, but the effort by “Team Jenner” was aimed at building Latino involvement in the cleanup, team organizer Evelina Molina said.

“It’s a real big deal for me to get my community out there,” Molina, secretary of the Roseland Lions Club, said prior to the event. “They need to be an integral part of the environmental movement.”

Magda Retamoza, wearing a red baseball cap and a blue California Coastal Cleanup Day T-shirt, said she had cleaned beaches back home in Sinaloa, on mainland Mexico’s Pacific Coast, but had never been part of the local campaign.

“Its a beautiful satisfaction,” she said in Spanish, “to cooperate for Mother Nature.”

Felix Reyes, a 30-year Roseland resident, poked through beach driftwood with a stick, searching for small pieces of plastic that he said can harm birds. “I always take care of birds and everything in nature,” he said.

Molina stressed the need to broaden participation in an effort that has been dominated, she said, by “progressive, white, middle-class people.”

Countywide, a total of 504 volunteers picked up 2,140 pounds of trash - beating last year’s haul by about 600 pounds - and an additional 479 pounds of recyclables, said Hannah Scott, program manager at Coastwalk California. The cleanup covered 39 miles at 14 sites along the coast, Petaluma River, Laguna de Santa Rosa and other locations, she said.

In Mendocino County, 417 volunteers picked up 3,946 pounds of trash over 60 miles of beaches. About 324 pounds of recyclable materials were collected, according to Megan Smithyman, operations manager with the Mendocino Land Trust.

The statewide tally, with 75 percent of cleanup sites reporting, had 54,124 volunteers picking up 576,571 pounds of trash plus 109,494 pounds of recyclable materials for a total of 686,065 pounds or 343 tons, said Eben Schwartz of the California Coastal Commission, which started the annual cleanup program in 1985.

There were cleanups in 54 of the state’s 58 counties, he said.

The waste haul was far lower than some previous years, in which more than 1 million pounds were collected, with the prolonged drought one likely reason, Schwartz said. In dry seasons, less trash is swept down streams and rivers to the coast, he said.

Kortum, an 87-year-old retired veterinarian and former county supervisor from Petaluma, met the Roseland team at the north end of the Kortum Trail, which runs 3.8 miles from Blind Beach to Wright’s Beach. Recounting the county’s earliest environmental battles - stopping PG&E’s nuclear power plant at Bodega Head and securing public access to the coast through the Sea Ranch development - Kortum said advocates learned “you could take on power; you could win once in a while.”

One of those victories was passage of Proposition 20 in 1972, which grew out of the Sea Ranch campaign and created the Coastal Commission, a powerful planning agency for the entire California coast.

“All the powers that be,” including real estate, nuclear power and local government interests, opposed the ballot measure, he said.

Protecting and cleaning the coast still requires a “constituency” of citizens, Kortum, wearing a straw hat and walking with a cane, told the team. “That’s why you’re here.”

“This is our first time here,” said Abelardo Mendoza of Roseland. “We’re happy to meet you.”

“Next year, we’ll bring more (people),” Molina added.

Staff Writer Mary Callahan contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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