Bill Kortum, praised often as the father of the environmental movement in formerly conservative, growth-eager Sonoma County, achieved much in his life. But he never did sit down and write The Book.
The retired veterinarian was 87 when he asked somewhat younger friend and fellow mega-hiker, Sonoma County native and dogged conservationist John Crevelli if he’d chronicle the rise of environmentalism in the county. Crevelli, 83, said he would do it, and he did.
A retired SRJC and Santa Rosa High teacher, Crevelli had just completed the 107-page “Bill Kortum: A Fifty Year History of Environmental Activism in Sonoma County” when his friend and mentor Kortum died last Dec. 19.
Crevelli was working to get the book into bookstores and online at Amazon when he died five months to the day later, last May 19.
I BOUGHT MY COPY of the important, illuminating little book at the Copperfield’s Books at Montgomery Village. It cost 10 bucks.
Dominating the cover are Bill Kortum’s name and a photo that The Press Democrat’s Christopher Chung shot of him on a bluff overlooking the Sonoma Coast. Mind you, Kortum hadn’t asked friend and ally Crevelli to write about him, but about the birth and evolution of the county’s environmental activism.
As the book reveals, the story of the man was tightly intertwined with that of the movement.
The tale by Crevelli begins in 1962, when the then 35-year-old Kortum flung himself and his considerable powers of analysis and persuasion into the grassroots campaign against the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. project to construct a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head, at the entrance to Bodega Harbor.
That successful, David-vs.-Goliath battle was begun by incensed locals, among them late Bodega Bay waitress Hazel Mitchell, marine biologist Joel Hedgpeth and Bodega Head rancher Rose Gaffney. The defeat of the plan by PG&E, which had excavated a huge pit for the reactor, has been hailed as the birth of environmental activism not only Sonoma County but in the entire state.
As Crevelli notes, Kortum remarked long ago that the victory at Bodega Head “was a defining moment for the environmental movement ... It gave us heart ... People saw that they could speak up, take on major institutions and win.”
UP THE COAST from Bodega Bay, it delighted Kortum to learn that Salt Point Ranch was available for sale. And it distressed him that a developer sought to build thousands of homes at what would be called The Sea Ranch, and to cut off public access to miles of tidelands.
Kortum helped to broker a deal by which the state purchased the Salt Point Ranch and preserved it as parkland. Crevelli wrote, “Bill Kortum considers this one of the accomplishments of which he is most proud.”
Turning to the planned development and privatizing of shoreline at The Sea Ranch, Kortum co-founded COAAST, Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands. It was key to passage of the 1972 Coastal Initiative, parent of the state Coastal Commission.
Kortum said the Coastal Initiative was “a landmark in coastal protection for California and even the nation, and again was an expression by the public of their devotion to this magnificent coastline, the commons for all of California.”
LOSE SOME: The Crevelli book chronicles also Kortum’s major defeats. Among them: the construction of Warm Springs Dam and the 1976 recall of both Kortum and environmental ally Chuck Hinkle from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.