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Living Landscape (Wilderness Press, 2010) reveals the fascinating history of the East Bay Regional Park District, formed in the depths of the Great Depression when visionary citizens taxed themselves to create parks. In spite of great challenges over 75 years, the agency’s unwavering focus and sophisticated methods have allowed it to preserve an astonishing total of 100,000 acres in 65 public parks, all within the Northern California counties of Alameda and Contra Costa.
The book explores the people and events that shaped the largest and most innovative regional park system in the U.S., including the politically charged annexation of new territory in 1964; strategic financial management after the devastating property-tax cuts of Proposition 13; board members whose controversial tactics nearly brought the agency to its knees; the clashes of “pure” open-space advocates with those favoring increased public access to parks; dramatic decisions of voters on park bond measures; and the East Bay firestorm of 1991.
Set against the coming of age of the environmental movement, Living Landscape features first-hand accounts by and about key players, such as:
Hulet Hornbeck, the first land chief, whose secret health problem spurred him to acquire more parks than anyone thought possible
Mary Jefferds, the first woman elected to the modern-day board of directors, who ushered in a new style of park advocacy
David Pesonen, the controversial general manager whose short tenure left the agency in turmoil
Jerry Kent, the longtime assistant general manager who led the park district through some of its most difficult moments
Ted Radke, the longest serving board member, who masterminded local and state legislative advocacy
John Nejedly, the Contra Costa district attorney and county counsel who rose to a significant position in the state senate
Janet Cobb, the forward-thinking public affairs director who loaned the park district thousands of dollars in support of a bond measure campaign
Jim Murphy, the octogenarian rancher who liked to make decisions while holding a rifle
Pat O’Brien, the general manager who transformed the agency into a national model of effective leadership and strategic financial practice
As a companion to existing guidebooks on East Bay regional parks, Living Landscape informs and surprises readers interested in the environment, California history, politics, law, or just a good story.