Longtime local activist Gillian Taylor will not relent after she steps down from post as Sierra Club board chair.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
Gillian Taylor''s theory on how normal people become activists goes like this: notice your surroundings, make some noise and don''t be afraid of official documents with acronyms for names.
This month, Taylor will be term-limited out of her post as chair of the Sierra Club, Ventana Chapter. But even term limits can''t keep her away from public meetings about the Carmel River, subdivisions, or any number of land-use topics.
"I will continue doing work for the Sierra Club," Taylor says. "I will still bring new projects to the board. I just won''t have the chair''s title and responsibility."
Taylor''s role in the local green scene began in 1983, when she and husband Peter Neumeier moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Carmel. But she started thinking about the environment at a very young age.
"I grew up in L.A. I played sports and did a lot of bike riding," Taylor says. "My lungs would ache as a kid. It was so alarming to have your body hurt because of pollution. That started me thinking about the problems of the environment."
Once in Carmel, Taylor says, she started on her road to the Sierra Club the way most activists do: "Something catches your attention and it grabs you."
Two things grabbed her, really: the Hatton Canyon Freeway battle in the mid-1980s, and a multi-story apartment complex proposed to be built in Carmel around that same time.
Fifteen years later, the Hatton Canyon Freeway is dead. In August, the Governor signed a bill to abandon the project-which local enviros said would damage the wetlands and wildlife habitat-and turn the place into a park.
Taylor and the Sierra Club found similar success halting the high-rise apartment building, planned for Third and Torres in Carmel. Today it''s a landscaped parking lot.
"By agitating and making our voices known, now the view is preserved for everybody-it actually looks more like a park than a parking lot." Taylor says. "I learned we could actually do something, have some effect."
Sierra Club members took note, and asked her to get involved with the local chapter. Six years ago, Taylor was elected chair for the first of her two terms.
Under Taylor''s leadership, the Sierra Club teamed up with other local environmentalists and found victories in the form of Judge Richard Silver''s ruling against developer Jim Morgens'' September Ranch development project, the National Marine Fisheries Service disapproval against Cal-Am''s proposed New Los Padres Dam, and Marina voters'' support and passage of Measure E.
Fellow Carmel Valley activist Pat Bernardi got to know Taylor through their efforts to stop the development of September Ranch. Both filed lawsuits against the County to stop construction of 94 upscale homes and 15 inclusionary units in Carmel Valley. They''ve since worked closely on a number of land and water use projects.
"We do not always see eye to eye-Sierra Club is opposed to a dam and I am not," Bernardi says. "But I consider her a friend, and she is probably one of the hardest working people around. This lady is juggling 8,000 things at one time and it will be very tough to replace her."
Bernardi says she got her first glimpse of Taylor''s work ethic as they both worked to file separate lawsuits to stop the September Ranch development. It was four days before Christmas, and both women had 10 days to review the county''s final report on the development permit and file lawsuits. After wading through the county''s paperwork-in-between Christmas and New Year''s- Taylor also had to obtain approval from the national chapter of the Sierra Club along each step of the way.
"You can imagine how stressful it was to get all of that stuff laid out, and a lawsuit written and filed," Bernardi says. "From my perspective [as an individual activist] it was easier because I didn''t have to jump through the hoops that she had to jump through in terms of getting all these approvals. She was on the phone, she was faxing, she was emailing all of these people back and forth, and of course nobody is home over the holidays. That''s the kind of effort she puts in."