Open Space Advocate Honored With a Park

By JOHN GELUARDI Special to the Planet
Friday January 02, 2004

During the dedication of the Lucretia Edwards Shoreline Park in Richmond last October, 300 guests listened as a succession of politicians praised the park’s 87-year-old namesake for her 50 years of relentless advocacy for open space.  

Edwards, who was seated in a specially garlanded chair, said the ceremony was “too much fuss,” but she listened gracefully to a succession of laudatory comments laden with terms like “fighter,” “champion” and “visionary.”  

The new park is located in Richmond on the former site of a WWII Shipyard. Like Edwards, the beautifully landscaped, two-acre park is small, enchanting and offers long, expansive views.  

Edwards and her late husband Tom moved to the seaside borough of Point Richmond, just after World War II. At that time, public access to the city’s 32 miles of shoreline was limited to a paltry 65 feet. The rest was mostly owned by companies such as the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, Union Pacific Rail Road and Standard Oil, now ChevronTexaco. 

Over the years, Edwards, who is also a noted local historian and human rights activist, has successfully committed her tenacious resolve and sprite-like charm to creating public access to the Richmond shoreline. Thanks to Edwards and her “lady friends” in the Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee there are now 15 miles of public shoreline, 20 miles of Bay Trail and hundreds of acres of parkland, including 295-acre Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park, which was dedicated in 1977.  

“Her tireless efforts to make a difference are an inspiration to all of us,” said Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioa. “She showed us that advocacy backed by careful thought is the most powerful kind of advocacy.” 

Several weeks after the dedication, Edwards looked out over the bay from the living room in her modest, two-story redwood cottage where she and Tom raised their three children, and remembered a time when politicians had a different opinion of her. 

“I wasn’t very well liked. In fact they would have rather seen me dead,” she said with a sprightly smile. “After the war, Richmond was still a company town and in those days and everyone was so grateful for their jobs, they simply did not go against the company.” 

Edwards, cheerful and fey, sat in a chair at the end of a window seat below which there was a low bookshelf. Tom Edwards was a docking pilot for Standard Oil and spent much of his career navigating large tankers through the bay waters below their hillside home. Seasoned, hardbound California history books and nautical manuals lean into one another in the window seat bookshelf. 

Edwards said her upbringing made it difficult to get involved in the wrangling of political activism. “I was brought up in the Quaker tradition and was expected to be polite, ladylike and not to be a nuisance to anybody,” she said. “But I soon learned what great fun it is to antagonize people.” 

Edwards had enjoyed the seaside since her family vacationed on the New Jersey shore when she was a child. When she first moved to Point Richmond, she was appalled to learn how little of the shore was open to the public. She joined a local civic group. However, that group was distracted with other issues and a bit too “languid,” so Edwards splintered off with several other women and formed the Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee. 

The committee soon began an effective campaign to open Richmond’s shoreline to the public. And they used the most effective weapon they had; charm. 

“We very much believed in the divide-and-conquer theory,” she said. “We got dressed up in our flowery hats and invited individual politicians and officials to picnics with lots of cheap champagne. Once they were comfortable, we would begin the process of convincing them of the value of public access and we didn’t relent until we got some kind of concession from them.” 

Edwards and her associates also spent endless hours at city, county and company meetings where they employed similar techniques. “We were always so cute and feminine but really we were concealing knives to get those guys.” 

Edwards said she is a little embarrassed of the enchant-then-pressure method, “but only a little.” 

As an example of Edwards’ commitment to opening the shoreline, residents point to a now famous bit of Point Richmond lore. Nichol Knob, the highest hilltop in Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park, was for sale in the 1960s and a developer planned to use the site to build high-rise apartment buildings. Edwards was so distraught at the thought of the property being developed, she and her husband—who were not wealthy people—purchased the property and maintained it until it could later be sold to East Bay Regional Park District.  

Edwards has an impressive list of civic accomplishments including helping to save the East Brother Light Station from demolition, establishing the Home Health Hospice and putting Point Richmond on the National Registry of Historic Places. She founded the Friends of Richmond, an environmental watchdog group and served on the Marina Bay Citizens Advisory Committee, which ensured public access to the grounds of the former Kaiser Shipyards. More recently she served on the task force that developed plans for the rescue of Point Molate Navel Station.  

Edwards is not as active in local politics as she once was, but said she is proud when she sees the public using Richmond’s shoreline parks and said the hard work and long wait was worth it. “When you take on projects like these, you have to aspire to longevity because it takes a long time for them to come to fruition,” she said.