Berkeley Mourns Loss of Dona Spring, Fierce Advocate for the Environment, Justice, and Human and Animal Rights

By Judith Scherr
Monday July 14, 2008 - 10:50:00 AM
Dona Spring declared her support for the treesitters at UC Berkeley’s Memorial stadium on June 22. She was applauded by supporters as she spoke from her wheelchair.
By Richard Brenneman
Dona Spring declared her support for the treesitters at UC Berkeley’s Memorial stadium on June 22. She was applauded by supporters as she spoke from her wheelchair.

Berkeley is mourning the loss of Councilmember Dona Spring, protector of the environment, fighter for housing rights and champion for human and animal life. She died Sunday evening at Alta Bates/Summit Hospital in Berkeley, after being diagnosed with pneumonia. She was 55. 

“She was a tough and wonderful person-one wants to use the word ‘saint’,” said Gene Poschman, who was appointed to the Planning Commission by Spring.  

Most recently, even as her body was increasingly ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis, Spring turned her energies to the community’s latest battle with UC Berkeley-saving the trees in Memorial Grove and stopping university construction of a gymnasium adjacent to the earthquake fault-traversed football stadium. 

“She had energy up to the last-she came up to the trees,” said Councilmember Betty Olds, a supporter of the grove. 

Olds also worked with Spring on animal welfare issues, notably bringing the need for a new animal shelter to the public, then finding a new shelter. 

The council will consider purchase of property at 1 Bolivar Drive for the shelter on Tuesday evening. It could eventually be named after Spring, according to Mayor Tom Bates. 

Spring’s chief ally on the council was Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who was too distraught on Monday to comment on her death. 

Disabled since her 20s, Spring worked at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living in the 1970s, according to Gerald Baptiste, CIL’s deputy director, who began work there soon after she left. 

Baptiste worked with Spring on numerous issues over the years, calling on her every time he wanted to bring a disability issue to the council’s attention. 

“Our last conversation was about the warm pool,” Baptiste said. Spring was a passionate advocate for building a new warm pool. 

Among the issues he worked on with Spring were curb cuts, which provide a means for people in wheelchairs to get from the sidewalk into the street. “She would ensure there was money in the budget for them,” he said. 

“She was in pain a lot and it did not stop her,” he added. 

Mayor Bates, who fought frequently with Spring, said she provided a balance on the council. “She had strongly held points of view,” he said. “I have been totally inspired by her and her tenacity—she fought right to the end.” 

The two had very different visions for downtown, which was part of Spring’s district. Bates supports development downtown and Spring strongly objected to plans to build 17-story buildings. “I’m going to miss her a lot, even though we had disagreements,” he said. 

Spring was the longest-serving Green Party member in office in the country, according to Lindsay Vurek, whose film “Courage in Life and Politics” documents Spring’s life. 

Rent Board Commissioner and Green Party member Pam Webster said Spring helped lead the way for Greens to enter the political arena, through encouragement, example and appointment to commissions. 

“She’s definitely a role model,” Webster said, further noting Spring’s support for low-income housing and tenants’ rights. 

Jill Posener, a member of the Humane Commission, said she worked with Spring not only on animal welfare issues, but also much more.  

“She had a steel trap of a mind,” Posener said, recalling that Spring knew details of the budget for 10 years running, so that she was able to point to funding sources for various projects. 

Posener said Spring will also be remembered for her generosity, quietly writing a personal check so that a cat at the animal shelter could get a needed operation. 

“She was a great American,” Posener said. “She never failed to put her constituents first” and served those who weren’t constituents, but whose representatives were not responsive. 

“She truly walked the walk—in a wheelchair!” Posener said.