Public Comment

East Bay Regional Parks District Board Race

By Marilyn Saarni
Thursday October 30, 2008 - 09:55:00 AM

I have just read the horrific West County/ Contra Costa Times editor’s endorsement of Norman LaForce. Clearly someone did not do a full background check. LaForce is not only “a thorn in the side of park officials,” he is fiercely aggressive and known for vengeful acts. The CC Times editor omits that the citizens of El Cerrito launched a recall to rid themselves of their thorny city council member. Nobody did a quick LexisNexis search on LaForce’s name. No reporter examined the revealing transcript of public testimony when the East Bay Regional Parks board had to appoint Jean Siri’s successor after she died. Jean would roll in her grave if she knew any newspaper had endorsed this man. 

If LaForce is elected, he will threaten the park access of every person who walks a dog, rides a horse, seeks accessible trails, and bikes on the lands of the East Bay Regional Parks. His scientific background is nothing, as he has demonstrated in public hearings many times. He has worked harder to keep humans out of parks than any other “park proponent” I know. He definitely will try to crush any “opponent,” including the disabled, the young and the elderly. Not because they are right or wrong, but because they oppose him. I urge everyone to watch their back if he’s elected. 

He has already hounded the park users group off the Albany Landfill, gleefully destroying one of very few accessible areas for dog walkers with limited mobility in the entire East Bay. He forced creating a breeding burrowing owl habitat on the landfill, at cost of tens of thousands of dollars per year, even though scientific literature quickly reveals likely failure. An hour’s research in the UC Berkeley scientific journal collection showed immediate evidence of the scientific fallacy of this proposal—but he still forced it down everyone’s throat through his usual bullying and threats. When I did research, I found that California Fish & Game had actually recommended a “watch and see” mitigation with no winter time construction for the wintering middle-aged burrowing owl (non-breeding) that might be displaced by building the Gilman Fields, so this entire action was provoked by LaForce, who saw an opportunity to further crush the community of users at the Albany Landfill. Think: just a portion of that money invested in expanding two or three breeding burrowing owl habitats in the Central Valley, their chief breeding ground, would have actually produced young owls. And still have left money in the Gilman Fields JPA’s pocket for our young sports players. The Albany Landfill park users could have continued to clean up the park, remove the star thistle, build art, and start plans for a supportive insectary environment to protect pollinators in our changing climate. 

As Jef Pskanzer wrote last week, Norman will proudly claim the feat of kicking out park users from the Berkeley Meadows (part of the Eastshore State Park). One can have honest debates about how to create urban edge ecosystems that allow both human uses and wild life to thrive together (yes, it can be done beautifully), but Norman’s rigidity will never consider other perspectives or creative solutions. 

I have been puzzled for many years why the local Sierra Club chapter and the Citizens for Eastshore State Park have allowed Norman to speak for them. It has seriously damaged their credibility in any forum where trained scientists and park users intimately familiar with park lands have listened to him. His dirty backroom dealings have been breathtaking. He builds alliances with former opponents so that he can achieve vengeance for a perceived “loss.” He threatens politicians with the damnation of the Sierra Club and CESP. I can only conclude that the board members are comfortable with his questionable practices. 

I have observed LaForce since 1988, when I was working to support the passing of Measure AA, the original EBRPD land acquisition bond measure; at that time I was president of the Regional Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that tries to watchdog EBRPD affairs. He asked to represent our group, but I had already heard him testify with many inaccuracies in front of both County Supervisors’ boards and a city council. I went back to my board and told them that we could not accept his offer because he would quickly destroy their credibility. 

Folks, vote for Mr. Whitney Dotson for East Bay Regional Parks board. He will work for park access for everyone. He listens and understands the balance required for both his constituency’s needs and the care of the land. He works with staff and community. He already is serving a second term on the Park Advisory Committee, and has a working knowledge of EBRPD objectives. We need someone who believes in bringing all the community, including the often-maligned low income citizenry of Richmond, into our beloved parks, and who will particularly attend to increasing access for the disabled in our area. 

The East Bay Regional Parks needs wise direction—not the bludgeon of Mr. Dotson’s opponent, Norman LaForce. 


Marilyn Saarni was co-founder of Albany Let It Be; former president and editor of the Regional Parks Foundation. She is now business/ scientific editor/ computer resource manager at UCB for small research centers.