Public memorial service will be held for environmental activist

Family and friends of environmental activist Dorothy Green remember her life today at a public memorial in the Hollywood Hills. Best known for founding Heal the Bay, Green's interest in California waters extended over four decades. KPCC's Molly Peterson has her story.

Molly Peterson: Almost 40 years ago, Dorothy Green's oldest son registered for the draft to fight in the Vietnam War. Green, a stay-at-home mom of three boys, had done some volunteer work before that. In an interview with reporter Ilsa Setziol last year, Green said that in the early 1970s she found herself depressed and at sea.

Dorothy Green: I was feeling miserable about the environment. I was feeling miserable about the civil rights movement, like the whole world seemed to be crashing in on me. And I went to bed. And as soon as I realized what was happening to me, I said "get out of bed and get to work!"

Peterson: Late in her life, Dorothy Green would say she made a career by filling the needs she saw. She started with her own. She discovered a group called Women For. She said it stood for education, for peace, and for the environment.

Green: The very first thing I did was the Coastal Act was on the ballot, and I volunteered to be a speaker. That was disastrous. (laughs) I was so scared to be a public speaker, but I learned how. Over time, I learned how.

Peterson: Through the 1970s and '80s, Green swam deeper into environment issues, heading the L.A. League of Conservation Voters, working against nuclear power. Mark Gold now runs Heal the Bay, a group he said originated in Green's Westwood house.

Mark Gold: Her living room sort of became environmental planning central for all of Los Angeles during the '80s; it was just an incredible time.

Peterson: It was a barren time for sea life in waters near the Hyperion treatment plant. Million-gallon sewage spills into Santa Monica Bay were plentiful. Twenty-two years ago, L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley ran for governor a second time against George Deukmejian. Green said electoral politics helped Heal the Bay pressure Los Angeles to treat its sewage to cleaner levels.

Green: Mayor Bradley at that time was running as an environmentalist, and Deukmejian said, "ha ha ha, look Mayor Bradley at your front yard, Santa Monica Bay. It's a disaster, it's a mess." So we had Deukmejian appointees and a regional water quality control board who were anxious to stick it to Mayor Bradley.

Peterson: Heal the Bay built a higher profile on its success at Hyperion. That, and revenue from the t-shirts it sold at a Santa Monica Mall, enabled Green to hire Mark Gold as her first employee. A few years later, she handed over the reins. Gold said that helped Heal the Bay expand beyond its founder.

Gold: The fact is, she's sort of an incubator. And gets things up and going and starts a movement, stays involved, but then moves on to the next place where she feels like she's so sorely needed. And that's, that's also extraordinary, and selfless.

Peterson: Green's water interests moved up the pipeline, east of the 405 freeway. She founded the L.A./San Gabriel Watershed Management Council a dozen years ago. Now, Nancy Steele heads that group. She said Green strove to unite agencies and activists all working on the region's water issues, few talking to each other.

Nancy Steele: She felt that everyone was operating in their own silo. Already at that point, she had the cachet, she had the persuasiveness, the intelligence, the charm to bring those people together and get them talking about how do we use the watershed approach really to improve los Angeles, and that vision is how this organization was started.

Peterson: Steele and Mark Gold both admired her directness. They agree that it was hard to say no to her. And Steele recalled that Dorothy Green told her to never waste time.

Steele: She always says, go to the top.

Peterson: Green never stopped moving upstream. She started the California Water Information Network to promote the equitable use of the state's public water among cities, agriculture, and natural uses. Last year, she wrote a book about the way California manages its water, and could, she said, improve it.

Green: We really have to look toward using what we've got as efficiently as possible before we look at storing more or moving more. And the idea is, really, to reduce our dependence on imported water.

Peterson: A relapse of cancer slowed her in the last six years. Even as she approached the end, she held tight to hope that other Californians could start thinking as she did about water. Dorothy Green died Monday. She was 79 years old.