If you live in Ward 1 of the East Bay Regional Park District, you will have an opportunity to vote for your representative to the Park District’s Board of Directors on November 3rd. Many of the most heavily visited parks in the East Bay–such as Tilden Park, Point Isabel, Point Pinole, Eastshore Park–are in Ward 1. The future of those parks will be in the hands of the Board member who wins this election.
Elizabeth Echols is the incumbent who is running for election. Echols was appointed to the Board by the Board after the unfortunate death of Whitney Dotson.** Dotson had represented Ward 1 with distinction since 2008, after defeating Norman La Force in the race for that seat on the Board. Now Echols must be elected to keep her seat on the Board.*
There was intense competition for the temporary appointment to the Board when Echols was appointed by the Board. Norman La Force asked for the temporary appointment, but was not selected by the Board. La Force has a long track-record that probably explains why the Board did not appoint him:
- Norman La Force advocates for the destruction of non-native trees in East Bay Regional Parks and the use of herbicides to eradicate non-native plants and prevent trees from resprouting after they have been destroyed.
- As a lawyer and the co-founder and CEO of SPRAWLDEF, Norman La Force has sued East Bay Regional Park District many times to impose his personal vision on the parks. These lawsuits were costly to taxpayers and the Park District and they delayed the implementation of park improvements.
- Norman La Force is consistently opposed to many types of recreation. He advocates for parks that prohibit public access.
- Norman La Force has an antagonistic attitude toward park visitors who do not share his personal vision.
Norman La Force sued FEMA and the Park District to destroy all non-native trees
East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) is thinning non-native trees to mitigate wildfire hazards by reducing fuel loads and FEMA is funding many of these projects. Norman La Force is not satisfied with merely thinning trees. He sued EBRPD and FEMA to force the removal of all non-native trees on 3,500 acres of park land. That lawsuit is available HERE. La Force appealed after losing the lawsuit, but lost again on appeal.
Norman La Force tried to make Sierra Club endorsement of the renewal of a parcel tax to fund the Park District contingent on a commitment to destroy all non-native trees rather than thin them:
“Hence, the Sierra Club believes it is critical that in any renewal of Measure CC funding for vegetation management should be increased for the removal of non-natives such as eucalyptus and their replacement with restored native habitat. If the Park District wants to continue with a program that merely thins the non-native ecualyputs (sic) and other non-native trees, then it must find other funds for those purposes. Future tax money from a renewal of Measure CC funds should not be used to thin eucalyptus but must be allocated to the restoration of native habitat.” La Force’s full letter is available HERE.
Norman LaForce sued the Park District to prevent recreational improvements at Albany Beach
In an op-ed published by Berkeleyside, one of La Force’s many lawsuits against the Park District is described. The lawsuit attempted to prevent the construction of a path with recreational access: “SPRAWLDEF is an acronym for Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund. On Jan. 17,  the group, founded by Norman La Force and David Tam, filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Regional Park District, opposing a plan to acquire a small strip of property along the shoreline behind the track to complete a missing link in the Bay Trail between Berkeley and Richmond. The Park District’s Plan would also add some parking to the Albany Beach area, build some wheelchair access to the water’s edge, and expand and protect the dune area behind the beach. There’s something in this lawsuit to alienate just about everyone: Bicyclists and hikers who use the Bay Trail; environmentalists with an interest in dune habitat; kayakers and kiteboarders who launch from the Albany shoreline; the ADA constituency who find beach access generally impossible; and, most of all, dogs and their owners who rely on Albany beach for a place to play in the water. Read the filing. It has all the earmarks of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because they did not get their way.” Emphasis added.
According to this article in the East Bay Times, the SPRAWLDEF lawsuit to prevent the Albany Beach project was eventually dismissed after two unsuccessful SPRAWLDEF appeals. The Park District’s defense of the project required the preparation of a second, Supplemental EIR. Park District resources were wasted to defend the project against Norman La Force’s frivolous lawsuits.
In response to a public records request, the Park District provided this estimate of the cost of defending the District against La Force’s lawsuits regarding Albany Beach: “In total, we estimate that the attorney’s fees incurred directly as a result of the litigation filed by SPRAWLDEF relating to Albany Beach were between $321,358 and $346,358. In addition, the court ordered the Park District to pay Petitioner SPRAWLDEF $60,587.50 in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in the 2013 litigation.” The Park District was forced to waste nearly $400,000 of taxpayers’ money to defend its improvement project at Albany Beach. The project was needlessly delayed by the lawsuits and money that could have been used to improve parks was wasted.
Norman La Force does not want people in the parks
Norman La Force was instrumental in creating the Berkeley Meadow at the foot of University Ave. in Berkeley. The Berkeley Meadow was at one time part of the San Francisco Bay, until it was created with landfill and used as a city dump until the 1960s. Over a period of 5 years at a cost of $6 million “non-native vegetation was scraped away, then the land capped with clean fill and contoured to form naturally filling seasonal ponds.” Then the meadow was planted with native grasses and shrubs to create an “approximation of the historic landscape that might have been present a half mile inland.” The Berkeley Meadow is surrounded by a fence. Public access is restricted to two narrow, fenced trails running diagonally through the 72-acre fenced enclosure. Bicycles and people walking dogs on or off-leash are prohibited on the fenced trails.
Berkeleyside described the Berkeley Meadow and contrasted it with a heavily visited adjacent park, owned by the City of Berkeley: “What you won’t see [in the Berkeley Meadow] is more than a handful of the 2 million annual state park visitors, though this prime spot is just a short bike ride from West Berkeley. The adjacent, city-owned César Chávez Park on the north waterfront gets most of the visitors along its paved trail. But here, only a few hundred yards away, the Meadow, our state park managed by the East Bay Regional Parks District, is an almost wild place, trisected by two wheel-chair accessible paths.” Indeed, the Berkeley Meadow does look wild, much like a vacant lot looks wild.
Norman La Force has a confrontational attitude toward park visitors
In his letter to FEMA objecting to the withdrawal of funding for a tree-removal project that was implemented before being authorized by FEMA, Norman La Force says that those with whom he disagrees are “like climate change deniers.” Ironically, he is defending the unauthorized clear cutting of approximately 150 trees in his letter, actions that contribute to climate change. La Force is actually the “climate change denier” in his accusatory letter. The letter is available HERE.
In an earlier letter to FEMA about the same projects, La Force begins by asking FEMA to ignore those with whom he disagrees: “We urge FEMA to discount the views of any individual or group that uses sophomoric name calling tactics in the press or in their FEMA scoping comments to categorize people or advocacy groups as ‘nativists’ (or other similar pejorative labels)…” The letter is available HERE: FEMA-DEIS for East Bay Hills predisaster mitigation – public comments
When La Force ran for the Ward 1 Board seat in 2008, Berkeley Daily Planet published an op-ed by someone who had observed Norman La Force in action. Here are a few relevant quotes from her op-ed (emphasis added):
- “La Force is not only ‘a thorn in the side of park officials,’ he is fiercely aggressive and known for vengeful acts.”
- “If La Force 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.”
- “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.”
Vote for Elizabeth Echols for the Park District Board of Directors
On November 3rd, please vote for the parks in the East Bay, not against them. Please do not install an enemy of the parks who does not want people or trees in our parks and is willing to spray our parks with herbicide to get the landscape he prefers. When we vote for President of the United States on November 3rd, we must decide who to vote for at the same time we are voting against another candidate. Both decisions are equally important.
The meetings of the Board of Directors of the Park District are open to the public. They are collegial events in which the Board works cooperatively with the staff and the public is treated with respect. The Park District does not deserve to have a “spoiled child throwing a tantrum” imposed on them, especially not someone who has sued them many times to get what he wants. East Bay Regional parks are open to everyone with a wide range of recreational interests. Let’s keep them that way by voting for Elizabeth Echols on November 3rd.
*Full Disclosure: I have not met Elizabeth Echols. I do not know her. I have not consulted with her about the preparation of this article. I have no reason to believe she would agree with my assessment of her opponent in the race for the Board seat in Ward 1. My recommendation to vote for her is based primarily on the fact that she was selected by the Board for her temporary appointment to the Board, which suggests that she is supported by the Board and Park District staff. I have read her credentials on her candidacy website and I have watched her participation in Board meetings since she was appointed to the Board. This limited information about her gives me confidence that she will represent Ward 1 well.
**Update: I have been informed that Elizabeth Echols was appointed to the Board after Whitney Dotson retired and that Mr. Dotson died about 2 weeks after Ms. Echols was appointed. September 30, 2020