Guest Post | Remembering the Honorable Don Edwards

Former San Jose Congressman Don Edwards passed away last week at the age of 100. I first met him in the mid-1980s when I was working on nuclear arms reduction issues in Washington, DC. For years, he inspired me with his intellect, integrity, decency and effectiveness in Congress.

We’re privileged to share this guest blog – a personal remembrance of Don Edwards by another personal hero of mine: Florence LaRiviere.

For decades Florence has led the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, and she shares how the Committee worked with Rep. Edwards to create the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country, right here in San Francisco Bay. It’s an inspiring example of how elected officials can be responsive to requests from the public, and why Don Edwards embodied hope. The Edwards’ family has suggested memorial donations to the Committee at

– David Lewis

Florence LaRiviere
Florence LaRiviere stands before the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: U.S. FWS


I think it was one morning in the late 1960’s that I read a small notice in the Mercury News inviting anyone worried at the great rate the bay’s marshes were being destroyed, to come to an office in San Jose the following day.

That was my fist meeting with Art Ogilvie, a Santa Clara County planner who had the show-stopping idea that we could have a national wildlife refuge here, to save our remaining wetlands!

We went to every conceivable public meeting, showing pictures of our remarkable wildlife, and decrying the rapid destruction of most of the lands along the shoreline.

Then we arrived at the crucial moment — we had to have a member of congress to carry our bill to establish what proved to be a landmark, the first urban wildlife refuge in the nation.

As I remember, Art Ogilvie and Tom Harvey, biology professor at San Jose State, made the fateful visit to Congressman Don Edwards. They went, aware of his civil rights and peace activism, but knowing nothing about his environmental concerns. First, he took that most important beginning step — he listened to them. He recognized saving these lands was the right thing to do, and he had the vision and the political skill to bring along the entire bay area congressional delegation, with no regard to political party. Still, four years passed before his bill was enacted, and President Nixon signed it into law.

That was 1972 — we dusted off our hands, and had a party with Mr. Edwards to celebrate.

We felt pretty smug, in fact, it took us until 1986 to take another look and realize we were sadly lacking in a variety of habitat types. The only solution was to return to our congressman. And we did. His response was an immediate yes! This time, with the wonderful San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge already established, and soon to be named in his honor, the public responded with enthusiasm, and four hundred people came to Ohlone College to support Mr. Edwards at a public meeting on the issue. For once the opposition was wonderfully outnumbered by a large, enthusiastic and vocal group. This time, his bill was enacted the first year he proposed it, another red letter day — in October 1988!

Mr. Edwards’ living legacy is the marshes of San Francisco Bay, the wildlife that inhabits them, clean air and water and places of serenity for the human population.

His was a life well-lived.

– Florence LaRiviere, Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge

Meet Local Hero Florence LaRiviere

Every section of the Bay shoreline has a story….A story of what could have been, a story of future potential, a story of conflict and inspiration. Behind many of these stories is a powerful 90-year-old Palo Alto woman named Florence LaRiviere.

California, Palo Alto, Florence and Phillip LaRiviere, Wildlife Refuge advocates

Florence and her late husband Philip first fell in love with the marshland as a young, married couple. They’d take a picnic down to the water’s edge to near the old Palo Alto Marina with their children to catch a breeze on hot days. They’d watch the tides wave in and out of the cord grass, and feel the gentle breezes. It was their special place, but it was in danger of being paved over and lost forever. Though they weren’t activists at the time, they would spend the next half-decade of their lives fighting for such places.

Some of the protected places we take for granted wouldn’t exist without Florence. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. The refuge covers 25,902 acres and spans a large part of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country in an area that could easily have become an ugly mass of parking lots, convention centers, and tract housing.
After over 50 years of working on behalf of San Francisco Bay, what advice would Florence give to ordinary citizens who want to make a difference in their communities?

“You need to know what goes on in City Hall. Everyone thinks decisions are made in Washington or California so we elect people to local councils and boards who have no sensitivity to the land. We don’t know how important their votes will be to us and the people who live here after us.”

Take a look at what Florence and fellow citizens have accomplished by acting locally:

• The old Palo Alto Marina and its destructive dredge were shut down, and now that area is the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Hundreds of species of wildlife live there and it’s considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites on the West Coast.

• LaRiviere marsh near the Don Edwards Visitor Center in Fremont was once a series of crusty salt ponds. Today it’s lush with native marsh plants and home to endangered species like the California clapper rail and hundreds of other migratory birds.

• As the leader of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Florence was instrumental in expanding the Refuge boundaries to include Bair Island, the Redwood City salt ponds, and the remaining wetlands into the refuge. The recent restoration and reopening of Bair Island to public access is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

There’s still much more to accomplish. For the past two decades, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has been fighting to defeat the City of Newark’s plan to pave over a large section of restorable baylands in the South Bay for an 18-hole golf course and luxury houses. This area is within the expansion boundaries of the Refuge, home to crucial wildlife habitat, and adjacent to a harbor seal pupping site at Mowry Slough. You can help defeat the plan by signing onto our petition Florence asking the Water Board to deny permits for this development.

As Florence says, “If you see something that upsets you, you have to do something about it.”