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.”