Another giant in the movement to save San Francisco Bay from destruction has passed away. Former State Assemblyman John T. (“Jack”) Knox died at the age of 92 on April 4, after a long illness. Knox represented Richmond and West Contra Costa County in the Assembly for 20 years, starting in 1960, and served as Assembly Speaker Pro Tem.
He was a key leader in passing the McAteer-Petris Act to establish the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) as a permanent agency to regulate development in the Bay and on its shoreline. He also led the creation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 1970, requiring all projects in the state to undergo a rigorous evaluation of environmental impacts and alternatives before approval.
Save The Bay recognized Knox’s substantial contributions to the health of the San Francisco Bay with our Founding Member Award in 2008. Knox was a long-time member of Save The Bay’s Advisory Council and regularly attended our annual Founding Members Tea.
Knox was a smart attorney and became an accomplished legislator, which colleagues attributed to his personality as much as his knowledge: “Amid the understandable demonization caused by our new, toxic White House, let us pause and acknowledge a great public official,” said former Assemblyman William Bagley about Knox last week. “During my own 14 years in the Assembly and thereafter, I never heard him disparage anyone, not even outrageous colleagues.”
The East Bay Times noted in its obituary for Knox:
“Knox’s win with the McAteer-Petris Act was groundbreaking at a local and international level, and continues to have a profound impact on the Bay today. As the first coastal zone management agency, the BCDC became the model for most others in the world, and since its inception has fostered a net gain in the size of the Bay through tidal marsh restoration. The new public shoreline access mandated by BCDC agency permits have increased the six miles of access in 1969 to over 300 miles today, providing Bay residents throughout the Bay area with opportunities to connect with the Bay, and become its stewards.”
At a speech in 1988, Save The Bay co-founder Esther Gulick recalled an example of Knox’s leadership in the crucial year of 1969. The original BCDC commission had delivered its report to the legislature with recommendations for managing the Bay. If the legislature didn’t act to make the Commission permanent, it was scheduled to go out of business. After the original BCDC leader, Senator McAteer died of a heart attack in 1967, and the successor leader, powerful Senator George Miller, Sr., also suffered a fatal heart attack in early 1969, Knox introduced and shepherded the same McAteer-Petris bill in the Assembly.
“One committee meeting that will never be forgotten was the hearing on John Knox’s Bill #AB 2057. KQED telecast this hearing to the Bay Area. The meeting room was packed and the large room next to it where one could hear, but not see what was going on, was also filled. People stood out in the hall. The lawyer for [developer] Westbay spoke passionately against the bill. Finally, John Knox asked him if he had read it. He said no.”
On its final vote in the legislature, the bill passed by one vote and BCDC became permanent upon the signature of Governor Ronald Reagan on August 7, 1969.
Among Knox’s many legacies is the beautiful Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline Park in Point Richmond. Knox was also a World War II veteran, whose Army service included a posting in Nome, Alaska. He is survived by his wife, Jean, children John, Charlotte and Mary, and seven grandchildren.
Read more about Jack Knox’s life and legacy here: