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Environmental groups band together

December 9, 2004

by Dawn Pillsbury - Sonoma West Staff Writer

SEBASTOPOL - What better place for an environmental activist to work: two blocks from Whole Foods and 20 steps from a coffee shop. Three environmental nonprofit groups, Northern California River Watch, the Town Hall Coalition and the Community Clean Water Institute have banded together in a new home, the Redwood Empire Environmental Center in Gravenstein Station at the east entrance to Sebastopol.

The groups will celebrate their new home with an office warming holiday party from 5 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 10 at the center. Mike Sandler, program director for the water institute and director of the center, said that while the 300-square-foot office is modest, it suits the needs of the nonprofits' four staffers, plus an intern. "The Town Hall Coalition was in Occidental for five years, where a lot of the founders lived," he said. "But recently we increasingly felt the need to be closer to more people, and Sebastopol is the hub of West County activism."

With the Redwood Center a block from the new GE-Free Sonoma campaign office at Highway 12 and Morris Street, "the northeast area is happening now," he said. "Sebastopol already has a lot of environmental action. Hopefully this will increase it." He said the center's location will let the groups extend their reach. "We're looking to reach out to all types of people, not just the environmentalist core," he said. "Since the election, we see that environmental values are mainstream values - every town should have an environmental center." Sandler said the new location, right across the parking lot from Coffee Catz, will be host to small events, though the groups will still have to find other locations for events that draw more than 20 people.

Sandler said it made sense to move, given that many of the coalition's fund-raisers are held in Sebastopol. He said the move will help the nonprofits' staffers to walk their talk.
"I can walk to work now," he said. "That's something I've been encouraging for a while."
Town Hall Coalition and Water Institute board member Lynn Hamilton, an Occidental resident and former Sebastopol mayor, said the location will make the groups' actions more accessible to people who want to participate in their missions. All three groups are supported by fund-raising and donations, she said. The Town Hall Coalition, which started in 1997 to oppose forest conversion to vineyards, formed the water institute in 2002. "It was the Town Hall Coalition water committee," said Hamilton. "We formed it as its own nonprofit because it got so big."

River Watch, formed in 1996, and its attorney, Jack Silver of Santa Rosa, have sued cities from Fort Bragg to Santa Rosa over illegal sewage discharges. The proceeds of the suits have gone to pay attorneys' fees and to fund grants for watershed groups. The group has archived its legal history at

Hamilton said the water institute is working on a first flush campaign for Humboldt Bay, giving scholarships to university students who study water quality issues, a water quality monitoring regime for the lower Russian River and on plans for an international conference on the effects of climate change on water for next year. The coalition has been involved in the Sonoma County General Plan update and is lobbying for a ban on conversion of forest to other uses. "It's so dangerous to every aspect of our lives," said Hamilton. "We're focussed on protecting the commons and the common good and part of that is respecting and protecting nature." The coalition is also focussed on elections, she said. "We/re working with other groups nationally for paper ballots and having every vote counted by hand," she said. "And doing away with electronic voting."

Hamilton said the center is mentoring upcoming environmentalists.
"We have trained and mentored people who went on to bigger things," she said.
The center will host The First Redwood Empire Environmental Center Extravaganza: Post-Election Political Comedy at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29 at the Sebastopol Community Center.
The event will feature two members of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Amos Glick and Ed Holmes.
"They'll portray Dubya and Cheney," explained Sandler. "They'll do a humorous interpretation of the inauguration and they agreed to do a question-and-answer."
For more information, call 824-4371.

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Town Hall Coalition
6741 Sebastopol Ave. Ste. 140 Sebastopol California 95472
T: 707-824-4371 / F: 707-824-4372