Diane Coombs

For Love of Nature

Recorded: July 29, 2012

Diane Coombs, a former executive with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors office, and a citizen activist, describes her work in San Diego, California, and how her love of nature motivates her to stay involved in wetland restoration and planning projects.

Diane Coombs was born in Northern Utah on a farm at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, in what was to be an expansive introduction to a life centered around nature. When she married into the military and moved to San Diego, she volunteered for the League of Women Voters and a local organization, Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, on land use and environmental planning projects. Ms. Coombs spent 15 years in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors office, serving five different Supervisors in various capacities on such issues as land use, park protection, public works and housing.

This civic and environmental experience served her well when she dedicated herself to protecting canyon lands in San Diego, as well as backcountry and desert in San Diego County. Ms. Coombs has served as Executive Director of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers and has been a board member of the other organizations working on a 55-mile coast-to-crest trail. Now 81 years-old, Ms. Coombs has always been one to speak truth to power and is still active in protecting San Diego Bay waterfront from misguided development.

Diane Coombs: Looking at what happened to Mission Valley caused residents in all of the other river valleys, all up and down the San Diego Region, Otay, San Diego, San Dieguito. And citizens were basically saying “this should be a protected area, river corridor following the river and it should be preserved, not developed and we don’t want to have another Mission Valley again. We’ve learned our lesson and so let’s protect the river valleys.” The city, the county, the city of Solana Beach, the city of Del Mar, the city of Escondido and the city of Poway joined together to form an actual small government agency whose entire focus was on planning and implementing a river park that began at the ocean and ended at the desert, over 55 miles.

I had the good luck of after the first executive director was elected to the State Assembly, being asked to take over his job. I have to say that that was probably the most satisfying job I had and the most satisfying experiences I had because I spent nearly 9 years working with citizens in the community, working with scientists who prepared the plans, did the environmental survey’s, the mapping. I did a lot of taking people on tours to convince them that there was some great opportunities here to mitigate their projects by purchasing land in the area. Probably the greatest project was the wetland restoration project at the western end. It’s becoming increasingly importantto be able, for citizens, when their elected officials aren’t listening, to actually file lawsuits. And I am involved in several lawsuits on the waterfront because the port seems to be ignoring what the citizens want for the waterfront and the property uses for the waterfront which is, should be mainly water dependent uses, not football stadiums or more cruise ship terminals that could go somewhere else, not in front on our front step. So in terms of being effective, when you exhaust all of your remedies and there’s nothing else to do, then you get on the phone and say “we need you to write out a check because we’re hiring a lawyer in order to protect this, that or the other.” We’re forced to take legal action.

Peggy Lauer: What would you say to other young people getting into the environmental movement about why its important, why stick with it?

Diane Coombs: Knowing that sea level is going to rise between 18 inches and 2 feet by 2050 and possibly more by 2100, it’s important to begin now so that when a developer comes in and says “I want to put this on the coast,” you can look at the inundation maps and say “Well maybe we ought to rezone that land from residential and commercial to future wetlands.” So that transition is going to take place gradually but you need to plan for it.

Peggy Lauer: How do you keep- so your dedication going?

Diane Coombs: I guess love for nature. It really does restore. It really cures. You realize that you’re a small part of such a great, great creation.