On December 19th 2014, Bill Kortum passed away and left a big hole in our hearts. He was a kind, spirited and gentle soul who loved Sonoma County and the California coast and he dedicated his life to protecting them. He left behind a legacy of coastal access for all Californians. The Resource Renewal Institute offers our deepest condolences to his wife, Lucy and his family.
Born and raised in Sonoma County, Bill followed his dreams and became a veterinarian serving the rural communities in Sonoma County where he fell in love with the animals and the landscape.
We will remember him for his civic activism: rallying an epic fight in the early 1960s against a proposed nuclear power plant at Bodega Head. Even before it was approved, the Pacific Gas & Electric developers had started excavating the foundation for the plant. This aggressive action only empowered Bill and his allies to fight harder against siting a nuclear plant in this sensitive location. In the end, Bill and the band of citizens proved that the site was inappropriate for siting a nuclear power plant on the active San Andreas earthquake fault. The site of this excavation is now preserved as “The Hole in the Head” and anyone can visit.
Bill is gratefully remembered for leading the battle for California coastal access initiative (Proposition 20) in 1972. This effort later led to the development of the California Coastal Commission, a body that oversees all development along the California coast and ensures that public access to the coast is maintained. Without Bill, this may not have happened. Imagine, what our coast would look like today?
Bill’s activism taught us about the effectiveness of public outreach and exemplifies the hard work that is required to stand up for one’s beliefs and ideals. His campaigns were door-to-door, petitions, flyers and meetings and being active in local and statewide politics. Today, we just post something on social media where people sitting at home can sign online petitions. Bill did his work personally and he became an icon in Sonoma County. He connected with people, made friends, gave back, and continued his environmental work late into his 80s. Bill founded the nonprofit organization, Coastwalk, in Sonoma County.
In our “Forces of Nature: Environmental Elders Speak” interview with Bill, he shares stories about his activism, his love of Sonoma County and the California Coast, and how he got started with his activism. Our 5 minute video, “Leadership” can be seen by clicking here.
Gratefully, the Kortum trail was dedicated and a place that Bill could appreciate while he was alive. The Kortum trail is located in Northern California on the Sonoma Coast and begins at Wrights Beach and ends at Blind Beach. If anyone deserves a coastal trail, Bill earned this honor.
I last saw Bill in November 2013 when he came to a fundraiser at the Resource Renewal Institute. The following day was sunny and beautiful so my husband and I decided to drive out to the coast. Having no destination in mind, we just parked the car on one of the coastal turnouts and got out. Surprisingly, we found ourselves at the Kortum trailhead! The trail and beach below felt magical that day and we enjoyed the hike immensely. We hiked down to the beach and there I recorded the sounds of the waves. I would like to share that recording with you. In honor of Bill, let’s take a minute of silence to listen to the ocean. (Note: I’m sorry, but my technical skills with WordPress does not allow me to attach the file at this time). I hope that you will take a trip to the beach and have a moment of silence anyway.