Ellen Stern Harris, California Environmentalist, Dies At 76
Harris, in particular, had an uphill battle. She was something of a gadfly, who kept up a steady drumfire of agitation and was seldom popular with her colleagues.
She won her spurs on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which I covered for the Times in the late 1960s at a time when she was a minority of one on one of these boards that seldom was very active in pursuing the regulatory goals for which it had been set up. Later, Harris fought succeessfully for establishment of the California Coastal Commission, upon which she later served.
In meeting after meeting of the water quality control group, Harris beat her head against a stone wall, and I have to confess that while sympathetic with her goals, I frequently felt she didn't have a clue about behaving in a way that would win friends and influence people. It didn't help that Ray Hertel, the paid director of the water quality control board, was a bureaucrat who seldom pushed hard for improvements.
But, fortunately, for her, she had the support of the Times, and the people of Los Angeles during her service. She often prevailed, because she could not be ignored.
In all the time I knew Harris, and it was for nearly 40 years, I never saw her discouraged. Even at the end, suffering with cancer, and lacking the vigor she once had, she was indefatigable.
California is really lucky to have a good many people who fight for the beauty and quality of this state. They sit in redwood trees until U.S. Senators finally work out deals that insure they will not be cut down. They insist on air quality, until at last the auto companies come around half willingly to developing appropriate smog controls and hybrid engines. They have preserved much of the coast and they strive for public access.
And the newspapers often support them. Although some politicians appointed corrupt officials to the Coastal Commission, by and large it has done its job.
Make no mistake about it, we owe more than we ever could pay in honors or popularity to the Ellen Stern Harrises and Marvin Braudes, They made all our lives better, and they certainly will be missed.
I notice that Myrna Oliver wrote the Harris obituary for the L.A. Times. Her last day on the job at the Times, I understand, is Jan. 16. Myrna always cared enough to honor those people who passed on and deserved to be remembered. Now, she will be remembered, and I wonder whether the Times staff will carry on her worthy tradition.