Iconic Bay Area Storyteller Honored with Bay Hero Award

Iconic Bay Area Storyteller Honored with Bay Hero Award

He will be honored in October with a Bay Hero Award

Doug McConnell’s inviting voice and irresistible smile have captured hundreds of thousands of TV and internet audiences for more than three decades, taking them on incredible journeys throughout the San Francisco Bay and Northern California.

He recently took viewers on a tour of the San Francisco Bay Trail during a segment of OpenRoad with Doug McConnell on NBC Bay Area – KNTV.

“We’ll follow the trail as it passes through the heart of the San Francisco waterfront, past wetlands alive with nature, and next to the campus of a Silicon Valley giant,” he told his audience.

With a camera rolling, he guided them along the trail, describing the Bay’s polluted past and revealing scenes along the 356 miles of restored recreational public pathway. He captured families, dogwalkers and workers commuting to the city on the byway he calls “one of the greatest recreational treasures in Northern California.”

McConnell is a tireless advocate for open space and parks and goes way beyond the work he gets paid to do to promote protection of the environment, said Michael Rosenthal, who has produced shows with McConnell since the 1980s.

“He is one of these rare people who is still as enthusiastic about what he is doing as he was when he started,” Rosenthal said. “He’s really interested in people and in their stories. It’s not an act.”

McConnell’s California legacy began in 1983, when he moved back to California after spending a few years building up his reporting and environmental experiences.

Born in Santa Monica in 1945, McConnell’s family moved to Northern California when he was 8 years old, giving them easy access to the Bay area, Yosemite and other places to enjoy the natural beauty of the state. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Pomona College, then a master’s degree in political science at Rutgers University.

Over the years, McConnell has worked in television on both coasts and taken on several other challenges. He helped organize the first international youth conference on the human environment that held in Canada in 1971, then he moved to Alaska to work on land issues. While in Alaska, he also traveled around the country to help produce a photo documentary book on coal mining communities for the Jimmie Carter White House.

Then McConnell fell in love.

He met Kathy Taft in Alaska and they got married. The couple moved to Seattle, where he worked for King TV. But California and his aging parents brought him home. Now the two, who live in Marin County, have two grown sons and two granddaughters.

Since their return in 1983, McConnell has been giving the public access to the wonders of Northern California and beyond.

“I had a real passion for getting up in the morning and going out with a camera to meet people I wouldn’t get to know otherwise; learn things I wouldn’t get to learn otherwise,” he said.

His environment stories have garnered Emmys and numerous other awards locally and nationally.

“He’s been in the business for a really long time and he is one of these rare people who is still as enthusiastic about what he is doing as he was when he started,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a joy to be around him because he really is as he appears on TV.”

Rosenthal and McConnell have spent many years together producing stories, including15 years on the old KRON-TV’s Bay Area Backroads, a popular program that ran until 2009. They’ve covered just about every environmental story you can imagine.

They pulled on waders, camouflaged their faces and slogged through wetlands to tell the story of a wildlife photographer.

They spent more than a year getting permission to do a story about the Farallon Islands that are 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco, a wild place where seabirds find refuge and seals come to breed.

A boat called the Shady Lady got them close to the islands, then they had to jump into a little dingy and from there climb up on a giant inner tube that was suspended from a crane on the island. It wasn’t easy.

The waves were coming in and out, so the boat was going up and down, Rosenthal said. “And these are waters that are heavily populated by great white sharks, and you have to pick the right times to jump on the ring and grab the rope,” he said.

They made the leap and got the story.

McConnell’s timing didn’t work out as well when the two were shooting a show that involved riding an elephant. McConnell was leaning down with a microphone and slide down the elephant’s trunk and onto the ground. That scene didn’t make the show.

“There is a reel somewhere of that spectacular fall,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal could tell lots of stories about McConnell, including ones about the many times McConnell has volunteered to help organizations that work to restore and preserve the environment and the wildlife of the San Francisco Bay area.

McConnell’s stories educate the public on the work that is being done, work that is in progress and work still needed. He gives viewers tours of the places they can visit and enjoy, places they had no idea even existed.

“He’s raising awareness,” Rosenthal said. “People come up and thank us.”

Environmentalist Dotson Earns Bay Hero Award

Environmentalist Dotson Earns Bay Hero Award

He will be honored in October with a Bay Hero Award

Whitney Dotson stood in the middle of his family’s dream and watched it come alive a few years ago. At his side was Robert Doyle, the general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.

Before them stretched 200 acres of wetlands in the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay, property the Dotson family had spent four decades fighting to preserve as open space for the public to enjoy.

On that day, Dotson and Doyle saw fresh rainwater filling the newly created wetlands for the first time. And the tide was flowing into the saltwater marshes. Birds were landing on the water.

For a minute, they saw a duck that wasn’t acting like a duck. As they drew closer, they realized it was a hunter’s decoy that had floated in from way out in the bay to the marshland. They laughed about being fooled by a decoy. But its journey proved the water system they had rebuilt was functioning. It was a victory in wetland restoration.

“We had a great day out there,” Doyle said. “He was just so pleased, so, so pleased.”

In 2017, the park district renamed the property the Dotson Family Marsh.

The Dotsons’ connection to the area began when Whitney’s father, the Reverend Richard Daniel Dotson, brought his family to Richmond, California, from Louisiana. He battled attempts to develop the acreage in the 1970s. Whitney and his environmentalist sister, Ethel, continued the fight.

Over the years, under Whitney’s leadership, the people in his Parchester Village community and the Richmond area staved off numerous proposals by developers who wanted to build everything from housing to an airport on the then-neglected land. Known then as the Breuner Marsh, it had become a dumping ground for tons trash and debris, Doyle said.

Still, Whitney had a vision for what the marsh could become. He saw wetlands and trails and wildlife and people enjoying a place that would protect the shoreline from a rising tide and act like a giant sponge, filtering polluted runoff. He believed the property could be saved and restored.

“He was the champion of preserving this property,” Doyle said.

In 2008, Whitney, by then a retired public health program director, was elected to the park district board and gained an even more powerful voice for the environment and the people he loved.

“He encouraged the park district to go to court,” Doyle said. The court allowed the park district to use eminent domain to buy the 200-acre property for about $8 million. The restoration bill was another $14 million.

“So, this was the dream that Whitney always had,” Doyle said. It gave the people of Richmond more public access to the San Francisco Bay – a lot more, taking it from just 100 feet of shoreline to about one mile of shoreline, Doyle said.

The renovation also has given a self-sustaining home to numerous types of wildlife, including endangered species such as the Ridgway’s rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

“Thousands of seasonal waterfowl migrate through the area and use the shoreline to rest and feed,” Doyle said.

The Dotson Family Marsh project includes not only restored wetlands, it has a mile of causeway along the shoreline with pedestrian and bicycle trails.

The marsh is an incredible success, and Whitney is credited for pushing it forward. He also has worked on many other environmental and social justice issues and is the president of the North Richmond Shoreline Open Space Alliance, which works to save access to Richmond’s northern shoreline.

To bring the community to the bay, he has organized the North Richmond Shoreline Festival, which attracts diverse organizations and groups of people who come together to celebrate their open spaces.

Inclusion and equity are huge issues for the park district, Doyle said. Inclusion, equity and civil rights have always been important to Dotson, too. As African Americans, he and his family faced racism and segregation in the South and in California, too.

Whitney persevered, earning a master’s degree from UC Berkeley and carrying out the family’s environment agenda.

“If he had a choice between a small, medium or large goal, he’d go for the large — every time,” Doyle said.

Whitney deserves the Bay Hero award from Save The Bay for all the heavy lifting he has done in the bay, Doyle said.
“He is always the voice for the voiceless,” Doyle said. “I just want to thank him and give him a big hug.”

Extraordinary Bay Hero VADM Breckenridge Protects U.S. Waters

Extraordinary Bay Hero VADM Breckenridge Protects U.S. Waters

She will be honored October 13 with a Courageous Woman Bay Hero Award

Vice Admiral Jody A. Breckenridge enjoyed a broad view of the San Francisco Bay during her final tour with the U.S. Coast Guard. As Commander of the Pacific Area and Defense Forces West, she lived in the lighthouse keeper’s house on Yerba Buena Island.

“Living on that point of land gives you a very different perspective,” she said. Looking out at the San Francisco Bay, she saw maritime commerce, she saw ecosystems and she saw people who lived, worked and visited the Bay. And she knew that they all depended upon the health of those waters for their well-being.

In that command, Vice Adm. Breckenridge’s responsibilities stretched far beyond the San Francisco Bay. Beginning in 2009 until her 2010 retirement. The three-star flag officer oversaw Coast Guard operations across 73 million square miles of the Pacific Basin to the Far East, and she was the first woman to assume that far-reaching command.

By then she had spent more than three decades in the Coast Guard and had held numerous positions, each contributing to her deep understanding of the connection between people and the environment and each bolstering her commitment to safeguard both.

Vice Adm. Breckenridge’s interest in the environment began on the East Coast where she grew up one of nine children in a military family.

“I loved history and I loved science,” she said.

At Virginia Tech, she focused on research.

“I got a job working for the fresh water lab,” she said. The project involved studying the impact of fossil fuel plants on the ecosystem. She picked up a biology degree there and later earned two master’s degrees, one in public policy from the University of Maryland and the other from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

In 1976, she became a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard and landed in the National Response Center, which takes reports for oil spills, chemical releases and maritime security incidents. Then she joined the pollution response branch of the Marine Environmental Protection Division in Washington, D. C., where national and international maritime safety and pollution standards were taking shape.

Vice Adm. Breckenridge’s career also took her to the West Coast with assignments in Seattle and California. While she was Commander of the Eleventh Coast Guard District in Alameda, California, the Coast Guard men and women in her district “responded to more than 3,454 search and rescue cases, saving more than 648 lives, inspected 7,700 commercial vessels, and are credited with record-breaking drug busts in the Eastern Pacific Ocean with more than 282,130 pounds of cocaine seized,” according to Coast Guard News.

In 2006, during one drug case, her district worked with federal drug enforcement agents to capture a major Mexican drug cartel leader, Francisco Javier Arellano Félix. The mission was complicated. The cartel likely would try to rescue Félix, plus two children were on the Félix boat.

“We didn’t want to scare the kids, and we wanted to make sure we got them back to family members safely,” Vice Adm. Breckenridge said. “There was no policy for how to handle that, so we had to create that on the fly.”
Concern for children and future generations has always played a role in Vice Adm. Breckenridge’s professional and personal life. She and her veterinary husband, Paul, have four grown children and three grandchildren. One son is an active duty Army doctor; another son works in computer science; a daughter is a teacher; and another son is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot.

“I do think a lot about the world my grandkids are going to get,” she said.
When it comes to the environment, national leaders need to listen to this country’s young people.
“It’s something that really matters to them, and we ought to be respectful that what they are telling us is the kind of world they want passed onto them,” she said.

People need to stop arguing about what to call the weather changes the world is experiencing and start talking about the science, she said, adding that everyone needs to acknowledge the reality of what is happening and find solutions to mitigate long-term damage to natural resources.

“We are seeing some rollback in the environmental arena with the standards that go on in this nation for clean water and for other things, and those things were put in place for a reason,” she said.

Gains that have been made in air and water quality are at risk, she said.

“We need to be a partner internationally because what they do in other nations affects us,” she said, “I’m not seeing us as a player in any of that right now.”

For her part, Vice Adm. Breckenridge, continues to offer her expertise in the Bay and beyond as the Vice Chair of the San Francisco Fleet Week Association, the Vice Chair of the Governor’s Military Council and as a board member for several military and veteran organizations.

A resident of the East Bay, she is Chair of the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Water Emergency Transportation Authority, a public transportation service with a legislatively-mandated disaster response role.

For ferries and other vessels, she would like to see more innovation to move away from fossil fuels.

At the same time, she said individuals can do more to safeguard the environment.

She and her husband have installed solar panels on their home; they recycle and compost and have set a new goal to cut down on food waste.

“If every person would take a look at themselves and make some small changes to reduce their own imprint, that would go a long way,” she said.

People also can volunteer for environmental projects , she said, with great organizations like Save The Bay.