Generations of Public Service: A Pioneering Spirit
The League's foundational commitment to thoughtful politics and a well managed government align with my beliefs, career and heritage.
I am often asked why I joined the League of Women Voters. The question has always struck me as funny because I find it hard to imagine a more natural fit. I joined the League of Women Voters of Glendale Burbank in 2011 and I spent several years working on redistricting in California. The League was always a champion for the reform our system needed. More deeply, the League's foundational commitment to thoughtful politics and a well managed government align with my beliefs, career and heritage.
My family prides itself on public service. My mother served as a policy analyst turned elementary school teacher and my father pioneered innovative new sources of local water supplies. My great grandmother was also a trailblazer in California, as one of the first women to graduate from Cal and then an early (albeit failed) candidate for state assembly. Today, we face a different set of problems but the underlying challenge of making democracy work has not changed. I'd argue that the work of the League is more needed than ever.
My hometown of Los Angeles serves as an ideal example. Outside groups from around the country pour millions of dollars into school board races but turnout barely reaches the double digits. Such apathy and cynicism is beyond tragic. In my work as a Director of the Los Angeles Education Partnership, I have seen firsthand how inequality of opportunity eats at the heart of our democracy. That experience has solidified my belief that we urgently need a new progressive movement to engage voters that is grounded in the League's timeless principles of political reform and well managed government.
Consider the current state of education. Today’s public schools would be largely familiar to my great-grandmother. She would find that the professional bureaucracy put in place during the original progressive era still forms the backbone of our government’s organizational infrastructure. She would find public comment periods still taking place in person and government regulations still driven by the logic of physical documentation. Combined with the all too familiar pattern to “do more with less” in the aftermath of the Great Recession, this stasis creates a compelling case for innovation in government.
These ideas may strike some as boldly new. Yet that pioneering spirit couldn't be more Californian -- a point I make in my (ponderous throat clearing) book A New California Dream. That's why I joined League, why I feel honored to serve on the state board, and why being a part of this organization seems so natural. Every generation must earn the privileges of democracy, and as an Atwater, I intend to do my part.
Getting Started in League: What an Education! What an Impact!
I became a member of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco (LWVSF) in 1977, almost immediately after graduating from the CORO Women’s Program. The CORO program is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to train “ethical, diverse civic leaders nationwide.”
I took the CORO training because I was very interested in pursuing a career in governmental policy. However, I still had four children at home. Joining the League as a volunteer rather than working in the public sector provided a terrific education for me. Fortunately for me as it turned out, there were several studies underway, one of which was the Water Study of the League of Women Voters of California (LWVC). The study was completed in 1979 and led to the Water Position that is still guiding League action on the state level.
Local, Regional, State Leadership
During my presidency of the LWVSF (1979-81), California was in a water crisis—very similar to the situation we see today. A drought-prone state with the largest population in the U. S. will always find managing water resources a challenge. After completing my term as president, I found that the Water Study had captured my interest. I became active with the LWV Bay Area Water Committee, and later served with Polly Smith as LWVC Water Co-Director, carrying the water portfolio for the LWVC. I still carry the portfolio of off-board Program Director for Water for the LWVC. Polly (LWV Marin County) is deceased but I still miss her sage advice and our long talks about water issues of all sorts.
During the 1980s, Polly and I attended the sessions of California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which has the power to set flow standards for the San Francisco—Sacramento/San Joaquin Bay Delta. Our League water position calls for strong environmental protections to ensure enough freshwater flows to the Bay-Delta to sustain the health of this largest estuary on the West Coast. The State Board hearings were important since it is this arena in which the standards are set. Consequently, Polly and I spent many hours in Sacramento.
Those of us concerned with the need to protect the environment of the Bay-Delta estuary argued before the SWRCB that the large freshwater diversions for agricultural and urban users should be cut back. During the long and complex history of these water battles before the SWRCB, there were several attempts to reach consensus among the stakeholder interests—urban, agricultural, and environmental. One of these consensus attempts led to the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the urban water agencies and environmental interests. The MOU was signed in 1991 and created a list of Best Management Practices for urban water conservation that urban water agency signatories agreed to implement, under certain conditions. I was part of those negotiations, which led to the formation of the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC). I served on the Steering Committee for the CUWCC as the representative of the LWVC for many years, and was succeeded by Wendy Phillips.
- HIGHLIGHT: Roberta was recognized as a "2012 Excellence Award Winner" by the CUWCC.
Another resource-intensive arena in which I was active was the CALFED Bay-Delta process and the Council which oversaw the process. This state-federal council was formed in 1995, again as a result of intense negotiations over how much freshwater would flow through the Bay-Delta to the ocean. The Council included representatives of state and federal agencies and stakeholders from agricultural, urban, and environmental sectors. I represented the LWVC and was part of the environmental bloc.
To explain, CALFED was an effort to coordinate the many state (CAL) and federal (FED) agencies that have a role in managing California’s water resources. The goal was to produce a comprehensive water management plan for the state. In 2000, this work culminated in a Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD approved a long-term plan for restoring ecological health and improving water management in the Bay-Delta system.
The CALFED process has since morphed into the current attempt to forge another agreement on how to manage California’s water resources. In late 2009, a water legislation package was the result.
What is Happening Today?
To implement this legislation, a gigantic many-billion dollar water bond is expected to go before the voters in November of 2014. The LWVC at this minute is examining how we might provide objective information on the water bond’s complex issues that will confront the voters in November. We also hope that several local Leagues will sponsor educational forums on the water bond. As you can see, issues on water management will always be an important part of the League’s work. Learn more on our water page.
What About Fame and Fortune on Stage?
In conclusion, I continue to be an active member of the League of Women Voters and credit the League with my education on many public issues, but particularly in the water management arena. On a final note, I took up tap dancing--a childhood dream of mine-- after completing my LWVSF presidency in the 1980s, but, alas, nothing has come of that brief fling at show biz.
Lasting Friendships: Age 95 (2013)
And now more years have passed and I am "just a member". I'll be 95 in September, so have become less able to carry on. Over the years, the communications within our League have gone from mimeograph, to cut stencils with a hand operated printer, to electric printer, to the age of computers. Hooray! Now if only the progress of the people in playing their roles as citizens were as improved (ie registering to vote and VOTING, as well as attending forums and learning about qualifications of candidates and pro-and-con presentations regarding measures presented to the voters).
As a special bonus I have met many wonderful people and made lasting friendships in this organization.
An earlier message from Evelyn: Celebrating Over 50 Years in the League: Age 89
A friend invited me to attend some meetings and, as I am a political "junkie", I went and was thoroughly "hooked". I was, at first, not used to listening and being unbiased. Since then, I have met many wonderful people and have served in several offices.
Now, at 89, I can no longer do as much as I once did. I answer the phone for our League and direct the caller to the proper person, if I cannot answer the question. I send out dues notices, collect them from our post box and deposit them in the bank, then take the information to our current treasurer.
Yesterday, I attended a lunch meeting with speakers from our two cities and our Voter Service Chair. I sat there stunned as I was presented a lovely gift with the good wishes of my fellow Leaguers.
- 2007, Evelyn Lundstrom, LWV Cupertino-Sunnyvale
The League of Women Voters is a wonderful organization for men and women of all ages. No matter how much time you have available, or the skills you offer, or the experience you want to gain - you can find a home in the League! You will be appreciated for what you have to offer.
I joined League after I was married and moved to Redding, a then small town in northern California. I felt that I became much better informed about the issues locally, which was also true when we moved to Eugene, Ore. for a couple of years while my husband went to graduate school. When we moved to Chico, California I became more active, which eventually led to being the Natural Resources chair with emphasis on Land Use and Water, as well as an Observer to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission.
Being an observer is one facet of League. Public officials hold the League in great esteem for their impartiality and in depth knowledge of issues.
What Is A League Observer?
At the time I was working, had a ten year old and my husband and I were building our careers, I felt that there was something missing. I had done all the right things; college, a stint as a VISTA (domestic Peace Corps) Volunteer, work in both the non-profit and business world, marriage, and a kid. Having been raised in a very political family, I was tracking what was going on, but I was not involved in any way in making a difference. I was leading "the unexamined life."
So I examined my life and decided that what I was doing, although perfectly fine, was not, as we say in League, "making a difference." Through friends who were already League members and working on community issues, I joined.
Yes, I was asked!
Those very same friends from thirty years ago are still my friends. We are still working together on community issues (some of the issues are the same ones as thirty years ago!) We have, together, made that all important difference many, many times. Now retired, I served a term on the State Board and returned to be President again of my local League.
League has fulfilled my desire to contribute; has added life-long friendships; and has kept me more than busy for thirty years. I am making a difference, and when I examine my life, I am not just satisfied, but very proud to be a League member!
I grew up in a household where everything was fair game for discussion at the dinner table. Religion, art, politics and football were all hotly debated topics on a regular basis (along with whether we had to eat our carrots or not.) As a result, I believed then, and still do today, that we are all free to have our own opinion and that discussing it in a public forum is not only the right thing to do, it is the “might of the innocent” thing to do.
As a young adult, I was fortunate enough to travel to other parts of the world and took that opportunity to have a broader discussion about things like democracy, the United States status in the world (good or bad depending on which President was in power) and what we offered as a generation. These topics were on our minds in a large, looming way at the time.
I eventually settled in San Francisco and stumbled onto the League of Women Voters. I was delighted to learn that the League was doing the very same thing with a broad demographic of people on board. Women and men of different nationalities, religions, political beliefs and geographic boundaries have come together because they believe in the discourse of democracy as well as protecting its outcomes through a fair system that allows us all to vote.
The League has helped me continue to participate in a non-partisan political discourse. This is particularly important now as issues increasingly cross the ideological boundaries of party membership in our current globalized, post 9/11 era. The United States and the World are much too complex to be tied down to a one-party view. League members are willing to discuss and remark on the issues, leaving their personal political affiliations at the door. This is an enlightened point of view for a nearly 100-year-old organization.
Does membership in the League and the discussions that happen there make a difference? You bet it does! That is why I became involved and stay involved.
I joined the San Francisco League back in the mid-90s because I thought it would be a good addition to my CV. I had just completed a Master’s program and had, of course, heard of the League. I was very interested in environmental issues and understood how San Francisco politics works so I thought it would be a good fit for me.
I didn’t dream at the time that I was embarking on a fantastic learning experience that would be life changing.
I saw a flyer that stated the League was looking for board members. I applied, was interviewed and simultaneously became a member of the SF League and a member of the board. I was happy with this outcome because I knew the board was a good place to be if you wanted to have a say in how the League’s priorities was determined.
My first assignment was to write a strategic plan for restructuring the League. At the time the SF League was losing members. The board decided it wanted a fresh eye to review how the League was functioning and how it might change to attract younger members. I was to be that “fresh eye”. One of the major recommendations that the restructuring plan suggested was the abolition of the “units” into which League members were divided at the time. This and other efforts of the board resulted in a League that attracted a younger and more diverse membership with new ideas.
I worked on other projects for the SF League before being elected to the national LWV board which was an incredible experience. With this portfolio I traveled on behalf of the League to Jamaica, Armenia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. These travels and what I learned introducing grass roots democracy to the women in these countries changed my life forever. It literally brought the world to my life.
I will always value the League’s dedication to a non partisan delivery of information to voters. No one is trusted like we are. We’re small but ours is powerful voice. I hope to continue to contribute to our message.
Read more about Sarah's background, skills, and experience in the League.
The League has made me the person I am today. No other organization has given me such amazing opportunities to learn, network with fascinating leaders in their fields, and get involved in my community. I have been involved with all sorts of organizations and none give me more satisfaction than being a League member. When I moved to San Francisco, dozens of issues were being settled at the ballot box and each had supporters and opponents with strident, contradictory campaign materials. I struggled to find unbiased analysis and, for the first time in my life, I considered not voting because I felt so unprepared. I was horrified: I was in one of the most famously politically active cities in the country, and yet I couldn’t find basic voter information?
Then I found the San Francisco League, the only consistent source of straightforward election information I could trust. I started hosting parties before each election: we order pizza and discuss our ballots using Smart Voter, the Easy Voter Guide, and other League resources. This inspired me to train to present the ballot measures to community groups and on television, give testimony at hearings, and organize issue forums. I couldn’t have imagined I’d have so much fun educating myself about the issues, improving my research and presentation skills, and strengthening democracy.
I’m also proud that I can share such rewarding opportunities with colleagues, new members, and even international visitors from the State Department, United Nations and student exchange programs. We need everyone to participate in civic life in order to be a strong, safe, fair and vibrant place to live. Because the League is a model grassroots organization, my hands-on work is part of a powerful movement dedicated to tangible civic improvement at the local, state, national and even international levels.
A longtime member and past president of the Palo Alto League of Women Voters, Sandy Eakins helped organize Smart Voter, an initiative that provides unbiased election information for California voters. She co-founded New Voices for Youth, a LWV program designed to encourage civic engagement with high school students through the media arts.
Sandy was born November 10, 1937, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Ray and Rebecca (Smith) Brown, and was raised in the Pacific Northwest. She graduated from Wellesley College, class of 1959, with a degree in Art History and remained an active and devoted alumna. She held master’s degrees from Boston University and Santa Clara University.
She married her husband, Gilbert Eakins, in 1959 and co-founded EOS (Eakins Open Systems), a computer integration business in 1972.
Sandy was active in civic affairs for many years beginning with founding the Palo Verde neighborhood association and volunteering with the PTA for her children’s schools. Later, she served on the Palo Alto City Council from 1997-2002, including a term as mayor. She also served on the boards of the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, Planning Commission and the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. She shared her love of the arts through her service on the Palo Alto Public Art Commission and the board of the Palo Alto Art Center.
Sandy created a more beautiful world as an art collector, avid photographer, master gardener and world traveler. She enjoyed gifting her children and grandchildren with works of art and mementoes of her travels.
You can read more about her on her memorial site.
Heather Sterner, a member of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco, says "I got out of League what I put into it," and that there was a direct correlation between the hours I spent on projects and the friendships formed with the people I worked with.
As I look back on my years with the League of Women Voters I realize that there was a direct correlation between the hours I spent on projects and the friendships formed with the people I worked with. I got out of League what I put into it.
I first joined League in San Mateo County where I served on the board and worked on studies and action. In 1987 my husband and I moved from Burlingame to San Francisco and one of the first things I did was join the San Francisco League.
I was on the board when Charlene Smith was president, she of the purple hair which overnight changed people’s image of the League of Women Voters.
It was Susan Sutherland who was president when we came up with the idea of a fundraising luncheon, named by Ann Walsh as Women Who Could be President. Out of the many hours spent on the luncheon from 1992 until 1999, fast friendships were formed.
I was honored to represent the League on the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force for four-plus years, a position taken over by Kristin Chiu and now Allison Washburn. Being “inside City Hall” was an eye-opening experience I recommend to all.