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Happy birthday to us 

This seems like a good time to muse about why I love the Sierra Club.

I've been on staff here for nigh unto 15 years, doing my job every day, five days a week, so I actually have to sit down and think about that, as musing on such a question isn't normally part of my job description.

Is it because we were founded by legendary conservationist John Muir and are the world's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization?

Is it because the Santa Lucia Chapter—my corner of the club, representing the Sierra Club's 3,000 members in San Luis Obispo County—has accomplished the designation of three major wilderness areas (Santa Lucia, Machesna, Garcia) and protected urban open space (Bishop Peak), was instrumental in blocking gravel quarry plans on Morro Rock and creating an Environmental Quality Task Force that established San Luis Obispo's Green Belt and the position of natural resources manager (all leading to that "Happiest City in America" moniker)?

Is it because we played a key role in getting Community Choice Energy policies into the general plan and Climate Action Plans of the city of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County, assuring that our region would be able to participate in a program that is doing more than any other policy to transition California from fossil fuels to renewable energy?

Is it because, come Trump or high water, we are committed to helping establish a Chumash National Marine Sanctuary for the Central Coast?

Or is it because of the Sierra Club's biggest mistake? The Santa Lucia Chapter, as I've noted previously, came into being in 1968 when the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant essentially blew up the club at the national level. The internal struggle that raged over the siting of the power plant was the first big clash between the club's new breed of environmental activists and the 1950s-style "old guard" who had cut a deal with the utility without input from the local members most affected. In no other non-governmental organization would such a clash have been thinkable or possible, nevermind an outcome in which the local group that loudly protested the decision of the board of directors was given a charter for its own chapter. It was the club's democratic structure that allowed for that very public struggle, and the creation of a new chapter for San Luis Obispo County.

The old guard prevailed—for about five minutes, before the winds of change that were reshaping the nation transformed the club into a bigger, stronger, more aggressive, less polite, activist organization (one that, a decade later, put in place a policy calling for the phased closure of all commercial reactors). This became an organization that connected habitat protection, environmental justice, labor rights, human rights, fair trade, clean energy, and climate change as part of the same struggle. The activists who lost on Diablo Canyon eventually won on everything else. Gotta love that.

Over the last 50 years, the Santa Lucia Chapter has acted without fear or favor, regularly offending friend and foe due to the fact that we stick to principles, not strategic maneuvers. That's been the case in all the fights we've been through, from the proposed development of Hearst Ranch or the Cayucos Viewshed to the Los Osos and Morro Bay sewer projects, the Carrizo solar projects, Oceano Dunes, and the Cambria desal saga. Our participation in the process that designated California's Marine Protected Areas almost got me beaten to a pulp one night outside the Morro Bay Vets Hall, courtesy of several large, angry gentlemen who thought the marine protected areas we were advocating for were too big. Later, I got a phone call from an angry Fish and Game commissioner when we editorialized that the areas they eventually designated were too small. All good reminders that if I wanted to be universally beloved, I'm in the wrong job.

(By the way: Don't like where we stand on a particular issue? Join up and run for a seat on the chapter's volunteer executive committee, my bosses. We elect a new committee every year. That's a big part of that aforementioned democratic structure.)

All that is why I love the Sierra Club, and why I think you should, too. An opportunity to show that love is coming up on Saturday, Oct. 27, our 50th anniversary celebration. "A Garden of Earthly Delights" will light up the SLO Botanical Garden from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.

It's a fundraiser, but mostly it's a party, because, right about now, we all need one. "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts," wrote Wendell Berry. That's a good motto for the times in which we find ourselves, and we will be paying homage to it on the 27th. Then, for all of us, it's back to work.

Andrew Christie is the director Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments to the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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