Some say Sierra Club under ‘hijack’ attempt

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Robert Roy van de Hoek

A coalition of what some deem anti-immigration and animal rights activists is running for the club’s national board, which dictates what stances the potent environmental organization will take.

By Tracy Domingo/Special to The Malibu Times

In a colossal controversy that gets more complex each day, the Sierra Club has found itself in the midst of a battle for control of its national board of directors in the upcoming election. The controversy stems from what some are calling a hijack attempt of the Sierra Club by a coalition of people who have been deemed anti-immigration and animal-rights activists. This collaboration of individuals has their sights set on gaining a majority on the 15-seat board that dictates the stances the potent environmental organization will take.

One of Malibu’s own, Robert Roy van de Hoek, is vying for one of the open seats on the national board of directors. Van de Hoek, a passionate environmentalist and Sierra Club member, once ran for a position on the Malibu City Council.

Van de Hoek has been very active in a myriad of environmental issues and emphasized what he called the potential problem of over-development in Malibu when he ran for City Council. He has served on the executive committee for the Sierra Club California and the Angeles Chapter, and has played an active role as a chair of the Sierra Club Ballona Wetlands Task Force.

One of van de Hoek’s close colleagues, Marcia Hanscom, is the executive director of the Wetlands Action Network and already sits on the Sierra Club National Board of Directors.

Kerri Glover, the national media director for the Sierra Club, said this close connection between the two environmentalists is somewhat suspect. “With him running and her already sitting on the board, it really calls into question her involvement in the whole issue,” Glover said, “but not many people know that van de Hoek is running.”

After numerous attempts, neither Hanscom nor van de Hoek responded to requests for comment.

Customarily, the Sierra Club’s large following of about 750,000 members do not take advantage of their voting power in elections. However, that may change this year in the wake of the so-called hijack attempt to control the Sierra Club’s National Board and budget.

Six years ago, in 1998, the Sierra Club voted in a tight 60-40 decision to remain neutral on immigration. Additionally, approximately 20 percent of its members are active in hunting and fishing, and the Sierra Club, as a general body, has also chosen to remain neutral on a hunting and fishing policy.

Current members, like Mary Ann Webster, the conservation chair for the West Los Angeles Group, which includes Malibu, fear the new faction of anti-immigration and animal rights groups would seek to overturn many of the club’s established stances such as anti-immigration and hunting and fishing.

“These people don’t all believe in all of the same things, but the premise is that they just want to be elected,” Webster said. “Some people that share these ideas are already on the board and they could eventually control the board and then push forth their own agendas that aren’t the main priorities of the club.”

In an effort to educate members, the current board of directors had planned on sending out an “Urgent Election Notice” along with all the ballots that describe the effort to gain control of the board by the insurgent group. In response to the decision to mail the statement, three individuals, who are considered part of the insurgent group, recently filed suit against the Sierra Club and its leaders. “This whole matter is a very, very complex issue,” Glover said. “Three candidates have recently sued us because they didn’t want the information to get out to voters. It’s just all very controversial.”

The three Sierra Club Board of Director candidates who are suing the club and its leaders are former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, former Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Frank Morris and Cornell Professor David Pimentel.

The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by wilderness explorer John Muir, and is known today to be America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. Muir, often referred to as the “founder of our national parks,” sought to protect nature for the spiritual advancement of humans and, as he often said, “for nature itself.”

To Paul Cooley, a member of the West Los Angeles Group Management Committee for the Sierra Club, Muir’s vision is the reason he signed up for the club and for which he has been an avid supporter the majority of his life. Cooley said he is appalled by what he called an attempt to distort the real mission of the Sierra Club.

“As a life member of the Sierra Club, I see this movement to take over the board as a direct highjack attempt of three-quarters of a million people,” Cooley said fervently. “Our motto is to ‘explore, enjoy and protect the environment.’ I understand that these anti-immigration people are concerned about the population problem, but the Sierra Club is not the right organization for them.”

In the initial discovery of the attempt to capture the open seats on the board, numerous former Sierra Club presidents sent letters describing and denouncing the insurgents’ attempt to gain power and control. Additionally, many people joined the Sierra Club just to vote specifically for this election. However, anyone wishing to vote had to join the club by Jan. 31.

“It would be very unfortunate if this take-over takes place,” said Dave Brown, the Conservation Chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Taskforce of the Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club plays the role of the environmental conscience of the country and it is a very important role that has to be played. The club has received a great deal of respect and support and this group could ruin the Sierra Club.”