And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9No one exemplified these words better than Jan Vandersloot, medical doctor, environmentalist, and family man. He was generous with his time and his money, and we are thankful to him as well as to Cheryl, Jon and Tiffany.
I first met Jan about twenty years ago, though I’d seen his numerous and eloquent letters to the editor before that. I was a city planner at Newport Beach and he called about illegal fill of a wetland. Someone in the office said “that Dr. Vandersloot” always had some complaint. Still, I arranged to meet Jan at the site along with a biologist and, lo and behold, a wetland was being illegally filled.
After that, I got many calls from Jan. Sometimes he’d be reporting habitat damage, or illegal dumping. I learned that when “that Dr. Vandersloot” called, it was something I really needed to check out. If he had a complaint it was well-founded and well-researched. Unlike some residents who called regularly, Jan was concerned about all areas of the city and beyond, not just matters within a block or two of his house.
Sometimes he was just looking for information. For Jan, there was no such thing as too much information.
Years later, after I’d left the City and was involved in various causes, many at the prodding of Jan, my house was overrun with environmental impact reports (EIRs) and other studies. Jan stopped by about some project. I was mortified at the boxes of documents spilling into the living room. Jan was delighted.
Jan had a way of pulling people into his causes. Bolsa Chica, Ocean Outfall Group, San Diego Creek, trees on the Peninsula. He put so much into so many causes, how could you not help at least a little? Almost daily there’d be e-mail from Jan with calls to action, research requests, or outlines of potential strategies for ongoing projects.
As he toiled to end the Orange Count Sanitation District’s waiver from federal clean water law, he’d ask not IF you’d attend any meetings to speak against the waiver, but WHICH meetings in which cities you’d attend. Eventually Jan, or in rare cases a surrogate, spoke before every city council and sanitary district in Orange County, usually with a few others in tow, but alone if need be.
Jan didn’t care if he was the only one to stand up and fight for something. If it was the right thing to do, he was there.
It wasn’t all just hearings and meetings. I especially appreciate the work he did at Fairview Park. Jan advocated for the park at hearings and also weeded and planted plants, sometimes with a group, sometimes with just one other person, like Gil Collins, sometimes alone.
Though I’d been involved in Fairview earlier on, soon Jan surpassed me in his knowledge and dedication to improving habitat at the park. I’d be out for a hike and there was Jan, clearing away the anise choking out native species. Seeing his hard work, I’d go back to my car for an extra bag to pick up trash along the way. How could I not?
We distributed flyers at election time. Of course, if you and Jan covered opposite sides of a street, you really had to hustle. With his long legs he’d finish the distance long before you.
Jan really loved to celebrate the big wins. And he hated to lose. After a setback, he’d be seeking other strategies. Was there a way to appeal? Another agency involved? Should we litigate? Any other options?
Jan just did not give up. If we’d finally run out of options, he’d be planning how we could handle a similar situation “next time”. Unfortunately, now there is no “next time” with Jan.
Today, we are able to reap what Jan so diligently sowed and tended: Open space at Bolsa Chica, cleaner beaches, wetlands, trees, and habitat in various areas. What a tremendous legacy!
Perhaps an even greater legacy is the army of activist that Jan has encouraged and mentored over the years. Now we must continue in well-doing, that we and others may reap in the years to come. How could we not?