A self-described "nature freak," Audrey Rust, the retired president and CEO of Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), will be honored by the Palo Alto City Council tonight (Sept. 19).
At POST's helm, Rust helped raise $325 million to preserve 53,000 acres of open space in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. Those lands provide sanctuary for critical wildlife and plants and a haven for Peninsula residents from the bustle of urban life. Hundreds of miles of trails that didn't exist a few decades ago now provide public access to scenic views and public recreation, including the 13-acre Bressler property at Palo Alto's Arastradero Preserve.
In a March 2011 interview with the Palo Alto Weekly two months after she announced her retirement, Rust said POST's work is of national and even international significance. She sees it as a philosophical statement, an example in how humans can live better in the world, reducing urban sprawl and enhancing life in adjacent communities, she said. POST and government agencies with which it has partnered are cited internationally as leaders in preserving land in a way that keeps regions vibrant and livable.
Rust was named director of POST in 1987, succeeding the late Robert Augsberger, a former Stanford vice president, as POST's president.
Before taking the lead at POST Rust had been an English teacher in New England, a university fundraiser at Yale, Vassar and Stanford universities, and a Sierra Club fundraiser and membership steward from 1981 to 1987.
But she was frustrated by the latter role.
"I used to call it the Sierra Meeting Club," she said, citing "endless meetings" and frustrating contentious debates within the board while fighting "endless battles, constant threats to the same things you won last year" in efforts to protect the environment.
POST's method is one of decisive action; of negotiating donations or discounted sale of properties, raising funds privately to acquire the lands, then conveying them to public entities, including the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
Her first big challenge was to raise $2 million in six months to protect the 1,200-acre Cowell Ranch, south of Half Moon Bay, which was then threatened with development.
In the late 1990s, POST raised $33.5 million that went to protecting more than 12,500 acres of land, including the 1,623-acre Bair Island off Redwood City, once threatened with a major development by Mobil Land Company and later by a Japanese firm.
A $200 million campaign called "Saving the Endangered Coast" was launched in 2001 with two $50 million gifts from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. It was the largest land-protection effort ever by any local land trust in the United States, according to Rust.
Lands protected include the 3,681-acre Driscoll Ranch in La Honda and the 4,262-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra near Montara. Overall, the effort preserved more than 20,000 acres along the San Mateo County coast. POST recently has been expanding the concept of continuing agricultural and timber-harvesting in select areas.
Rust has said the challenge POST and similar organizations now face is to stimulate the younger generation of the high-tech rich to see the link between their global electronic vision and the local environment in which their success is nurtured.
"This economic engine here is so completely integrated to the natural systems surrounding it," Rust says. Many firms "would not be here if we didn't have that beauty and accessibility around us," which their employees treasure and use.
"We have to keep that core alive."
The City Council proclamation honoring Rust will be the second item on the council agenda. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
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