Warren Church, who served on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors from 1965 to 1977, a tumultuous time in the county’s history, died Saturday, Sept. 2, at the age of 87, his family announced.
Mr. Church chose to use the California End of Life Option due to terminal illness. The California End of Life Option Act is a statute that allows certain terminally ill adults to request and obtain a prescription for medication to end their lives in a peaceful manner. The law was adopted in June 2016.
His final wish was to spread the word that this choice is available to California residents who are at the end of life and meet the criteria.
A celebration of his life is being planned and a date will be announced soon.
Mr. Church, known as the father of the Monterey County parks system, never missed a board meeting in his 12 years as a Monterey County District 1 supervisor.
He helped turn the tide against Humble Oil’s bid to establish a major refinery in the Moss Landing area in the mid-1960s, by requiring strict environmental regulations regarding such facilities. The project would have kick-started a 3,800-acre industrial complex in Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough that included a nuclear power plant. The board of supervisors voted 3-2 to approve Humble Oil’s facility, but because of the regulations that the board passed to regulate air quality and other factors, Humble Oil decided to build its facility in Benicia instead.
The development of the proposed industrial complex would have irreversibly changed the look and feel of Monterey County. Much of the Monterey Bay’s marine environment, now protected by state and federal law, would have been decimated, and tourism and agriculture would have been greatly diminished.
Mr. Church’s tenure on the board coincided with a period of great change for Monterey County which was instrumental in creating the county that exists today. There was intense pressure to change the character of rural North Monterey County to a densely developed area, which Mr. Church challenged successfully by establishing rural residential zoning in 1972, and growth guidelines for the entire county in 1976 to protect rural areas and the county’s less-urban character.
Mr. Church also sought to preserve the area’s natural beauty by promoting a county parks system, which began with Royal Oaks Park in 1966, which he named, and later was the inspiration for naming the North County community of Royal Oaks.
Born on Oct. 19, 1929 in the Elkhorn area of North Monterey County, just days before the stock market crash that set off the Great Depression, Mr. Church lived in the county all his life. After graduating from King City High School in 1947, he attended Hartnell College in Salinas and then Cal Poly State College in San Luis Obispo. He was drafted in 1951 and sent to Korea with the U.S. Army 987th Artillery Division. There, he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
Mr. Church returned and continued his studies at Cal Poly, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences in 1962. He went on to get a master’s degree and a teaching credential, and taught in Monterey County schools. In 1974, he received the Honored Alumni Award from the university’s alumni association.
In 1959, Mr. Church established Church Christmas Tree Farm on Hidden Valley Road, which is one of the state’s oldest Christmas tree farms in continuous operation.
Mr. Church also helped found American Legion Post 593 in Prunedale; and wrote several books, including “The Overburdened Ark” on population control, and others on the history of North Monterey County.
A LIFE IN POLITICS
In 1964, Mr. Church ran for District 1 Supervisor as one of six candidates. He made the runoff, and then was elected, handily beating incumbent Chester Deaver, who had served three terms on the board. At the time, the position was a part-time one, and came with a typewriter and $300 a month for incidental expenses. Mr. Church was the last supervisor to keep his office at his home and use his personal phone for county business, and never sought reimbursement for either from the county.
Mr. Church was a firm supporter of the Monterey County Free Library System, working to provide four of the five libraries in his district with new and expanded facilities and services during his tenure. He helped create the Monterey County Parks Department, which took over recreational management of Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs.
Other accomplishments included creating the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement Program, initiating the county’s first family planning program, expanding the sheriff’s patrol and litter control, and initiation and support of health and social services programs that included drug and alcohol rehabilitation, formation of the Women’s Commission in 1974 and upgrading of Natividad Medical Center.
He also worked on numerous local and regional boards throughout his life. Gov. Edmund G. Brown appointed him to the California Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Redwood Road and Trail Committee, and the State Local Applications Advisory Board. Mr. Church served on the National Association of Counties, the state and Monterey County Democratic Central Committees, San Felipe Water Importation Committee, and the Tri-County Coastline Committee.
In addition, he served on a variety of governmental bodies for Monterey County, including the Welfare Commission, the planning committee for the Water Resources Agency, Elkhorn Slough Estuarine Sanctuary Committee, Pajaro River Watershed Flood Protection Authority Board, and many others.