With Montara Mountain, one of the natural wonders it has fought tirelessly to preserve, rising in the background, the Committee for Green Foothills marked its 40th anniversary Sunday with a hike and a picnic.

"We have this smashing day on the coast," President Mary Davey told the crowd gathered at McNee Ranch for the committee's annual members' meeting. "That there are so many of you is a testament to your interest in saving our important natural heritage."

MidCoast Community Council-woman April Vargas, a co-chair of the event, presented resolutions of appreciation to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club and U.S Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, all of whom along with the committee have played critical roles in preserving the area.

In accepting his award, Lantos asked Lennie Roberts, the legislative advocate for the committee, to join him, his wife Annette and his district representative Evelyn Szelenyi, on stage. Lantos called Roberts his "environmental teacher, adviser, counselor, leader and guru."

"I accept this not only on behalf of my 17 grandchildren who will enjoy these incredible places you have saved," the congressman told the crowd, "but for millions of children as well who will enjoy them in the years to come."

Lantos later said the committee has done an incredible job.

"They have a combination of passionate dedication coupled with incredible competence and knowledge," he said. "In a complex and crowded world they preserve areas that allow us to lead a civilized life."

Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, executive director of the committee, said Lantos has always been supportive of local environmental efforts.

"It says a lot about his commitment to the environment and the committee and the community that he came to our picnic," she said.

In an interview, Roberts, who has worked with the group for 30 years, said she has been able to do this kind of work for so long by sticking to the facts and not letting personal feelings interfere.

"You have to be as honest as possible," she said. "You have to find all kinds of ways to work with people and you don't ever burn bridges."

Roberts said that in her advocacy for the group she is most proud of two things: that in 1980 San Mateo County became the first in the state to receive approval for its local coastal plan; and for a countywide initiative later requiring voter approval for any changes to the plan.

Lois Crozier-Hogle is another person who has reason to be proud of the work the committee has done over the years. Crozier-Hogle is one the co-founders of the group along with writer and Stanford University professor Wallace Stegner. Fear of unrestricted development in the foothills led her to start the group in 1962, said Crozier-Hogle, who lives in Palo Alto.

"There were 25 of us," she recalled. "Margaret Mead said a group of 25 committed people can change the face of the earth. We feel we have changed this section of the earth."

When the group began in the early 1960s, the environment was not a popular issue, Crozier-Hogle said.

"We couldn't get much publicity," she added. "People didn't consider the environment important."

Her job as an environmentalist, Crozier-Hogle thinks, is to get people involved.

"What makes me happiest of all is that we've spread the word to this many people," she said, looking around at the crowd.

Jeff Segall is one of the people who has heard the word. The group's track record and advocacy impressed him.

"I knew a good thing when I saw it," he said of his decision to join.

Segall calls Roberts a phenomenal woman.

"What she's accomplished over the years, by referendum and fighting development, is unbelievable," he said.

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