To be recognized for your achievements by your peers is an honor, of course. But according to Cambria attorney Margaret “P.J.” Webb, being singled out by a regional legend in your field, and the trust he created, is beyond gratifying.
She received the Bill Denneen Environmental Trust Award Feb. 4. Since Denneen funded the legacy trust, the honor has been bestowed on more than 100 recipients, including Cambrians Jesse Arnold and Mark DiMaggio.
Webb said she had no clue ahead of time that she would be receiving the award.
“I went to a meeting with the Chumash Council and the team working toward marine sanctuary protection for our coast,” she said the next day. Denneen’s trust “acknowledges local activists and helps them with their work. I am extremely honored by this acknowledgement … As a ‘North Coast girl,’ I find it humbling to be honored by a ‘South Coast’ icon!”
Denneen, 92, has spent decades defending California’s coastline. On his 90th birthday in 2015, he was deemed “a national treasure” by then-Rep. Lois Capps at a birthday celebration attended by about 150 well-wishers. Supervisor Bruce Gibson called Denneen “the county’s environmental conscience,” and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian was among many others who lauded the honoree that day.
The environmental legend is known for his thick white beard and hair, piercing blue eyes, and his hiking boots and shorts, but especially for his self-proclaimed “eco-hooligan” status, vision, activism and accomplishments.
Denneen was a D-Day medic who moved to Nipomo in 1960 to teach biology at Santa Maria High School before switching to Allan Hancock College, where he worked for 25 years. The retired biologist and longtime activist was a founding member of People for the Nipomo Dunes National Seashore, which in turn was instrumental in The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of 2,550 acres for permanent preservation of the dune area in South County.
Alongside activist Kathleen Goddard-Jones, known as “The Lady of the Dunes,” Denneen helped persuade PG&E to not build a power plant it had proposed for the Nipomo Dunes area.
At that 2015 birthday celebration, Denneen was surprised to receive an award from the trust, saying later, “That means I’ve arrived. I’m so thrilled to receive my own award.”
Webb stressed that “I do not work alone. I am always on a team, and it is the synergy of the team that makes movement happen. I cannot think of a single action that I have taken in my activism where I was not standing in spirit or in person with others. So, I was pretty speechless (uncharacteristically) and awed by the honor. …
“The outpouring of love, support and strength of my colleagues is what makes this power of the people work, and Bill’s spirit certainly paved the way for us and continues to nurture!”
Webb also received a photograph of the Nipomo Dunes and the book, “Natural History of the Nipomo Mesa Region.”
Her environmental accomplishments cover a wide spectrum. She has chaired the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council since 2014, and has served as an at-large representative there since 2004.
She received a National Marine Sanctuaries Volunteer of the Year award in 2011.
Webb has been a driving force behind protecting shoreline waters in the gap between the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands sanctuaries. She worked with the Marine Sanctuary Alliance to develop strategies to protect the Central Coast from offshore oil drilling and served as a liaison for the Marine Interest Group, a panel of countywide stakeholders collaborating on issues ranging from coastal business and tourism to water-quality concerns.
She practices public-interest law, focusing primarily on marine conservation, wildlife advocacy and women’s rights.
Webb is known throughout the Central Coast for her advisory, outreach, education and rescue efforts on behalf of The Marine Mammal Center, Friends of the Elephant Seal, Coastal Discovery Center and the Women’s Community Center. She’s also a past president of the county’s Women Lawyers Association.