continued Chase and Klein's PB house, which is also currently home to Chase's 88-year-old ailing mother, could be featured in an environmental magazine. In addition to solar water heating, "The entry deck we've replaced with recycled plastic. The remodel we did used recycled-content lumber," Chase proudly states. It also has an "energy-efficient washing machine and lighting and bulbs...low-flow toilets, low-flow showerheads, drip irrigation."
The airy wooden house shapes the hillside and has a slight view of Mission Bay. Unruly native plants surround a terraced vegetable garden and an environmentally de rigueur compost heap. Southwest-facing front windows, which run the length of the house, open to a large, sunny deck. Outside and inside become one. The childless couple share their home with six cats.
According to city financial-disclosure records, the couple also own a nearby rental property and have a diverse and robust stock portfolio, including a "$2000 to $10,000" stake in the not-so-environmentally friendly Weyerhaeuser lumber company.
Chase's first act of environmentalism was an Earth Day poster she made in seventh grade. She later decided she wanted to make a difference in the environment, saying she "could see the great damage being done in the late '80s and early '90s." She joined the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation.
Her introduction to San Diego's environmental community was a talk by environmental designer and perennial mayoral candidate Jim Bell. "He's still giving the same speech today," says Chase, laughing. "Actually, it's gotten a lot better."
"Earth Day Mom"
Chase's first major environmental involvement was in 1990, on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, when San Diego environmental activists held an EarthFair in Balboa Park. Chase said that her husband was the volunteer "production manager," and she helped coordinate activities.
"It was such a success, the following year people approached [us] to organize it again," said Chase. "Sixteen years later we are still organizing Earth Day.... I think it was [only] two years ago -- three years -- that we started receiving any payment for it. I am the 'Earth Day Mom.' "
Assemblywoman Saldaña said that she worked closely with the couple on that first EarthFair, which later became an indication of Chase's "intermingling" of volunteer and business ventures. Chase's "approach was to take what traditionally was a volunteer activity and make it a career endeavor," said Saldaña.
Ruth Duemler, a former Sierra Club chair who had long been active when Chase first got involved in the club in the late '80s, had a similar assessment, calling Chase "a very determined woman [who] seemed to have her own goals."
Tax records show that in 2003 Chase and Klein earned $60,000 from Earth Day. According to Chase, this is on a par with what they bring in annually for the event. "In other words, not very much," said Chase.
Duemler, who now lives in Oregon, said Chase took ownership of the annual EarthFair. Said Duemler, "I was concerned about it when she took the Earth Day name."
Records filed with the California secretary of state show that "San Diego Earth Day" was incorporated April 7, 1992, as a tax-exempt corporation, with husband Cletus C. Klein as the registered agent and the couple's PB home as the corporation's address. The 2003 tax return shows Klein also acts as the organization's treasurer and bookkeeper. Chase said the new corporation was formed because the "event used to be run through Jim Bell's nonprofit." Once it started to make over $25,000 a year, tax returns would have to be filed and "Jim did not want to do the paperwork."
Chase, reiterating that it was "ten years" before the couple started being compensated, said, "He [Chris] could not afford to [manage the event] anymore without being paid."
The purpose of Earth Day, whose motto is "Think globally and act locally," is, according to Chase, "to create a clean, healthy, prosperous future for everyone and everything."
But to some, the prosperity being created is Chase and her husband's, and it comes at the price of selling out the Sierra Club. Saldaña calls it the "green-washing effect." Chase's fund-raising from corporations has been controversial, resulting in "environmentalists fighting among themselves over whom they should accept money from," said Chase.
Duemler minced no words: "I am concerned when...people come in and take over and make friends with the polluters."
Chase recognized the controversy. "We host 250 different groups, took a very broad definition of who should be involved. It was controversial in the environmental community, but they have mellowed out over the years.
"Maxwell House is not offering to give us money," said Chase, "Exxon is not offering to buy us off, and while people were fighting over who to take money from, a bunch of us went out to organize the event."
So whom does Earth Day's EarthFair raise funds from?
The City of San Diego, for one. The 2005 city budget showed "San Diego Earth Works/Earth Day" receiving $11,995. "We are on the TOT [hotel tax] dole," admitted Chase. In addition, the City's "environmental services [trash] handles the waste management and recycling; the water department did a big display and provides volunteers." But most of the funds are raised from exhibitors and sponsors.
The Earth Day website shows that this year's major corporate sponsors included Sanyo, Starbucks, Target, and Kyocera. In addition, Chase said that Solar Turbines donated $5000. Chase admitted that Solar is "not exactly an environmentally friendly product -- they drop in [turbines] for natural gas pipelines and oil fields." But Chase contends that other factors should be at play as well. Solar is a "long-term company" in San Diego and, according to Chase, has many employees who volunteer for the event. And even though they are "owned by Caterpillar," they are "a local business with local employees."
Another controversial participant is the United States Navy, which Chase says also supplies volunteers. "Why do [we] have the Navy [when] the Navy is the biggest polluter?" asks Chase. "Well, the answer is, the Navy is strictly there [at Earth Day] to educate people about their management of endangered species on Navy land and sometimes about their hazardous-waste-management plan.