David MacDiarmid, Richmond councilman, dies
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
David MacDiarmid, a political leader in western Contra Costa County for two decades, died last week in Elk Grove. He was 68.
Mr. MacDiarmid earned a reputation as a smart, stubborn and passionate advocate who challenged the industrial interests that controlled Richmond politics for years, fought for public access to the shoreline and advocated open government. But he was also known as a congenial guy with an easygoing style.
"I always thought of him as one of those happy political warriors that came out of the New Deal era," said Rich Oba, a longtime friend who met Mr. MacDiarmid when they headed labor unions at the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
Mr. MacDiarmid served eight years on the Richmond City Council, where he often challenged Chevron's influence over city politics. He lost a race for a third term in 1991.
"He was an independent guy and that got him in trouble with some of the entrenched interests in Richmond," said Tom Butt, a Richmond City Council member. "They weren't used to having someone tell them what to do. They were used to telling the City Council what to do."
Butt credits MacDiarmid with helping push a plan that transformed the city's shoreline. When Mr. MacDiarmid was elected, just 50 yards was open to the public, he said. Today, most of the city's 30-plus miles of shoreline are accessible. He also said Mr. MacDiarmid was the driving force behind the creation of the Richmond Parkway, a busy connection between Interstate 80 and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
"He really is the father of the Richmond Parkway," agreed Rosemary Corbin, who served on the Richmond City Council with Mr. MacDiarmid.
Jim McMillan, another former Richmond council member, described MacDiarmid, often a political foe, as a sharp and fair man whom he eventually came to agree with on many issues.
"He was honest, he was straightforward, he was bright, and he was fair," McMillan said. "I wouldn't want anything else of a man."
Corbin said Mr. MacDiarmid and McMillan would often argue passionately in the parking lot after meetings. McMillan said Mr. MacDiarmid would often call him at home later to poke holes in an argument.
"And he was usually right," McMillan said. "I was shocked when he didn't win his third term - and I missed him."
In 1994, Mr. MacDiarmid was elected to the Contra Costa Community College District board, where he remained until 2006.
Mr. MacDiarmid, who had long struggled with heart disease, died at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Elk Grove of complications related to a lung disease.
Born in 1942 in Balta, N.D., Mr. MacDiarmid attended the University of Montana in Missoula, where he met his future wife of 48 years, Carol. When Mr. MacDiarmid moved with his family to California, Carol followed and they married.
Mr. MacDiarmid worked as a carpenter before deciding to return to school. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at UC Berkeley. He worked as a computer programmer at the East Bay water district for 10 years before leaving to work as a contractor, building houses in Richmond. In 1998, he returned to the water district until retiring in 2008. A year later, he and his wife moved to Elk Grove to be closer to their daughter.
In addition to his wife, Mr. MacDiarmid is survived by his daughter, Karolyn of Sacramento; his son, David Jr. of Platina (Shasta County); a sister, Marilyn Loskot of Platina; and a granddaughter.
A family funeral was held Friday in Elk Grove, and a memorial service will be scheduled later in western Contra Costa County. Memorial contributions may be made to the David MacDiarmid Memorial, Contra Costa College, 2600 Mission Bell Drive, San Pablo, CA 94806 or a favorite charity.
E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page C - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle