Remembering Carole Schemmerling Selz, who helped start national movement to ‘daylight’ urban creeks

A passionate gardener and lover of nature, Carole served on the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission for over 20 years, beginning in the early 1980s.

Carole Schemmerling Selz. Credit: Schemmerling family

Carole Schemmerling Selz, Oct. 30, 1934 – Aug. 6, 2021

Carole Schemmerling Selz, a longtime Berkeley resident and environmental activist, died peacefully on Aug. 6 at Rashka Care Home in Albany, where she resided for the last two years of her life. She was 86.

Carole was born in Philadelphia and grew up both there and in Cleveland. In high school, she moved with her family to Los Angeles.  It was in L.A. that she first developed her lifelong interest in art, becoming friends with Walter “Chico” Hopps, the owner of the influential Ferus Gallery and such post-war California artists as Ed Keinholz, Hassel Smith and John Altoon. Carole moved to Berkeley in 1969 with her husband, Carl Schemmerling, and their two young children. Embracing the progressive spirit of the city, Carole immersed herself in local politics and community work. She was involved in a pioneering effort to calm traffic by erecting barriers on Berkeley streets to make them safer for pedestrians and children. She also worked for several years as a volunteer at Suicide Prevention. 

It was as an activist in the early urban environmental movement, however, that Carole found her true calling. A passionate gardener and lover of nature, Carole served on the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission for over 20 years, beginning in the early 1980s. In 1982 she became one of the founding members of the Urban Creeks Council, a coalition of creek activists formed to protect, preserve and restore urban creeks. In 1983 Carole partnered with landscape architects to pressure the city of Berkeley to open up an underground culvert containing Strawberry Creek in an abandoned rail yard that was being developed into a park. With the support of high-profile people such as East Bay Regional Park District director Mary Jeffords and environmentalist David Brower, Carole and her allies prevailed, and Strawberry Creek was freed from its culvert to flow through the new park. Carole coined the term “creek daylighting.” Initially viewed as dangerous and reckless, the concept spread nationally. She became the driving force behind daylighting Blackberry Creek in the Thousands Oaks school yard, a project completed in 1995, as well as daylighting a section of Codornices Creek at Ninth Street in Berkeley. The Urban Creeks Council, renamed the California Urban Streams Partnership in 2013, just completed a stream restoration project on Codornices Creek at Kains Avenue near the Berkeley-Albany border that Carole advocated for. 

In 1983 Carole remarried, to Peter Selz, a prominent UC Berkeley professor and art historian. She remained with him until his death in 2019. Together they traveled all over the world and, at their home in the Berkeley Hills, entertained an eclectic mix of people in arts and academia. Carole was a natural hostess who delighted in setting a beautiful table and always made her guests feel welcome. She had, as one friend put it, “an exceptional talent for friendship,” just as she had a gift for defusing opposition to controversial urban creek projects and creating community and political support for the “daylighting” concept. Her sense of humor and ability to connect with all the stakeholders involved was widely appreciated by the urban environmental community, as was the critical support she provided to often disparaged and marginalized activists. 

In the midst of all her activities, Carole always made time for her family. A devoted mother and a doting grandmother, she derived great joy from all the children in her life. She is survived by her sister, Lora Sharnoff; her daughters, Mia Baldwin and Kryssa Schemmerling; her stepdaughters, Tanya Selz and Gabrielle Selz; her foster son, Kevin Cox; and her four grandchildren. A private memorial will be held for her in lieu of a funeral. 

Donations in memory of Carole Schemmerling Selz can be made to California Urban Streams Partnership