Robert Palmer, the founding member of the Surfrider Foundation’s Long Beach chapter and vocal opponent of the city’s breakwater, died from complications from the West Nile virus on Friday. He was 68 years old.
In addition to his work with the Surfrider Foundation, during which he held numerous positions, Palmer also founded the Sink the Breakwater project for Surfrider in 1996 during which he tirelessly worked to bring back waves to Long Beach, where he lived, raised his family and ran his private business.
“He was at his core an optimist with seemingly unlimited patience,” according to statement from the Surfrider chapter’s website. “Despite being ridiculed and ignored, Robert and his fellow volunteers persisted in their public education and outreach efforts and by 2005, both the public and city leaders came to think that waves might one day grace our shores.”
Currently, the project is being studied by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Palmer was also known for his efforts to clean the beaches of Long Beach through 30-minute beach cleanups on Granada Avenue and even co-hosted four weekend cleanups per month with volunteer organizations.
“He’s hosted more beach cleanups than anyone in Long Beach sometimes hosting two on the same day,” the website stated. “After seeing so much trash on the beach, he became politically active, successfully lobbying to ban single use plastic bags in Long Beach, which was a critical step in banning them statewide”
Palmer also worked with multiple city administrations to create a citywide ban on disposable Styrofoam from restaurants with an ordinance expected to pass in late 2017, according to the website.
“Robert was a surfer, sailor, motor cyclist, artist, teacher, businessman, environmental activist, husband, and father,” the website read. “His tireless efforts and his presence in Long Beach was a blessing and he will be truly missed.”
Palmer is the first person to die this year in Long Beach due to complications associated with WNV, according to local health officials.
“The death of a Long Beach resident due to West Nile virus is a sad and sobering reminder of the risk posed by mosquito bites,” said Dr. Anissa Davis in a statement today. “We need to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites and minimize risk of WNV infection, especially at this time of the year when the risk of infection is at its highest.”
As of Friday, September 1, three human cases of WNV have been reported in the city of Long Beach, according to the city’s health department. The same number of cases were reported in 2016, with no reported deaths, officials said.
In California, 87 human cases have been reported to date from 34 countries, a decline from 123 human cases reported at the same time last year, according to health officials.
On Friday, the state health department announced three deaths linked to WNV, with the Los Angeles County death connected to a patient from the San Fernando Valley who was hospitalized in early August, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Community leader Justin Rudd mourned the loss of Palmer on social media, thanking him for his help in beach cleanups hosted by Rudd as well as donating cycling magazines to Rudd’s book swap program.