[UPDATED with Plug-In Memorial:] Doug Korthof, Enviro and Electric-Car Activist, Loses Battle with Lung Cancer

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UPDATE, FEB. 14, 2:31 P.M.: What a wonderful way to mark Valentine's Day: Adopt a Charger ("Accelerating the adoption of plug-in vehicles via fee-free electric car chargers") has established the Doug Korthof Memorial Charger Fund. Money raised will be used to install and maintain a charging station near Korthof's Seal Beach home or alma mater, Cal State Long Beach.

The site explains why it is honoring Korthof that way, after the jump . . .

It is with a profound sense of loss that we recognize the passing of our friend, fellow EV advocate, and sometime mentor Doug Korthof. Doug was a passionate advocate for plug-in vehicles, who worked tirelessly to educate anyone who would listen about the benefits of electric drive. For those of us involved in the fight to stop the automaker's practice of removing working electric vehicles from the road, Doug was always there, working late night shifts and volunteering to help with most any task. He was a prolific writer whose musings on electric transportation can still be found on numerous websites, some of which he managed himself.

Doug's passions ran far beyond plug-in vehicles. He was also a strong advocate for solar energy, opening the family home to numerous tours, speaking at public events and government hearings, and helping out at his son William's solar business. In his home of Orange County California, Doug is well known for leading roles in stopping the offshore dumping of lightly treated municipal sewerage through the county's ocean outfall pipe. He was also a moving force to reduce the size and scope of development on the Bolsa Chica Wetlands as well as a strong voice for the rights of Native Americans, whose ancestral villages and burial grounds were being disturbed by development.

Doug is survived by his wife Lisa Rosen, and sons William and Ed Korthof.

Doug's loss will be felt far and wide in the Plug-in community.


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ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 8, 10:30 A.M.: Doug Korthof saw a world where we would all be driving electric cars powered by batteries in our garages that are charged by the Sun's rays captured by solar panels on rooftops.

He had the perfect model for this: his one-story, middle-class Seal Beach home.

Korthof believed in an EV future because it would clean our air, fatten our wallets and make our world safer. But he did not buy the "peak oil" argument; I recall him telling me man would die off from air pollution before petroleum runs out.

Call him a martyr: Korthof just died at home while battling lung cancer. He was 68.

Korthof could be abrasive and he did not suffer fools, be they politicos, industry representatives or nosy reporters.

I recall him rising from his seat and bitching out the California Coastal Commission meeting in Long Beach over the desecration of sacred Native American land at Bolsa Chica. The thing is, I believe he had come to the meeting to talk on a different subject.

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Photo by James Bunoan/OC Weekly
Lisa Rosen and her husband Doug Korthof pose by one of their EVs for a Weekly cover story.
At another Coastal Commission meeting, this time in Huntington Beach, the computer programmer who retired to a life of full-time eco-activism cornered in the hallway representatives from Poseidon Resources Group, which is trying to build desalination plants in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, khakis and likely flip-flops, Korthof mockingly berated the two men and one woman donning smart business attire, essentially telling them they didn't know shit and he did.

Then there was the day I spent with him for my May 2003 cover story on what was then a one-man campaign to save the electric car:


After he'd thoroughly bowled me over with his knowledge about the subject, I wondered aloud why someone can't just take rusting cars in junkyards or on blocks in front yards, pull out the gas engines and recycle them into electric cars. Korthof looked at me like I'd just farted in church. He then went into a long explanation about the dissimilar drive trains between gas and electric cars, and how many parts required in the fossil fuel burners would not be required in an EV. Indeed, as I took his Saturn EV1 for a test drive, Korthof pointed to filling stations and auto parts stores, cackling that they would become obsolete in an all-electric future. That was the problem: he believed automakers, oil companies and ancillary auto businesses conspired to kill the electric car in California. Saturn would later end the lease on his EV1 and not even let him buy for more than he'd spent on the lease.

Three years after that test drive, some of Korthof's theories galvanized in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which features Korthof among the politicians, celebrities and car industry reps interviewed on camera. I mentioned how I'd come to know Korthof to filmmaker Chris Paine, and he told me he found the Seal Beach activist through that "Dude, Where's My Electric Car!?!" piece, which he said was among the few news stories in print he could find on the subject while doing research for his film. The Weekly story wound up being reprinted in the documentary's press materials.


Knowing the future was looking dim for Korthof, his family, friends and fellow activists gathered to share the love last month at his Seal Beach home. The Orange County Register's Pat Brennan was there, and he reports many pulled up in electric cars Korthof had convinced them to drive. But, as referenced in the Coastal Commission brushes above, he was not just about EVs. Other actions Korthof was involved in over the years included: the creation of a cultural interpretive center at Hellman Ranch in Seal Beach; the push to get the Orange Couty Sanitation District to step up treatment of wastewater flushed into the ocean off Huntington Beach; and, of course, the decades-long battle to restore the Bolsa Chica wetlands and save the Native American village buried on the mesa overlooking it. There were many, many more eco-missions.

But what he will best be remembered for is his unwavering advocacy of the EV, as demonstrated by his solitary picketing outside automaker yards filled with electric cars the companies refused to sell or re-lease, just waiting to be crushed. In later years, he was embraced by the likes of the Tesla Motors Club, which posted this today: "Doug Korthof, R.I.P."

He can rest knowing that he's paid it forward. He leaves behind a wife who as a county probation officer stood by his side fighting for a cleaner planet. One son, William Korthof, runs a company that promotes energy efficiency through solar panels, gray-water recycling and rainwater-catchment barrels. Another, Ed Korthof, works at Google and relies on solar power for the electric motorcycle he rides to reduce his energy footprint.

Here is how I'll remember Doug Korthof: whipping me around a corner into Belmont Shores in his EV1 as I mention from the passenger seat having just seen an auto industry lobbyist on the tele saying electric cars would exacerbate the energy crisis because dozens more polluting power plants would have to be constructed. "That just goes to show you," he barks back, "that people with an asshole can say all kinds of things."

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