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  • Writer's pictureDeirdre McCrohan

Ex-Belvedere mayor Cam Baker was a winemaker, gun-control activist


Former Belvedere Mayor David Cameron “Cam” Baker, a lawyer and political activist turned winemaker, died at his family’s other home in Calistoga March 18 after a long illness. He was 86.


A 60-year resident of Belvedere, Mr. Baker had served one term on the City Council from 1976 to 1980, doing a yearlong turn as mayor in 1978-1979, where he pushed for the creation of Tom Price Park and the adjacent Lagoon Road public tennis courts.


When the future of the China Cabin landmark on Beach Road was in doubt, partly because it blocked views of the bay along the seawall, it was Mr. Baker’s idea to push it closer to the other buildings and turn it sideways to reduce its profile. That move opened up more of the view of the bay to the public and paved the way for the restoration of the China Cabin by the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society in 1979.


More recently, Mr. Baker had been splitting his time between his homes on Corinthian Island and in Napa Valley, where he and wife Katharine “Kate” Solari Baker operated the 128-year-old Larkmead Vineyards estate. Solari Baker had inherited the 150-acre winery in 1993 from her parents, the late Polly and Bruno “Larry” Solari.


At that time, Mr. Baker had been practicing corporate law as the managing partner at Pettit & Martin — the 101 California St. law firm that became infamous for the July 1 mass shooting that started there. A disgruntled man with mental illness entered the 34th-floor offices and opened fire, continuing down through several floors and other firms, ultimately killing eight people and injuring another six. It remains San Francisco’s deadliest mass shooting and was the Bay Area’s until 2021.


Mr. Baker had taken the Tiburon ferry to San Francisco for work that day but was so sick with flu he heeded his wife’s advice and stayed on the ferry, returning to Tiburon. Within the month, he and three other Pettit & Martin partners founded the Legal Community Against Violence, which has since merged with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. He and Solari Baker remained active and donated to gun-control causes ever since.


Mr. Baker practiced corporate law for more than 50 years, 12 of them at Pettit & Martin. About a year after the shootings, he moved to the law firm of Farella, Braun and Martel LLP, only retiring within the last five years or so, his wife said.


Mr. Baker was born in Chicago on Dec. 24, 1937, to Marian and David Cameron Baker. He grew up in Chicago and at the family’s summer home in the North Woods area of Wisconsin. He graduated from Stanford University in 1958 and received his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1961. The same year, he and Solari Baker were married.


Mr. Baker took a job with a law firm in Los Angeles, but he stayed just one year before moving back to San Francisco to join another firm. In 1963, the Bakers bought a house on Acacia Avenue in Belvedere and stayed for seven years before moving to Peninsula Road.


In 1972, they moved to the Belvedere side of Corinthian Island, where they remained. Their 1908 house was designed and built by brothers James H. and Frederick W. Kelley, who founded the Corinthian Land Co. with two others.


He had a lifelong interest in politics and worked hard to support candidates on the local and national levels.


His wife recalled that in 1964, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and amid President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty campaigns, Mr. Baker went to Georgia for the summer and worked with Sargent Shriver — Kennedy’s brother-in-law and special assistant to Johnson — who was working to get the Head Start early-childhood-education program going for low-income children.


Later, as big supporters of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1968, Mr. Baker and his wife were at the Kennedy for President gala in San Francisco on June 1, just two days before his assassination in Los Angeles. Mr. Baker also served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in his native Chicago that August.


As partners running Larkmead, she and Mr. Baker took pride in re-establishing it as a historic and respected vineyard and winery. Taking on the role of general manager, Mr. Baker experimented with different grape varietals, rootstock and clones to find those best suited for the estate’s soil and climate.


In 2005, their longtime friend and Belvedere neighbor, architect Howard Backen, designed a new winery for the site. In 2014, they expanded by building a wine-barrel cellar and opening the Lark Room venue.


They continued to invest in farming and winemaking technology and supported the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California at Davis, where Solari Baker’s parents had forged a close connection with Harold Olmo, one of the university’s first viticulture scholars, known as the “Indiana Jones of viticulture.” Olmo’s first research facility, a clonal station, was at Larkmead, and Larkmead’s cabernet clone has been taken all over the world, Solari Baker said.


Physically active, swimming and bicycling every day before the onset of his illness, Mr. Baker was a member of the Bohemian Club, the San Francisco Yacht Club and the Tiburon Peninsula Club.


Besides his wife, Mr. Baker is survived by their three children, Cameron Baker III of Pleasant Hill, Ann Fitzpatrick Baker of Petaluma and John Solari Baker of San Francisco; and three grandchildren, Cameron Baker IV of Walnut Creek, Lucy H. Baker of Baltimore and Alma Baker-Fielding of Petaluma. His two sisters predeceased him.


Services will be held at a later date and will be private.


Memorial donations may be made to OLE Health Foundation at olehealth.org or 1141 Pear Tree Lane, Napa, CA 94558, or to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence via giffords.org or 268 Bush Street #555, San Francisco, CA 94104.


Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634.

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