Jana Zimmer, longtime Santa Barbara resident and onetime deputy county counsel, was appointed to the California Coastal Commission by Assembly Speaker John Perez earlier this week. After the announcement, she was widely praised across a wide spectrum of people and groups for her knowledge, intelligence, and balance.
Zimmer received the stamp of approval not only from environmental groups like Channelkeeper and the Gaviota Coastal Conservancy, but also from the Building and Construction Trades Council. She sits on the county’s Arts Commission as well as the Tax Assessment Appeals Board, placed on both by Supervisor Salud Carbajal who called Zimmer a trusted friend and advisor. She advised him when the Botanic Garden appeal was in front of the Board of Supervisors and sat on the Air Pollution Control District at one time.
Conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, and land use attorneys all seem to be in agreement the choice was a good one by Perez, who had the freedom to choose anyone in the state. Steve Amerikaner, a land use attorney most recently in the news as a rep for the owners of Bixby Ranch, said Zimmer will be an excellent coastal commissioner. “She’s thoughtful, smart, listens well, and those to me are the key attributes of a successful coastal commissioner,” he said, adding they both agreed and disagreed on issues over the years.
Zimmer comes with a deep knowledge of land use and coastal issues spanning decades. She worked for the County Counsel’s office from 1986-1991, at which time she went into private practice. There she continued her work and famously represented the owners of a commercial strip in Carpinteria who sued to have a large Santa Claus removed from atop the building, a lawsuit they won. She also worked in litigation with the Environmental Defense Center to preserve Ellwood Mesa. “We think this is very exciting news,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the EDC.
Zimmer has been out of the spotlight in recent years, having given up her law practice to focus on her art. She’s never had any formal training, but always had a creative impulse. She took some adult ed classes in collage and print making, and enjoyed telling stories through her art. With her analytical brain, said the Loyola Law School grad, “It’s been interesting.”
She recalled in an interview Tuesday that a relative told her, “You can’t sit on two chairs with one tuchus.” So she focused on art for a while and became quite involved in the local scene, most recently taking part in the Arts Commission in January. “I like the opportunity to help select the art that gets incorporated into public projects,” she said of sitting on the board.
Kira Redmond, executive director for Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, explained that it was “very easy” for her water quality-minded outfit to endorse Zimmer’s appointment. Calling Zimmer a “well-known and well-respected land use attorney,” Redmond explained, “She has just been a strong coastal advocate for a long time.”
Zimmer heads to the Coastal Commission at a time when several Santa Barbara County-relevant issues prepare to find themselves before the state agency. Among them is the ongoing debate about Matt Osgood’s controversial bid to put dozens of large luxury homes at Naples, UCSB’s expansion plans, and, of course, the contentious county effort to update its Land Use Development Codes.
Former city councilmember Dan Secord, who himself served on the Coastal Commission for nearly seven years, said having a local on the board is a good thing. Secord, talking from experience, said its beneficial if a commissioner has relationships with local officials and an understanding of important issues facing the county so that person can easily do site visits for items on the Coastal Commission agenda, a luxury normally not possible when talking about an agency that oversees 840 miles of coastline.
He also called Zimmer a good advocate and good attorney, despite “not necessarily being on my side of things.” Zimmer plans to focus on those different viewpoints, listening to people and working out competing values while enforcing the Coastal Act and preserving habitat.
And she’ll keep up with the art while she’s at it. “I still consider myself an artist,” said Zimmer, whose appointment begins immediately and runs for four years. “I decided I can sit on two chairs.”