I clearly recall the first occasion I met Naomi Schwartz, when both of us went, separately, to testify before the original Regional Coastal Commission, in the early-1970s, about some regional issues. We were both inexperienced and naturally drawn to each other by our nervousness. I don’t recall the issues, but Naomi made a lasting impression. Ironically, we both harangued Gary Hart, who was the local representative on the Regional Commission for the Santa Barbara Ventura area.
A lot of glowing things will be said about Naomi by a lot of people
(they already have been), but the one comment I will always remember was a casual remark made years later by Phil Mees, a staffer with the Coastal Commission, while he was working on the County’s Local Coastal Program and Naomi was then serving on the State Coastal Commission.
Phil and I were in a bar (not sure if it was after work, or just an early break)having a beer and talking, as usual, about how things were going at work. The Commission and County were in the midst of discussions about the County’s Local Coastal Plan, and Naomi was directly involved in the negotiations regarding off-shore oil, Bixby Ranch, the greenhouses in Carpinteria, etc. I asked Phil how having a commissioner participate in the staff discussions was working out. Phil looked down at the foam in his beer and said, “The problem with Naomi … ” and then stopped in mid-sentence.
He seemed to be searching for the right words, and I just waited for him to complete the thought. But he didn’t say anything, he just kept staring at the foam in his beer. After waiting for a few more awkward seconds, I said “So what’s the problem with Naomi?” Phil looked up at me and said “The problem with Naomi is … there just isn’t enough of her to go around.”
Taking a moment to process that observation I said, “Well that is a problem, but there’s damn little we can do about it, except maybe have another beer.”
Which is what we did.
I smile whenever I pass the County building with Naomi’s name on it – almost always makes my day a little bit better. And I’m sure Naomi would have gotten a chuckle out of knowing about two guys talking about her over beers. I meant to tell that story when I was asked, at the last minute, to introduce Naomi at the Commission’s 30th anniversary where she was given a lifetime achievement award, but hadn’t gotten the story together. Well that’s my story now, and I’m sticking to it. – Mark Capelli, Santa Barbara
What incredible sadness we have at Heal the Ocean, when we learned late Monday that Santa Barbara’s illustrious and beloved community figure Naomi Schwartz had died earlier in the day. It seems impossible!
Naomi, who is known throughout Santa Barbara as our County’s 1st District Supervisor for years, was a dear friend to Heal the Ocean, and was in fact responsible for the formation of Heal the Ocean in 1998.
I knew Naomi in the early 1970s, when Naomi was advocating for Proposition 20, the Coastal Zone Conservation Act that, when passed in 1972, established the California Coastal Commission. I lived in Los Angeles at the time, and was working as West Coast stringer for Ocean Science News, Washington, D.C. For some time, I covered ocean politics in California, which included writing not only about the establishment of the Coastal Commission but the California Coastal Act of 1976. When Naomi became a Coastal Commissioner, Ocean Science News assigned me to write about that, too.
Naomi opposed offshore oil, and was an ardent advocate for the environment. So when, in early August, 1998, Hillary’s editorial “Another Day at the Beach” was published in a Sunday edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press, outlining in detail the outrage of local beaches being closed due to pollution, Naomi called Hillary at home that same day and asked to meet.
Together with local attorney Jeff Young, who had proofread the News-Press editorial for accuracy, I went on Thursday, August 13, 1998 to Naomi’s office, where we met with Naomi and Lois Capps aide Ben Romo in Naomi’s supervisorial office on Anapamu Street. “What can we do about this?” Naomi asked us. Jeff Young and I outlined to her five courses of action (which remain Heal the Ocean’s position today). Naomi turned to us and said the fateful words, “Hillary, you should start a public pressure group, we can’t do it by ourselves up here.”
On the following Tuesday, August 18, 1998, when protesters gathered on the steps of the County Administration Building, the supervisors, who were in session, looked down at the street where cars were honking and people were shouting and carrying signs, and Jeff Young and I were announcing the formation of Heal the Ocean. Naomi was the only supervisor to come down into this fray. She came down to speak to the crowd, and she announced that she was committed to our cause.
We fought over the years (ah, Tajiguas!), but we also collaborated, and although we differed a lot of time, Naomi and I really cared for and respected each other. At the time of her retirement from the Board of Supervisors in 2005, we had known each other for over 30 years. One of my fondest memories of Naomi will always be the private lunch we had, after her retirement, at the old 1129 restaurant on State Street. She had found romance and love. I’ll never forget her looking me square in the eye, as she always did over ocean issues, and said, “Hillary, there is life after politics, there really is. I’m going to find you somebody.”
Oh, Naomi! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You never did “find me somebody” but you paved the way of my working for the ocean. Thank you for all you did for me and for all of us! Rest in Peace. – Hillary Hauser, Santa Barbara
Hillary Hauser is the executive director of Heal the Ocean. This letter was first published in the Heal the Ocean Monthly sNewsletter.