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Cathy Murillo and her dog Roxy

Paul Wellman/S.B. Independent

Cathy Murillo and her dog Roxy


The S.B. Questionnaire: Cathy Murillo

Talking Career and Life with the Journalist-Turned-City Councilmember


Whenever I run into Cathy Murillo, I’m struck by how genuinely warm she is to everyone she encounters.

The first Latina to be elected for City Council, Cathy was a longtime activist and a journalist before being sworn in 2012. For years, she was a news reporter for The Santa Barbara Independent and then became the news and public affairs director for KCSB 91.9 FM, UCSB’s radio station. She’s always been a hard worker (sometimes holding down two jobs to make ends meet), whip smart, and extremely confident — qualities that I’ve always admired.

Cathy broke away from the dais to answer the Proust questionnaire.

What is your current state of mind?

I am entering a new chapter in my life. I just turned 54 and I’ve never been better acquainted with myself. I never had children and have always been a career woman. Now, my life is about public service, improving people’s lives through political decision-making and community work where I can share my political power. I’m in a state of anticipation.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’ve heard myself described as bubbly. But I do have a serious side. I value my intelligence more than anything. I grew up in a sexist environment where girls were not expected to be smart and we certainly couldn’t show off that we knew the answers. I’m grateful I was born with extra brain power.

What do you like most about your job?

Meeting people, speaking to them about their lives, their businesses, their opinions. Finding out how we are the same, more than we are different.

What is the quality you most like in people?

Loyalty, without a doubt. I know we are all trying to make a living and be happy and that isn’t easy in Santa Barbara, depending on what resources you start out with. So what matters is how we interact with others, and how fair we treat others. Loyalty is a matter of personal integrity.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

Dishonesty. If you don’t like my politics or a vote that I made, let me know. I can always handle the truth. Well, let me know nicely. I also dislike when people are mean about something when they don’t have to be. Courtesy goes a long way.

Who do you most admire

So many people. People trying to improve women’s lives in third world countries — heck, in this country! Pro-bono lawyers are awesome. People who rescue dogs and cats. Teachers who work hard for modest pay trying to build strong children into strong adults. Artists who insist on making a living by dancing or painting or sculpting or acting.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The feeling after yoga class, when I feel connected to the world in a peaceful way, and my chi is flowing, my body is tired but feels wonderful, and I can lay there on the floor in savasana and just be quiet and not think about anything.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear the time when my siblings grow old and pass away. I have two brothers and two sisters, and some cousins I hold dearly. We’ve been on this journey together our whole lives, opening presents on Christmas morning as little kids, watching each other grow up. Our family gatherings are so precious now. I know I will be able to stand the pain when it happens, but right now I can’t imagine myself without my sisters especially.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Foot massages. Getting my hair done by a professional — for me, this is not a do-it-yourself activity.

What do you most value in friends?

Being easy-going. Relationships are give and take. We won’t always get our way. I’ve learned to let go of expectations and have acceptance for friends’ quirks or needs, so I hope they can put up with mine!

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Awesome and Awesome Sauce. I like being a cheerleader with people, especially on Facebook, so I try to encourage them, their projects, their goals. Awesome!

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’m glad for the talents I do have. I have always been a writer (plays, short stories, news writing), and I’m good at cooking and dancing. However, I wish I was a more confident singer. I’ve had singing lessons because I was a theater major in college and they only helped me be a weak singer rather than a bad singer.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

That I tend to worry about things. It is a constant practice to remind myself that worrying never helps. It is a place of being without faith. I have made great strides in this area over the years, I should add. I try not to worry about worrying.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I came from an alcoholic home, so I am really happy that I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. For your readers who are familiar with this particular challenge in life, there is much to celebrate living without being a slave to self-destructive urges.

Where would you most like to live?

Santa Barbara, but at a house on the beach. When I was a student living in Isla Vista, I got to live oceanside Del Playa for two summers in a row. It was lovely hearing the ocean so close. The air is refreshing and morning coffee took on a whole different meaning.

What is your most treasured possession?

Well, I guess my pets, though they kind of own me. I have a pitbull terrier and two cats, both black, one long-hair, the other short. They are so much trouble (cat litter box, flea control, vet bills), but they complete me somehow. Also, I have in my possession my mother’s sewing basket and my grandmother’s button jar. It’s an MJB Coffee jar. I cherish those items.

What makes you laugh the most?

Will Ferrell movies. I have inside jokes with myself, lines from movies, for instance, that help me keep things light. Gosh, I need to laugh more. Serving on the City Council is such serious business. Everything is high stakes. I try to spend my off time with friends who have a laugh-response to things in general. And I try to be one of those people who walk around with a light and cheerful touch.

What is your motto?

Strong, Smart, Bold. I stole that from Girls Inc. I repeat that when things get scary in politics.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

As an actor (in UCSB’s acting program) I really connected with Shakespeare’s Richard II when he returns to his homeland and is overcome with love and pride as he falls to his knees and touches the earth. I know the character and the scene are partly fictionalized, but I experience that same aching love for Santa Barbara and dramatic relief to be back on home soil after traveling.

On what occasion do you lie?

I have a high standard on that one. I don’t lie. I might avoid saying something if it will hurt someone’s feelings.

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