Why Is This Man Smiling?

Geoff Green has played a pivotal role in Growing the Fund for Santa Barbara

As director of the Fund for Santa Barbara (FSB) — now entering
its 25th year in operation — Geoff Green has played a pivotal role
promoting many of the grassroots organizations now afflicting Santa
Barbara County’s comfortable and comforting its afflicted. The Fund
provided startup money to the organizers now poised to win passage
of a Living Wage ordinance at the Santa Barbara City Council.
Likewise, the nonprofit group helped transform a loosely knit
gathering of frustrated South Coast mass-transit and commuter-rail
advocates into a potent lobbying force countywide. And thanks to a
small grant from the Fund, a retired attorney has waged a highly
successful rearguard legal campaign against a Santa Barbara
ordinance designed to make it easier for police to ticket poor
people living in their vehicles. And when Santa Maria farmworkers
showed up en masse at a government meeting last Thursday to testify
about inadequate transit services, the elected officials in the
room had Green and the Fund to thank, however reluctantly.

Geoff Green
Paul Wellman

In  a region distinguished by its uncommonly vibrant — and
well-endowed — nonprofit community, the Fund for Santa Barbara has
quietly emerged as the biggest little foundation on the South
Coast. Instead of dispensing traditional charity — as most
nonprofits do — the Fund has successfully prevailed upon those of
means to help those without to redress the basic inequities of
race, sex, and class. For years, the Fund was the only such game in
town, doling out modest grants to activists and organizers that
could not otherwise have been funded. “Geoff is the venture
capitalist,” said Tom Parker of the Hutton Foundation. “He and the
Fund take chances a lot of us can’t. They go places we can’t

Green didn’t create the Fund. It was a thriving concern by the
time he started working there in 1997. But since being anointed
director in 2003, Green has helped increase the Fund’s visibility,
respect, and impact in political circles. He is quick to praise his
fellow workers and boardmembers for their intelligence, creativity,
and passion. He’s equally quick to acknowledge the rare
opportunities the Fund has provided him. Green started his first
day on the job by meeting with extremely low-income
tenants — almost all recent immigrants — who were seeking to create
a housing co-op. At lunch, he met with downtown business leaders
open to or sympathetic with the Fund’s agenda. And in the evening
he attended a staff retreat held at a large Montecito estate. “You
had these three very separate worlds. But my whole purpose
was — and is — to connect them by finding a common vision of what
this community should be like and what social justice should look
like,” he said.

For government officials on the receiving end of FSB-supported
campaigns, the experience is not always pleasant. More than one
Santa Barbara city councilmember has been heard fuming over PUEBLO
organizer Harley Augustino’s uncompromising approach to any
multitude of issues. PUEBLO (People Unified for Economic Justice
Building Leadership Through Organizing) is among the Fund’s largest
recipients. And mass-transit advocate Alex Pujo — with COAST
(Coalition for Sustainable Transportation) — won few friends in
high places when he threatened to sink a major funding initiative
for road improvements if alternative transit needs were not
addressed. Where Augustino and Pujo provide the vinegar,
Green — now 33 — is all honey, radiating calm, savvy, and
affability. “You’re not supposed to be a well-adjusted radical. It
defies the stereotype,” said UCSB Professor Dick Flacks, one of
Green’s longtime political mentors. “But Geoff combines an
unusually strong social conscience with real social grace. It’s
very unusual.” And it has led to some unusual alliances.

Just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, anti-war protesters in a
weekly march down State Street had become so numerous that business
owners complained they were losing customers. Downtown Organization
chief Marshall Rose — who represents those stores — contacted
Green, then actively involved in anti-war activities, for a
pow-wow. Together, they hammered out a deal with the police that
shortened the time needed to close the street. Later Rose invited
Green — along with a few other progressive activists — to join a
business coalition supporting Measure A, which sought to increase
salaries for city councilmembers and the mayor. The pay was so low,
few could afford to serve. Green found himself working on campaign
strategy with the likes of beer baron and restaurant supplier Pete
Jordano, a staunch conservative. “Regardless of our philosophies,
the response when anyone, either a conservative or a liberal, was
asked to run, was always the same,” said Green. “They couldn’t
afford it.” The coalition won easy approval for the council pay

“One big mistake progressives tend to make with people from the
mainstream/conservative establishment is refusing to talk to them,”
Green said. “Where does that leave us? Just talking to ourselves.”
Sometimes even that can prove nearly impossible.

Some moderate Democrats have felt alienated, pushed aside, and
even beaten up by the progressive forces at City Hall.
Councilmember Iya Falcone — a bread-and-butter Democrat with strong
support from the police and fire unions — managed to win reelection
last November, but only after blocking an attempt to knock her off,
orchestrated by more liberal council colleague Das Williams. That
experience so soured Fire Department Captain Pat McElroy — a
lifelong Democrat and longtime union leader — that he changed his
party affiliation to Independent.

Meanwhile, the battles between homeowner/neighborhood activists
opposing increased housing densities as environmentally unsound and
the affordable-housing advocates supporting increased densities as
essential for social justice, are causing a crisis of identity
within liberal circles. “We have got to find the right model where
progressives across the social, political, and environmental camps
can come together and work out their differences. The key is to be
appropriately respectful where people disagree,” he said.
“Progressives have not been particularly good at this over the
decades and it’s cost us a lot.” Starting Up Compared to many
better-known foundations and nonprofits, the Fund for Santa Barbara
is downright puny, giving just $200,000 a year in grants. By
contrast, the Santa Barbara Foundation — the 800-pound gorilla of
Santa Barbara’s fundraising world — distributes $20 million
annually. But compared to the FSB’s early days, it is flush. In its
first year, the Fund distributed just $19,500. Back then most of
the money went as startup grants to organizations packing a
progressive populist punch, including the Santa Barbara Tenants’
Union, Rape Crisis Center, the Legal Defense Center, the Legal Aid
Foundation, and the UCSB Gay People’s Union. The Fund also
supported the arts: El Teatro de la Esperanza, a Chicano theater
troupe, and Rod Lathim’s Santa Barbara Theatre of the
Handicapped — which would later mushroom into the critically
acclaimed Access Theatre — got their first grants from the Fund for
Santa Barbara.

Admittedly, the early days were bumpy. Co-founder and accountant
Dave Peri carried the organization in lean times and no one was
sure how the wealthier boardmembers would react to their tenants’
rights campaign. Some of FSB’s early donors owned rental property.
“I always thought one of those guys was going to say, ‘Hey, this
isn’t such a smart idea,’” recalled Ken Williams, one of the
original boardmembers who is still active as a homeless advocate.
“But you know what — that never happened.”

From the beginning, the Fund was designed to insulate those who
decide where the money would be spent from those who donated the
money. The grant-making committee is stocked with community
activists, believing they will know best who is effective, doing
good work. Though some Santa Barbara philanthropists have shied
away from this setup, overall it has been successful.

The Fund for Santa Barbara has been blessed by a series of
talented executives, including the founding director Nancy
Alexander, Jeannie (Middle) Class, and Alice (Hasler) Gilaroo. In
the early 1990s, Nancy Weiss became director. A fearless fundraiser
and tireless worker, Weiss set out to put the Fund on solid
financial footing. She expanded its donor base, established an
endowment, and increased the number of grants distributed. The
nonprofit’s annual Bread and Roses fundraising bash achieved
critical mass when it became the stuff of society columns. Weiss
also brought the Fund into Santa Barbara’s complex nonprofit world
with a campaign of strategic schmoozing. By building good relations
with other nonprofits, she could expand the range of resources the
Fund could direct to an issue. It proved to be a fruitful

Weiss and others, however, began to worry whether they were
pursuing their basic mission with enough vigor. “We were turning
away groups and individuals who were doing really good work,” she
said because many activists lacked an IRS-certified nonprofit
status which they then believed legally precluded FSB from funding.
Eventually, Weiss and Green concluded they’d been too cautious, and
the Fund now routinely makes donations to groups and individuals
without tax-exempt status — the only foundation in town to do so.
“If we’re challenged, we’re ready to back up our choice,” said
Green, “but to date we have never been challenged.” For example, it
supported a group of Spanish-speaking tenants seeking to organize
against their landlord, Dario Pini, because of extreme habitability
complaints. Working with the Environmental Defense Center — which
the Fund has also supported — the tenants took Pini to court and
forced him to remove the lead-based paint on the walls and pay
their relocation costs. (Weiss’s husband, Marc Chytilo, was
director of the EDC at the time.) Greener Pastures It was in 1997
that Weiss hired Green as her assistant. At the time, Green was
working as a park ranger in Yosemite. But before that, Green had
spent more than 10 years reveling in the intense, inspiring, insane
energy of Isla Vista politics.

When Green enrolled in UCSB in 1990, he was already politically
precocious. As a high school student in Freemont, Green — then a
self-described theater geek — had been elected to represent his
peers on the local school board. His parents were politically
active, but more in union politics. His father, a juvenile
probation-officer, was shop steward. And Green recalls walking the
picket line with his mother, a sixth-grade math teacher, during a
teacher strike. But what Green remembers most about his childhood
is that, “I couldn’t get away with anything.”

When Green entered UCSB — from where his mother graduated in
1967 — he became his dorm’s residential assistant, got involved in
campus orientation activities, and won a seat on the Associated
Students (AS) board. Initially, Green said the campus radicals
regarded him as “just another AS lackey.” But over time, his
political emphasis shifted as campus activism increased. Students
were protesting fee increases and the dissolution of affirmative
action; they were demanding an ethnic studies curriculum to fight
racism. Green — who grew up in a multicultural neighborhood where
“there was no majority anything” — said his experience with
minority undergraduates as a dorm resident opened his eyes to the
impacts of racism. “I had been naïve enough to think things were
more equal than they really were,” he said. “That’s what I had to
grow out of.”

Green ran for AS president in 1993 and won. He served on the
committee that recommended Henry Yang to be the new UCSB chancellor
in ’94. He had a show on KCSB radio and wrote a column for UCSB’s
newspaper, the Daily Nexus. And he fell into the intellectual orbit
of sociology professor Dick Flacks, who, since he arrived on campus
more than 30 years ago, has encouraged left-minded students toward
activisim. Normally somewhat reserved, Flacks actually giggles when
discussing Green. “I’ve worked with a lot of talented people from
his generation,” said Flacks. “But he is really exceptional in a
really exceptional group.” But like many UCSB activists, Green came
close to impaling his youthful idealism by serving a stint on the
Isla Vista Recreation and Park and District (IVRPD) board, to which
he was elected in 1994. At the time, the IVRPD was even more gonzo
a governmental agency than the community it sought to serve.
Relations between the board’s property-owner representatives and
its student activist reps were toxic. Board meetings frequently
devolved into encounter sessions full of spit and venom. At one
point Green and the board majority were proposing planting flora
native to the area. One of the boardmembers representing property
owners turned to Green and said, “You know, that’s exactly what the
Nazis did.”

Shortly after this meeting Green exiled himself to Yosemite
National Park, where he stayed for two years. But Dick Flacks, then
on the FSB board, wooed him back to Santa Barbara with a job at the
Fund in October 1997. Tricks of the Trade As a tag team, Weiss and
Green complemented each other uncommonly well. Where Weiss was
intense, Green proved easygoing. Where Weiss focused her energy
finding new sources of money, Green beat the bushes looking for new
activists and new campaigns on which to spend it. And together,
they expanded the Fund’s profile throughout the community.

Green also set out to translate passions into concrete political
action. “Some people will come up with great ideas, but don’t know
how to make it happen,” said Green. Longtime environmental
agitator — and former Fund boardmember — Greg Helms marveled at
Green’s capacity for tedium. “He’s willing to sink his teeth into
the most boring behind-the-scenes work. I get a headache just
thinking about it, but Geoff gets off helping people find a kernel
of something fundable and even visionary in their passion.” Since
the FSB lacked the capacity to give major grants, Weiss and Green
initiated a training program for activists in grant-writing skills,
fundraising techniques, and the rudiments of grassroots organizing.
Much of this handholding involves explaining how to work the media,
or how to approach elected officials. The trick? Be very prepared.
The other trick? Know if anyone else is doing the same kind of work
and, if possible, join forces.

Given the widespread respect the Fund now enjoys throughout the
nonprofit community, a Fund grant bestows on recipients the
nonprofit equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Frequently, Green will contact other foundation heads with funding
recommendations for groups the Fund helped start. Increasingly,
other foundations take such recommendations to heart. The Hutton
Foundation’s Tom Parker said he was especially impressed with the
Fund’s ability to find and sustain organizations working with Santa
Barbara’s Latino Community. “That’s what we all need to focus on,”
he said. “After all, that’s the future of this community.”
Reflecting the Fund’s respectability, Green recently was selected
by the Santa Barbara Foundation as the recipient of its Catherine
Harvey Fellowship, which is designed to school promising young
community leaders.

Nowhere is the Fund’s expanding scope more dramatic than in
North County. As South Coast liberals bemoan North County’s growing
political dominion on the county Board of Supervisors, the
Fund — under Weiss and Green — has been supporting organizations
seeking to establish a progressive constituency in the north. In
1996, the Fund issued the first of many grants to help Mixtec
strawberry pickers organize. (It was believed by the farm labor
recruiters who brought the Mixtecs from Mexico that they would be
cheaper and more docile.) About the same time, the Fund issued a
grant for the Central Coast Environmental Health Education Project,
sponsored by the Environmental Defense Center and designed to help
farmworkers deal with effects of pesticide exposure. Today, both
projects remain vital.

Andy Caldwell, the irrepressibly conservative lobbyist with
COLAB — a property rights advocacy group sponsored primarily by
North County big agricultural and business interests — is quick to
dismiss the work done by many of the North County groups sponsored
by the Fund. Caldwell said he didn’t know Green personally, but
added, “By looking at the names of the groups on their vile list,
they’re the sort that couldn’t make it up here on their own.”

Such comments only make Green smile. And for good reason. Fully
one-third of the activists now serving on the Fund’s grant-making
committee come from North County. And the Fund can take credit for
fostering at least three of the organizations making the loudest
noise on behalf of public transportation in Santa Maria: PUEBLO,
COAST, and SBCAN. At a recent Santa Barbara County Association of
Governments meeting, so many Spanish- and Mixtec-speaking
farmworkers showed up that 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno, the
conservative Republican representing Santa Maria, suggested the
county fund translation services to accommodate everyone
participating. This marked a small but dramatic reversal from
Centeno’s previous vote against such services on the grounds that
the county could not afford them. The Long Run In the meantime,
Green has no expectations that members of the left will stop
squabbling among themselves anytime soon or that poverty, racism,
pollution, and environmental destruction will disappear within his
lifetime. But in the long run, he remains that rare individual, a
left-wing optimist. “If you look back over the past 30 years and
ask yourself: ‘Have things gotten better?’ You have to answer yes,”
he said. “And I have to think that 50 years from now, people will
look back and say the same thing.” Maybe that’s why he’s


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