After 37 years of public service, City Airport Director Karen Ramsdell announced that she will retire from her position on December 30. She has served as the Santa Barbara Airport Director for 26 years.

Ms. Ramsdell started her career with the City of Santa Barbara in 1976 in the City Clerk’s Office and accepted a variety of challenging assignments in the following years, including positions with the City’s Redevelopment Agency and Risk Management Program. In 1980, she moved to the Waterfront Department to become the Assistant Harbor Director managing services to harbor users and the boating public. By 1984, she transferred to a similar position at the Airport, serving as the Assistant Airport Director, and was appointed Airport Director in 1987.

With over 26 years at the helm of the Santa Barbara Airport, Ms. Ramsdell is responsible for the maintenance, operations, fiscal management, and long-term capital planning for the airport. She leads a staff of 54 employees and manages a $17 million operating budget. She has provided oversight to the overall planning and development of the $55 million Airline Terminal Improvement Project, which included the construction of a new 72,000 square foot terminal, relocation and renovation of the historic 1942 terminal, and improved roadways and parking facilities. Ms. Ramsdell played a lead role in planning and construction of facilities with an emphasis on modernizing the airport’s passenger amenities and incorporating public art and historical displays. The Airline Terminal and Rental Car Maintenance Facility recently received LEED Gold certifications for operating as high performance green buildings with model sustainability practices. Today, over 700,000 passengers begin or end their travel at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Under her leadership, the Airport made great strides in adopting an Airport Master Plan in 2003 that charted out the use, development, and preservation of 950 acres of airport property, including not only aviation uses, but the Airport’s commercial/industrial property north of Hollister Avenue. Since the airport property includes 400 acres of the Goleta Slough, significant attention was given to restoring the wetlands and habitat for native species, ultimately representing the largest wetlands restoration effort on the Santa Barbara South Coast.

During her tenure as Director, the Airport was successful in receiving over $109 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds for projects that improved airport safety and security for the flying public. She also helped guide the airport through recent challenges in the commercial air service industry, as many airlines reduced flights nationwide and more time was spent to promote Santa Barbara as a viable air destination.

Ms. Ramdsell has worked closely with the Santa Barbara and Goleta Valley Chambers of Commerce to ensure a strong connection between the Airport and the local business community. She is an active member of the American Association of Airport Executives and was named the Airport Executive of the Year in 2000 by their Southwest Chapter. In 1992, she was honored as Santa Barbara County’s Outstanding Woman of the Year (for the 3rd District) and she has earned awards and recognition from the California Association of Airport Executives, the Santa Barbara Business and Professional Women’s Club, Tres Condados Girl Scouts Council, and Soroptmist International of Goleta. In 2011, Santa Barbara Beautiful awarded Ms. Ramsdell the Heritage Oak Award for Lifetime Achievement. She received her Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of California at Santa Barbara.


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