If nothing else, the timing was impeccable. Just as Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) finds itself pressed to address mounting concerns about the school’s growing impact on a tight housing market and the unneighborly conduct of some students, college officials just announced they’d hired Geoff Green — Santa Barbara’s preeminent grassroots fundraiser for politically progressive causes — as executive director of the school’s foundation.
For the past 18 years, Green has served as executive director for the Fund for Santa Barbara, a relatively small but well-respected nonprofit dedicated to social change. In those 18 years, he has managed to be both low key in personal demeanor but ubiquitously high profile in terms of community engagement. He was first approached by City College President Lori Gaskin in August. “I had to ask, ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do?’” he recalled. Gaskin stated she was “excited and thrilled” that Green agreed to run SBCC’s foundation, adding, “Education is apolitical. It has to be.”
The Foundation for SBCC gives out $3.5 million a year for scholarships, books, and support for financially strapped students who could not otherwise afford to attend the school. Gaskin is hoping to expand that mission to underwrite the cost of faculty positions, as well. It’s a function of economics, she said. The state funds community colleges to the tune of $6,000 a student. By contrast, she noted, UC schools receive $22,000. As Gaskin reads the political tea leaves, neither the governor nor the Legislature are likely to increase funding for community colleges in significant fashion. And with the failure of Measure S, it will fall increasingly to the foundation to make up the difference Gaskin insists is necessary to maintain the college’s “level of excellence.”
Green, the son of educators, said he was drawn both by the mission of City College and by the appeal of a new challenge. “There are freshmen at UCSB who weren’t born when I first started with the Fund for Santa Barbara,” he joked. Gaskin’s passion for educational access, he added, resonated with him. “How do I explain it?” he mused. “She’s smart. At a gut level, I like her; I trust her.” Green said he won’t leave the fund until February, adding that the organization — founded in 1980 — is strong enough financially and organizationally to weather the transition.
Over the years, Green has emerged as a skillful facilitator for community groups, some in serious crisis. When the meltdown over City College’s Adult Education program — now the Center for Lifelong Learning — ignited several years ago, Green served as moderator for some exceptionally heated community discussions. In the bond election this November, some of those old concerns resurfaced and a few new ones emerged with a vengeance.
In response to simmering unrest on the Mesa and the lower Westside over unruly City College students and the “Isla Vistafication” of those neighborhoods, Gaskin created a neighborhood task force and appointed two trustees to sit on it. That task force is focusing on possible remedies for noise, traffic, parking, and housing congestion. At the most recent meeting, held this Monday, much attention was spent discussing ways to bring absentee landlords and slumlords in line.
Traditionally, City Hall has paid little attention to City College’s impact on the area housing market. That’s because City College had made it clear the provision of student housing was way beyond its responsibility or ability. That’s changing. Task force meetings are typically attended by Santa Barbara’s Mayor Helene Schneider, a couple of city councilmembers, and a handful of high-ranking City Hall officials. They’ve all made it clear they want to pursue broader planning discussions over housing and traffic.
Although City College President Gaskin was emphatic that Green was not hired to solve the college’s housing issues — “He’s got more immediate challenges,” she said — it hardly hurts that he sits on the Santa Barbara City Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. Given the stiff challenges confronting City College as it morphs from the area community college that it’s traditionally been into a more regionally identified institution, Green’s skill set would appear to fit Gaskin’s needs. Or as Green explained it, “I guess I have a shot at co-wrestling some of these alligators.”