THE 1863-64 BLIGHT: True, our drought is hell, but the granddaddy of all Santa Barbara parched-earth disasters was the 1863-64 blight that killed an estimated 245,000 head of cattle and destroyed forever the rancho empire during the Spanish-Mexican era.
Before the rains came again, the Days of the Dons were over. The great families of Santa Barbara County never recovered, and neither did the cattle industry at anything like that magnitude.
Yankee carpetbaggers were picking up land from ruined rancheros for as little as 10 cents an acre, according to historian Walker A. Tompkins.
The sprawling Jesús María land grant was sold by its impoverished owner, reportedly for a silver saddle and two silk dresses. It is now Vandenberg Air Force Base.
MAYOR CONKLIN? Hal Conklin says he’s thinking seriously about making a second run as mayor of Santa Barbara.
I say second because the four-term City Councilmember served 13 months as mayor before being ousted in 1994 when a court ruled that the city violated its term-limit rule.
Conklin, now retired as Southern California government relations director for Edison, never left Santa Barbara or lost the longing to return as mayor. He says he was often approached to throw his hat back in the ring¸ but with children to put through college, the time was never right.
The term-limit issue is past history, he said, because the ordinance only required him to sit out for two years.
One reason to run for mayor, Conklin told me, is that with the city going to district elections and a new generation taking office, there’s a need for the institutional memory he can bring.
Conklin also senses a city that once was a leader of the environmental movement following the massive 1969 oil spill but now seems to be resting on its laurels and lacks push on many fronts.
Santa Barbara, once hailed as the birthplace of environmentalism, now seems to have lost its vision of the future, he said. “Where is Santa Barbara going?
“I won’t make a decision until next year” about running for mayor, Conklin said. So what happened in 1993-94? He said he sought his attorney’s advice before running for mayor. “The City Council voted that I had the right to run.”
But then a citizen challenged the city’s interpretation of the ordinance, which Conklin himself helped write. A Superior Court judge ruled against the city, and an appellate court agreed. “I was just a bystander” in the legal battle, he said. Conklin resigned in early 1994 and mayor pro tem Harriet Miller replaced him.
He shows no sign of bitterness over the turn of events years ago and retains the sense of humor that has carried him through.
But before Conklin can wield the mayor’s gavel again after the 2017 election, he’ll have to beat what figures to be a large contingent of other hopefuls, probably several presently on the City Council.
NOT ME! I see that your face can adorn the national TV news by simply declaring that you will not accept a nomination to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. “No sir, President Obama, you’ll just have to look elsewhere for someone to wear the black robe.” So far at least, two lawyers have publicly said, “Not me, Mr. President.”
Actually, anyone could make the same announcement — you, my neighbor Will, or even me. Contrary to popular presumption, you don’t have to have an Ivy League law degree or one from anywhere else to be appointed to the highest court in the land. (You don’t need a diploma to hang on the wall, but it sure helps.) Check the U.S. Constitution. Surprisingly, several non-degree men have served on the court. The last was Stanley Reed (1938-57), who graduated from Yale, studied law, but never got a law degree. He was later admitted to the bar and became a top federal official and practicing lawyer when president Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him to the court.
But today, if you don’t have the law degree, forget it.
BASEBALL MUSEUM: I was short of space when I wrote recently about the pre-Jackie Robinson integration Negro Leagues, so a reader reminded me to mention the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.