Bob Klausner, a behind-the-scenes environmental advocate so effective that he became known in political circles as the “the sixth supervisor,” died this week at the age of 89. Klausner moved to Santa Barbara in 1973 after achieving wealth and success selling elastic fabrics used for the manufacture of girdles, brassieres, and bikinis. Falling into a 20-year swoon with his new adopted hometown, he helped start the South Coast’s first recycling program, whose revenues sustained the newly formed Community Environmental Council. Later, he would champion land-use initiatives to limit new development while advocating zoning changes to better balance the creation of new jobs with the need for housing.
Throughout most of the 1980s — when the offshore oil fields in the Santa Barbara Channel were second only to Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay — Klausner helped spearhead the effort to consolidate the number of onshore oil-processing plants, allowing one for North County and another for the south. When Exxon infamously told county supervisors to “stick it in their ear” over a host of environmental protections then on the table, Klausner — as head of the Citizens Planning Association — provided the countervailing force. Ultimately, the supervisors adopted the most stringent air-quality standards in the nation, and the oil industry — Exxon included — signed on the dotted line.
Klausner never worked alone, but his piercing analytic clarity added significantly to any coalition effort. When the Santa Barbara City Council selected a developer for what would become Paseo Nuevo, he lobbied successfully for the firm that had agreed to locate the Contemporary Arts Forum — started by his wife, Betty Klausner, a ferocious arts advocate — and Center Stage Theater in the new shopping complex. Klausner and his wife left town in 1993 — moving to San Francisco, where their children lived — but his heart always remained in Santa Barbara. Three years ago, he was roused back into action, helping defeat a proposal to “give” developer Rick Caruso a 10-year break on future bed taxes as an inducement to get Caruso to live up to agreements he’d already made.