Retiring 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr (pictured) was attending a contentious public meeting in the Santa Ynez Valley when her former nemesis Steve Pappas leaned in and hugged her. “I bet you’re glad you don’t have to deal with this anymore,” he joked. To the extent that Farr has had a tough tenure, Pappas played a big role. When she won her first election in 2008, he sued her, alleging voter registration fraud. Three years and a half million dollars later, she finally won.
On the Board of Supervisors, Farr has represented a vast, complicated district that spans Isla Vista, the Gaviota Coast, and Santa Ynez. The 3rd District supervisor must work with three sovereign entities — UCSB, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the Chumash. It is a wonder anyone would want the job. More than 100 people packed her retirement party last week, including her four fellow supervisors, who teased her for her excessive use of sticky notes and love of maple bars.
Unassuming, serious, and congenial, Farr emerged as a community activist involved in land-use issues. She impressed with quiet grace and diligence, and became known for hearing everyone out. Conservative commenter Andy Caldwell dismissed her fellow liberal supervisors Janet Wolf and Salud Carbajal as “knee-jerk” and “calculating,” respectively, but called Farr “judicious.” Likewise, Republican Karen Jones, an unrestrained 3rd District supervisorial candidate in the last primary, added, “I write to politicians enough to know what a canned response is, and she doesn’t write those.” She continued, “I am not a hugger, but if I were, I would have hugged her.”
Farr’s geniality withstood difficulties in her private life. Last year, she lost her sister, and her son made local headlines with a drug arrest. More recently, she has cared for her 90-year-old mother, who attended her final board meeting. Farr sat down with The Santa Barbara Independent to reflect on her time in office. Below is an edited version of the conversation.
Do you feel like a politician? The word is so loaded with negative connotation. To me, being a politician is being able to put yourself in a position where your actions and your votes matter. Get things done. It is very face-to-face.
Why were you the only supervisor to vote against the new North County jail? For fiscal reasons. Certainly, if I had the information that I accumulated at the end of the process at the beginning, I would be able to ask better questions and analyze it better. At the end of the day, it is going to be $20 million a year on top of what we’re already spending after it is built. I wasn’t comfortable.
You’ve met regularly with Chumash leaders to work out an agreement on the 1,400 acres the tribe has sought to annex. The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the application, but county supervisors, among others, have appealed it. What’s the board’s position now? It was my idea to have those public meetings. I thought that was important because people get suspicious about these big things. They think they are happening in the back room. We’re nothing if we are not trying to be transparent. It is not an easy issue, but I put my shoulder to the wheel. I did my best. It was at least a good start.
Has UCSB stepped up to the plate in dealing with Isla Vista? As the university has grown, it has forced the discussion of a lot of issues. When I looked at Isla Vista, [I wondered] why didn’t they have streetlights? Why didn’t they have a community center? Real things were lacking that were the county’s responsibility. There was an attitude: “That’s the way it always is, and it’s never going to change.” No, it’s a community of adults.
Then we had public safety issues culminating in the Deltopia riot and the Elliot Rodger incident. How do we make Isla Vista stronger, safer, better? And the community came together and said we’re going to take charge here and talked to the chancellor and administration about this. The positive events and the alternative programming they provide seem to be very successful in drawing people away from Del Playa.
What are you going to do to next? I’m old enough that life is nothing if not change. You need to cultivate resiliency. My two grandchildren (ages 7 and 3) were born since I was first elected. I’m really looking forward to spending time with them. And I’m going to be moving my mom down here.