Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf announced Tuesday she would not run for reelection in 2018. After representing for 11 years the county’s 2nd District, which spans western Santa Barbara to the Goleta Valley, Wolf said she decided in recent weeks it was time “to give someone else a chance.”
The announcement has been highly anticipated by Santa Barbara political insiders. “I don’t think I could have waited much longer,” she said. Wolf explained she wanted to publicize her decision after the Santa Barbara City Council election last week to make sure people understood the races were separate: “Sometimes there is confusion.” In addition, Wolf expressed satisfaction that the county supervisors finally adopted the Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan after 10 years of wrangling. On a personal note, she added, one of her three adult daughters just had a baby. “Everything just came together, and I said, Okay, this is it. This is the right time.”
Politics, after all, is about timing. Her decision is advantageous for Democrat Gregg Hart, who just last week was reelected to the Santa Barbara City Council. He raised about $144,000 to run against largely unknown candidate Jack Ucciferri, who raised only $4,000. Ucciferri’s key issue was that Hart would soon seek higher office. Hart, when pressed by journalist Jerry Roberts on Newsmakers TV, declined to commit to serve out his full term on the City Council. Hart could use his $144,000 to run for another office. Wolf said she “doesn’t know about Gregg’s plans” and she has not decided whom to endorse. Goleta school boardmember Susan Epstein and Goleta City Councilmember Roger Aceves — both Democrats — are also rumored to want to run for the seat.
For three terms, Wolf has brought a strong liberal, progressive voice to the Board of Supervisors. She has been heavily backed by labor unions. She highlighted Greka’s oil spills before they were widely known, advocated to reduce greenhouse-gas emission standards, championed what she described as “balanced growth,” and emphasized emergency preparedness. Wolf has also taken Sheriff Bill Brown to task for problems associated with County Jail’s fraught medical provider, Corizon. She also led the way to axing a wing of Brown’s North County jail because she claimed it would not provide the treatment programs Brown promised.
In 2005, Wolf’s entrance to county politics came after she spent 12 years on the Goleta school board. She was up against two political quasi-pros: Santa Barbara city councilmembers Das Williams and Dan Secord. Her tough approach surprised those who might have doubted her political chops. She recalled having to forge her own identity because critics charged she was just a shade of outgoing supervisor Susan Rose.
These days, no one mistakes Wolf for anyone else. “What I like most about her is she is not afraid to take on dogs who are bigger than she,” said longtime county government observer J’Amy Brown, now a Montecito planning commissioner. Wolf does not always vote with her fellow progressive Democrats, Das Williams and Joan Hartmann. The three have the majority on the five-member board.
Wolf and Williams have at times publicly sparred since he was elected to the Board of Supervisors last year after serving six years in the State Assembly. Earlier this year, disputes worsened during hearings about library funding. The confrontation occasionally appeared to seep into other hearings. Williams acknowledged they have had “some rocky points,” but added, “I think we are working well together.”
Sometimes, however, opposites attract. Wolf and County Supervisor Peter Adam, who espouses a libertarian, just-off-the-ranch attitude on the dais, have developed an endearing personal friendship. They also happen to share a birthday, May 17. Though they rarely vote the same way, they share a tendency to wholeheartedly support what they believe in. Their critics call them rigidly ideological.
After the 2016 election, the dynamic of the Board of Supervisors changed with the departure of Doreen Farr and Salud Carbajal, now Santa Barbara’s congressmember. Hartmann and Williams replaced them. Wolf acknowledged there is “always an adjustment” after the change. She likened it to a new son- or daughter-in-law joining a family. “You are a little off balance, and then after a while they are just part of the family,” she said.
Wolf explained she waited to announce her decision because she did not want to be thought of as a lame duck. “I am as fierce and will work as hard as I ever have,” she said during an interview in her home. Yet her eyes filled with a few tears as she talked about stepping down. “I love what I do,” she said. Sitting beside her on the couch, her chief of staff, Mary O’Gorman — whom Wolf described as the “yin to her yang” — reminded her that she has a whole year left.