Toru Miyoshi, the former Santa Barbara County supervisor who led the charge to shut down the Casmalia toxic waste dump, died this week at age 90. Miyoshi served as supervisor 1982-1990, representing Santa Maria and the 5th District, as well as 12 years on the Santa Maria City Council. Politically, Miyoshi was both a moderate and a maverick; stylistically, he was soft-spoken but outspoken.
Born in Guadalupe, Miyoshi and his two brothers grew up in Santa Maria, where his father owned and ran a general store. In 1942, the United States government began rounding up all Japanese and Japanese-American families living on the West Coast and placing them in internment camps. Miyoshi was 13 when his family was forcibly relocated to the Gila River camp and 17 when he got out. In that time, his mother suffered a stroke. His father lost the family store, as well, and worked afterward as a farm laborer, never, as Miyoshi would later say, “bitching about it.” After his release, Miyoshi served in the Korean War for the United States military. In 1955, he graduated from USC.
As county supervisor, Miyoshi worked closely with the South Coast environmental majority, an affiliation that cost him dearly among North County conservatives. Of all the supervisors, Miyoshi was quickest to recognize what a public hazard the Casmalia dump represented and worked hardest to get it closed. At that time, federal, state, and county regulators insisted the facility was safe and that residents’ complaints about industrial-waste fumes wafting off-site were either exaggerated or made up. Miyoshi would be beaten by Republican Party stalwart Mike Stoker — now West Coast regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency — in 1990. Two years later, Miyoshi would run for the Santa Maria City Council, where he served eight more years (he had previously served on the council 1978-1982). Based on his life experience, Miyoshi had always been quietly but intensely skeptical when it came to pronouncements made by those in positions of authority. After stepping down from the council, Miyoshi grew more outspoken and especially vocal about what he termed official corruption and racism in the Santa Maria Valley.