County Planning Commissioner Cecilia Brown | Credit: Paul Wellman File

After 14 years of digesting massive, complex planning documents on almost a weekly basis, Cecilia Brown has called it quits and stepped off the County Planning Commission, where she functioned as a persistent, congenial, and always prepared voice of Goleta community pride. She’s been replaced by Laura Bridley, a career planning consultant, longtime contract planner for the City of Goleta, and Santa Barbara city resident.

Brown, a retired naval officer, served at the pleasure of three different 2nd District county supervisors — Susan Rose, Janet Wolf, and Gregg Hart. She’d initially hoped to remain on the commission long enough to see ERG’s oil development project proposed for Cat Canyon to completion. But that project — the first of three major steam-injection projects with a combined carbon dioxide footprint of 760,000 metric tons a year, 250,000 of which come from the ERG project — kept getting pushed back. 

In recent weeks, the proposed project — a target for climate-change activists — has been delayed indefinitely to allow for a major redesign to install solar panels to help meet the project’s power needs. How much that reduces the project’s carbon footprint, however, remains far from clear. In addition, ERG — which has been long floundering under the shadow of bankruptcy — has just recently been sold. Brown, approaching her 75th birthday, could no longer wait. She has trees in her backyard to sit under, she explained, and mountains on the horizon in serious need of staring.

Brown broke into local politics as a neighborhood activist with the Patterson Avenue Neighborhood Association in 2000; two years later she was appointed to the City of Goleta’s Design Review Board, on which she served 10 years. From there, it was the Planning Commission — politically quiet but extremely influential — working overtime on community plans for Goleta, Santa Ynez Valley, and the Gaviota Coast, all politically challenging and technically channeling efforts. 

Brown laughed about one project — backed strongly by former county CEO Mike Brown — that would have built a massive new residential community cheek by jowl with existing oil operations near Orcutt. That project died a long and painful death.

Brown attended UCSB in the 1960s, swimming on the swim team and majoring in biology and physical education. After six years on campus — “I just liked being a student,” she said — her mother suggested she think about the armed forces. That was in 1968. The U.S. Navy proved open to the possibility of women in leadership positions, she said, and Brown spent much of her deployment on the East Coast, in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. “I was in the bow-wave of women in the service,” she said.

After 24 years in uniform, Brown moved back to Goleta, where she attended college and got involved in community affairs. On the Planning Commission, Brown was a champion of greater public participation. The commission on which she served has enjoyed an unusual degree of continuity, cohesion, and collegiality even if the votes frequently reflected the county’s north-south differences. First District commissioner Michael Cooney, who is expected to step down next year, has served 15 years. 

“I stepped down. It’s done. It’s over,” Brown declared, adding, “Onward, fair winds and following seas.”


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