Councilmember Eric Friedman often recites memorable quotes to mark big occasions. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, as outgoing Mayor Cathy Murillo passed the gavel to Mayor-Elect Randy Rowse during a ceremony on the steps of City Hall, he had one for each of them.
For Murillo, he offered this from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in reference to Murillo’s strong and steady support of social and environmental causes in her 10 years on the council: “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” More specifically, Friedman pointed to recent legislation on housing and the State Street promenade. “These are accomplishments you can be proud of forever,” he said. “It really changed our city, and you can look back and say you were part of that.”
As Santa Barbara’s first Latina mayor, Murillo was a champion for working families and renters, frequently leading with both her heart and chin on progressive causes. Her tenure as mayor was bookended by crises — the 1/9 Debris Flow and the COVID-19 pandemic — and she leaves as City Hall struggles with the recent departures of multiple department heads as well as strained relations among the council’s Democratic-majority members.
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, a fellow Westside neighbor whom Murillo supported in his 2018 election, said that no matter what her critics may say, “No one can take away that you made history.” Gutierrez lauded Murillo’s longstanding efforts to protect Santa Barbara’s at-risk youth and uplift people of color, explaining as he presented her with a commemorative plaque and bouquet of flowers that she has served as a mentor and role model for him and countless others.
At the mic, Murillo appeared touched by her colleague’s kind words. “I’m feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for 10 years of public service,” she said. “Serving is a gift, but it’s a gift you eventually have to return.” Murillo heaped praise on city staff, describing them as the “foundation of taking care of our community, institutions, and natural environment” and emphasizing, “we set the standard for government services in the area. Our employees are the best, plain and simple.”
Of the many accomplishments she was proud of, Murillo said, she was particularly pleased she could usher in zoning codes for more affordable housing, help in the effort to replace the overtly insensitive street name Indio Muerto with the Chumash word Hutash, advocate for the library, and strengthen protections for renters, the latter two items being issues that had always been near and dear to her mother. “The last two were for you, Mom,” she said.
Murillo said she would miss the camaraderie of City Hall but looked forward to the next chapter of her life in Santa Barbara, a community full of “loving, giving, progressive” people. “I’m glad to live among you,” she said. Turning to Rowse, Murillo had three requests: “Enjoy the parking spot, please be good to our employees, and thank you in advance for taking care of our city.”
To hearty applause from the crowd, Rowse — a moderate though conservative-leaning political animal with no party affiliation — said the “rancor and divisiveness” of Sacramento has no place in Santa Barbara. Any policy decisions made on the council should have a direct benefit to the community and not conform to “political concerns or personal ideology,” he declared.
As he promised during his campaign, Rowse said his top priority as mayor will be to revitalize the city’s business sector, particularly along State Street. He obliquely referenced Santa Barbara’s perennial homelessness problem by describing a need for “clean, secure, well-lighted spaces,” and he gave a special shout-out to public safety officers, “who have always been there for us in some pretty tough times.”
“Our children should be allowed to grow up and thrive in an environment of clean parks and beaches, safe and stimulating public libraries, and free from exposure to substance use and abuse,” he said. “A city that actively prioritizes its youth raises happy, healthy, and well-educated children, and that city works for all of us all the time.”
Friedman’s quote for Rowse, who previously served on the council from 2010 to 2019, came not from a great thinker but from a 1970s sitcom. “You’re Santa Barbara’s Mr. Kotter,” he said. “Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”