Deborah Schwartz | Credit: Courtesy

An attorney speaking for Deborah Schwartz, the three-term city planning commissioner who unsuccessfully ran for Santa Barbara mayor two years ago as a champion of downtown business interests, conceded that Schwartz had taken a small Navajo rug from Star Rug Cleaners in downtown Santa Barbara without the permission of the owner last November and returned it only late last week. 

“Deborah made a poor decision that she corrected on her next visit to the store to pay for cleaning several rugs,” said attorney John Thyne III. “She asks for patience and understanding. None of us always gets it right.”

According to Mike Jensen, owner of Star Rug, Schwartz took a small Navajo rug ​— ​two feet by three feet ​— ​that he kept on display when she dropped off three rugs to have cleaned on November 15, 2022. When Jensen noticed the rug was missing, he reviewed store security tapes and saw it was Schwartz who took it. In the tape, Schwartz can be seen carefully folding the rug, placing it in her tote bag, and then putting the bag on the ground after the service agent working the front desk left for a back room. 

Jensen said he showed the video to a friend to verify that it was Schwartz. He said he also filed a report with the Santa Barbara Police Department. The rug, he said, was worth anywhere from $800 to $1,500. He said efforts to communicate with Schwartz proved fruitless. Only after the security footage got into public distribution, Jensen said, did Schwartz return it. 

When she turned it in last Thursday, Jensen said, Schwartz said there’d been a miscommunication. Thyne took issue with the notion that the video prompted Schwartz to return the rug. She returned the rug, he said, when she picked up the three rugs she’d had cleaned. She brought in another rug for cleaning at the same time. 

“Her knowledge of the video was concurrent with her returning the rug, but that was correlation rather than causation.” 

He also said, “Deborah has done much to help many throughout our community over the years.” 

Jensen said he dropped the charges once the rug was returned. He said he’d have done the same no matter what the income level of the person who took it. “The point was to get the item returned,” he said. 

As a planning commissioner, Schwartz was known for being commanding and decisive. But as a mayoral candidate, she chose to run her own campaign and didn’t fare well. She came in fourth out of a field of six. Randy Rowse, then a former city councilmember, won with a plurality of 39 percent. 

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