ASK MR. BROOKS: I know that in some circles Supervisor Brooks Firestone couldn’t buy a friend. But I’ve always liked the guy. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Brooks’s patrician enthusiasm, his congenial affability that masks a cold, steely will. How could I be expected to resist someone who informs you, as Brooks recently did me, “Despite your little, twisted mind, I enjoy speaking to you.”
Some might be offended, but I know Brooks meant this with sincere affection. Firestone is very much in the news these days, embroiled as he is in a high-profile frenzy of colossal downsizing. Two weeks ago, he announced he was selling off the sprawling Santa Ynez vineyards that bear the Firestone name. It was time, he explained, without a shred of sentiment for an operation that had proved pivotal in the creation of the Santa Ynez wine industry. But of more immediate concern to the general public, Brooks announced last Friday that he would not seek reelection to the Board of Supervisors after serving three years of his first four-year term in office. The decision makes perfect sense. At age 71, Firestone had to ask himself if he really wanted to spend nine months-and at least half-a-million dollars of his own money-waging a nasty go-for-the-throat campaign just so he could endure four more years pissing off friends and jubilating enemies, all in the name of public service. By the time his second term expired, Firestone would be 76. Maybe there were better ways he and his wife, Kate, could spend their golden years? Why this matters is that Firestone’s district-which encompasses Santa Ynez, Isla Vista, and parts of Goleta-isn’t so much a political jurisdiction as it is a sick joke. A cauldron of political antagonisms and passions, the 3rd District defies easy answers. Given that it also contains the broadest range of eco-systems, habitats, landscapes, lifestyles, and natural beauty in the county, that makes sense. That it also happens to be the key swing district upon which the countywide balance of power pivots makes the stakes incalculably high.
As much sense as his decision makes, it was classic Firestone, sprung impetuously with no advance warning to anyone outside his family, not even his closest aides and assistants. What made the announcement especially surprising was that Brooks held a press conference only last year to announce exactly the opposite. Brooks wanted to dispel pervasive rumors then circulating that he found the job too boring, too exasperating, and too exhausting. Brooks loved being a supervisor, he declared with all his considerable power of enthusiasm; make no mistake, Firestone definitely would be running for reelection. For Brooks to signal left and then turn right comes as no surprise to those who’ve worked with the man. He ran for office four years ago as a bridge builder and a peacemaker who could bring the warring factions of the North and South together. But even before being sworn in, Brooks began lobbing a steady torrent of rhetorical and procedural molotov cocktails at the eco warriors of the South. To the limited extent he ever offered them an olive branch, it was only to beat them over the head. He complained there was no one among the enviros he could talk with; they countered that he never bothered to try. But early on, he started to run afoul of even his own more conservative and countrified constituents.
Firestone, along with Supervisor Joni Gray, thought supervisor meetings went on too dang long, and they set out to “reform” that. Part of the problem, Firestone and Gray deduced, was that the public thought they had a god-given right to speak their piece on matters before the supervisors. But the Gray-Firestone solution to the problem proved so draconian that even foam-at-the-mouth conservatives objected and the matter was shelved. Firestone’s efforts “to get things done” alienated not just the enviros in the south, but many of his loyal and supportive constituents in the Valley. They’ve grown convinced that he’s working to hatch some backroom deal with brilliantly Machiavellian County Exec Mike Brown to sell out the Santa Ynez Valley to developers in hopes of shoring up what they regard as the county’s fragile fiscal foundation. These two camps combined to exact their revenge on Brooks by arguing persuasively that because of Firestone’s sizable holdings in the Valley, the county’s conflict-of-interest rules would bar him from voting on any changes he claims are essential for agriculture’s survival, but which others insist would suburbanize some of the county’s more glorious open spaces.
Ho-hum, you say; how does all this affect me? Let me explain. Firestone may now be the quintessential lame duck. He doesn’t have to worry anymore about the political fallout of his actions. This fact liberates him to no end. Above all, he’s convinced the State of California is financially bankrupt, and were it not for the county’s ridiculously unsustainable rise in property values, Santa Barbara’s finances would likewise be in the toilet. The only solution, as Firestone sees it, is to cut costs and raise revenues. How would this affect you? Well, three weeks from now, the supervisors will hear a proposal to charge parking fees at all county beaches and parks. Right now, we enjoy free parking for such amenities. Many of us regard this blessed state of affairs as a divine right and will recoil mightily at any effort to intrude financially upon our sunset walks upon Santa Barbara’s dwindling sands. Yes, the City of Santa Barbara joined the ranks of professional extortionists and shake-down artists years ago by charging the public for beach parking, and no, the world did not end. But that’s only because the county provided the same amenities nearby for free.
In the meantime, my hunch is that many of you might have a strong opinion on this matter. To communicate it directly, you can call Brooks at 568-2192. And tell him please that the “little twisted mind” sends his fondest regards.