Naomi Schwartz, a three-term county supervisor and a major player in Santa Barbara’s Democratic and environmental circles, has died. She passed away at approximately 10 a.m. Monday morning following complications from exploratory stomach surgery performed late last week. Though her condition rapidly deteriorated over the last few days, she had been in relatively good health. Her sudden death at age 78 comes as a surprise to many, and she leaves behind four children and three grandchildren.
A former elementary school teacher and New York City native who moved to Santa Barbara in 1967, Schwartz jump-started her career of political activism and public service in the wake of the 1969 oil spill, collecting campaign signatures to create the California Coastal Commission. She later served as one of the commission’s first chairpersons and, from 1982 to 1992, worked as chief of staff for State Senator Gary Hart. She was a founding member of Coastwatch, the Fund for Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, devoting much of her clout as a public figure to the progressive women’s movement.
As Santa Barbara County’s 1st District Supervisor from 1993 to 2004, Schwartz established herself as an understated but powerful political force who earned significant doses of respect on both sides of the aisle. When resistance formed a few years ago to the idea of naming a Victoria Street county building after her, it was former 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno — a conservative ex-cop from Santa Maria — who successfully quieted the naysayers.
During her time on the board, Schwartz saw promise in a young, sharp activist named Salud Carbajal, coaching and grooming him to become 1st District Supervisor, an office he currently holds. “No one cared more deeply about Santa Barbara, and California generally, or worked more passionately to preserve its quality and the public’s enjoyment of it,” said Carbajal in a prepared statement. “Our community has lost a great public servant, leader and friend. Naomi’s legacy will live on for many generations to come.”
Most recently, she headed efforts to restore the historic County Courthouse and served on the Dean’s Council of the Bren School of Environmental Management at UCSB. Her daughter, Deborah, sits on the city’s Planning Commission and ran for City Council last year.
Flags at all county buildings have been lowered to half-staff. Memorial service details will be announced soon.