For the past 20 years, I’ve observed a remarkable quality about Santa Barbara: it allows residents to reinvent themselves — even, in some cases, with repeated permutations.
In 2001, after my own professional failure, I came to Summerland and opened The French Bulldog Café, which is where I befriended Kathi King. She’s been the outreach and education director of the Community Environmental Council (CEC) for the past decade. But when we first met, Kathi had given up a successful Los Angeles career in television three years before to raise her children in Montecito.
During our long camaraderie, we’ve both gone through numerous career transformations. “I’ve now worked at CEC longer than I’ve ever worked anywhere else,” says Kathi, who, among other things, is responsible for putting on the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. “
Kathi was born outside of Boston and lived there until she was four years old. “My dad was in the Navy, so we moved around quite a bit,” she explains. “We moved to the Bay Area and then to Oxnard.” She attended Oxnard High School, which is where she met her future husband, writer Jeff King. “We were high school sweethearts since we were 17,” she proudly admits.
“I wrote a lot as a kid,” she says. “I thought I was going to go into journalism.” She attended San Diego State, but the journalism program had lost its accreditation. Instead, she got a degree in TV and film production, which was a “very hands-on program.” She loved editing, as it offered a “wider scope of a career.” She made Super 8 movies and worked in the student TV studio, where she directed lacrosse coverage and even got to film an exhibition game between the SDSU Aztecs and the San Diego Padres. She married Jeff, who majored in English, six months after graduation.
Kathi worked at Lorimar Television for seven years, and was an associate producer on Full House for three years, handling syndication cuts in between seasons. “To this day, I do career day for Santa Barbara’s Partners in Education,” explains Kathi, who always excites students when she mentions Full House.
After her daughter, Miranda, was born, Kathi semi-retired, as Jeff’s career as a TV writer was taking off. After the birth of her son, Duncan, they moved to Santa Barbara. “Growing up in Oxnard, this was the Holy Grail,” says Kathi, who recalls coming to the BIltmore for dinner before her prom.
Kathi soon went back to work, but as a volunteer, serving as president of the Montecito Union School PTA and helping out at the YMCA. “At some point, I got burnt out,” she admits. “You can only work for free for so long.”
She went back to school, doing post-graduate work in environmental studies at Santa Barbara City College. That led her to working on Santa Barbara’s single-use plastic ban. “I’d always been environmentally minded, but I didn’t know what to do with it,” she says. “After becoming a mom, I wanted to part of the solution.”
In January 2008, Kathi was hired by the CEC, and rose up the ranks to her current role. Her TV producing background comes in handy when it’s time for Earth Day. “I put my producing skills to use for a worthwhile cause,” she says.
Kathi is also behind the CEC’s Rethink the Drink bottled water reduction program in schools, which installs hydration stations to cut down on disposable plastic. “We now have 90 stations,” she says. “We’ve done most of South County and are working our way to Ventura.” As of June 2018, the program has prevented nearly four million plastic water bottles from being used. The CEC plans to tackle Styrofoam next.
Kathi greatly admires the CEC’s executive director, Sigrid Wright, and they recently attended the Climate Reality Conference together. “The problem is getting more intense,” Kathi says. “Nighttime heat records are being broken. There’s a much bigger sense of urgency.”
Kathi is also on the board of the Montecito Association and on the Sustainability Committee at Santa Barbara High School, plus she co-chairs the 4th of July celebration in Montecito. About living in Santa Barbara, she says, “I love the size, running into people when I go out. I love chance encounters. It’s so focused on the greater good. My bike commute is the most beautiful in the world. I love the perspective from my bike.”
Kathi King answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your current state of mind?
Cautiously optimistic. It’s a strange time to be an American, but I’m hopeful that we as a nation will turn it around.
What do you like most about your job?
I’m really lucky because my job is also my life’s passion. And I get to work with people who feel the same.
Who do you most admire?
Right now I’m admiring ants for their persistence and teamwork in my kitchen. In general, l admire particular qualities rather than one person.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m a neat freak. It works for and against me, but I like to think it’s mostly positive.
What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring. It’s a sparkling reminder that I found my best friend and soulmate when I was 17.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Traveling with my husband to anywhere we want for however long we want. And our kids can come along, for part of the time. Carbon offsets minimize travel guilt.
What is your greatest fear?
That I can’t protect my kids 24/7. They are currently living thousands of miles away and their safety haunts my dreams.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Clothes shopping. I mitigate it by buying mostly consignment. S.B. has some great stores.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Unfettered optimism. People who are wired to be happy are a mystery to me, but I sure like being around them.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Inauthenticity. People who aren’t being their real “selves” for whatever reason depress me.
What do you most value in friends?
Thoughtfulness and kindness. We have depended upon the kindness of our friends more than ever this year and they have been amazing.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Like.” “Totally.” And “Awesome.” I’ve been in California since I was four.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Perfect pitch. People who can sing well are able to express in two to three minutes what it takes some of us a lifetime to convey.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Rediscovering the ability to relax. It’s hard to slow down even on the weekend but we’re working on it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising kids with my husband. Seeing two people through to adulthood is incredibly soul satisfying.
Where would you most like to live?
Besides Santa Barbara? New York City for the non-stop excitement, diversity, and endless walkable neighborhoods. Florence, Italy for the art, food, and the music that is the Italian language.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband, Jeff. He’s really, really funny.
What is your motto?
The Tennyson quote “I am a part of all I have met” has stuck with me since college. It sums up how I feel about all my interpersonal relationships. I’m always looking to hijack other people’s best qualities.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
My late father. Our shared love of reading bonded us early in my childhood, despite his prolonged absences on military duty. We read Ragtime together while he was in Vietnam.
On what occasion do you lie?
To avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Mostly in an inconsequential way but it still makes me feel bad.