Archive » August 2, 2012
A community’s tribute to Naomi Schwartz
By Alonzo Orozco, Contributing Writer
Right around the time of the recent June election, the community of Santa Barbara suffered a huge loss. It had nothing to with a loss of tax revenue or the unrealized dream of a bridge not being built because of failed ballot measures, but rather a loss that is irreplaceable.
On June 4, the beach town of incomparable beauty lost one of its long-time leaders, one who helped to create and preserve the popular city it has become today, former county supervisor Naomi Schwartz who died at age 78.
On July 28, a Santa Barbara “family” of public officials, along with hundreds of friends and admirers, came together at the Courthouse Sunken Garden to pay tribute to the former elementary school teacher from Queens, N.Y., during an emotional afternoon. Schwartz’s daughter, Deborah, narrated the presentation, which included former state Sen. Gary K. Hart and current 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal who were among the speakers.
From 1982 to 1992, Naomi served as Hart’s chief of staff back when he was on the State Assembly. Hart went on to explain that the former supervisor was somewhat of a late bloomer, as she didn’t begin her public life in town until she was nearly 40, and wasn’t elected to the Board of Supervisors until she was 58. “When people from all walks of life saw her talents and dedication, Santa Barbara embraced Naomi as one of their own,” said Hart of Schwartz’s knack for connecting with people.
In the late 1960s when Schwartz and her family moved into Santa Barbara, she became active in social issues, giving of her time to the Parent-Teachers Association. But, she might best be known for helping to create the California Coastal Act in 1972 in response to a huge oil spill that emptied thousands of gallons of crude oil onto the County’s coastline in 1969. “Her passion for coastal protection and public access for all, never waned,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center who also spoke during the sunny afternoon.
As a result, Schwartz served on the California Coastal Commission from 1982-92, later becoming the chair of the statewide commission. During her time in office that included three four-year terms on the Board of Supervisors beginning in 1992, she became involved with a number of local organizations. Groups such as Coast Watch, The Fund for Santa Barbara and The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee were just some of the few that she co-founded.
The respectful audience also heard from Seth Strongin, recipient of the UCSB Bren School’s Naomi Schwartz Fellowship, which helped pay his tuition. Strongin relayed to the audience a bit of advice he received from Schwartz, who he never really ever expected to meet because of her demanding schedule. “Do not ever abandon your ideals and principles that have brought you to where you are today,” said Strongin of the message he received.
Carbajal, who worked the entire 12 years during Schwartz’s time on the Board of Supervisors, was the final non-family member to speak on the day. “Irrespective of a person’s lot in life, rich or poor, Naomi treated everyone she met with the same mutual respect,” he said, noting it’s a quality that often only comes around once in a lifetime.