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Second Sight: The memoir of Frank Frost (Part 2)
updated: Dec 25, 2010, 9:15 AM
By Frank Frost
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Part 2 |
Part 3 |
Part 4 |
I had felt strangely distant from events in the year of student unrest. I was trying to get tenure in the History department. I was moonlighting, playing the piano in clubs whenever I could. And my three teenage kids had moved in with me (that's another story). But in 1971, I first became interested in the political direction my county of Santa Barbara was taking. Since the oil spill of 1969, the town had become increasingly sensitive about the environment. A plan to build a multi-story hotel in a residential part of town was met with an energetic opposition. A petition was signed by thousands, and ultimately, a height limitation was written into city planning law (the existing hotel was subsequently gutted by a suspicious fire and the site is now a park).
Along the coast west of Goleta, a developer proposed a development of estates for the wealthy. A complaisant county Board of Supervisors agreed to change the zoning from agricultural to residential, but as this required a change in the planning statutes, the decision could be reversed by a referendum. Once again, the citizenry was galvanized into action. Signatures were collected, the issue went to a ballot, and the zoning change was defeated. The continuing problem was that both the Santa Barbara City Council and the county Board of Supervisors were stacked with folks from the real estate industry, the business community, or the lawyers who tended to represent those interests. Because these establishment worthies usually did a good job handling the normal daily business of community governance, no one until this time had disputed their exercise of a low-paying, time-consuming job.
There was little potential support for anyone running on an environmental platform, and no one ever had. But the oil spill had alerted everyone to the danger facing our beaches. More and more development threatened the coastline, not just in Santa Barbara, but also along the whole length of California. In 1970-71 the state legislature considered several bills imposing strict planning restraints on the coast. But none of them could attract enough votes to get through what was then a very conservative state senate.
In the summer of 1971, there was another significant attack on what the business community considered the sacred right of property owners to develop their land any way they wished. This time, the protest came from California's magnificent mountains. The Mammoth ski resort on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada was planning an expansion featuring a number of ugly, soulless condominiums a football field in length. The Friends of Mammoth formed to fight the development, led by former Olympic gold medal skier, Andrea Mead Lawrence. At that time, all government projects were required to conduct an environmental impact review before approval. The Friends of Mammoth won a court judgment requiring private developers as well to submit an environmental impact report for major projects. Everyone takes that for granted now, but when the court judgment became law in the California Environmental Quality Act, the entire building industry, both management and labor, reacted as if the Communists were at the door. I remember that for most of a day, contractors' trucks circled the County administration building honking in protest, creating a major traffic snarl. The Supervisors at that time refused to request that the police clear the streets because they sympathized with the builders and almost unanimously condemned the newfangled EIRs that now complicated the planning process--to say nothing of the traditional flow of campaign contributions from the development industry.
The only exception was a former newspaper man, George Clyde, County Supervisor for the first district, which comprised the southern part of the coast, about half the City of Santa Barbara, and, incidentally, my house and neighborhood. George was a member of GOO, or "Get Oil Out," a potent lobbying group that had formed to fight the offshore oil industry after the oil spill. He was also the only Democrat on the board.
With much going on in my career and social life, only once in a while would I run into neighbors who were taking the rapid development of Santa Barbara more seriously. Marc McGinnes was a young lawyer who lived across the street from me. He was specializing in environmental issues, and having a tough time in the business-oriented climate of the Santa Barbara courts. Sometimes going out to get the mail I would find Marc chatting with his next door neighbor, Tom Kleveland, a crusty old journalist who had worked for the Santa Barbara News Press for decades and tended to be cynical about the forces that were running our city and county. Tom had been a good friend ever since I started building my house and we would commiserate about the lousy septic systems the local houses had to use. "Reminds me of covering the Supervisors' meetings," he said one time, helping me rod out my sewer line. Tom wrote a popular daily column in the News Press that addressed local issues and personalities in a clever satirical way. But he had spent years as the paper's political reporter. He remembered the days when the Board of Supervisors routinely took their orders from T. M. Storke, the owner and publisher of the News Press, and a man dangerous to cross.
And then one day Tom mentioned that George Clyde was retiring from the board the next year. "Why don't you run, Frank?" he asked, half seriously. I had to laugh. "Me? From the university? Where they burned the bank?" It was a good objection. Half the town figured that whatever it was the professors were teaching was turning the students into little radicals.
"If anyone should run, it should be Marc here." I went on. He knows what all the developers are doing." Marc was certainly the more knowledgeable candidate. I was barely aware that my house lay in the first supervisorial district, and that George Clyde was my supervisor. "If you ran, I might even register to vote again," said Tom, and we all laughed. But the idea was there. I even broached the subject to my mother, who scoffed. She pointed out that even if Democrat loyalists united behind me, the position of county supervisor was nonpartisan. The wealthy, heavily Republican enclave of Montecito lay entirely in the first district. How was any Democrat going to score many votes there? And later that fall my mother reported the rumor in Democratic circles that Jerry Firestone, the mayor of Santa Barbara and a Democrat, was considering a run for supervisor.
But in early 1972, I finally made up my mind about the supervisor race, which I had been pondering more and more. In those days, the Santa Barbara News Press had open doors; one could simply walk in, up the stairs to the newsroom, and talk to a friendly reporter. I had typed a brief statement. One of the editors interviewed me, and the next day my candidacy was front-page news. I had made it clear that I was running on a platform of no more growth for Santa Barbara. The editor had tried to get me to modify my stand to "slow growth," or "controlled growth," views that were finally being expressed by concerned neighborhoods after decades of nationwide growth binges. But I was firm.
Communities could live with stable populations, I insisted. All higher organisms grew to a certain size and then stabilized. I had no idea whether this could be true of social organizations but I didn't care. "No Growth" would attract more attention than some namby pamby qualifier like "Slow Growth." What I did know, and cited regularly, was a recent Ventura County study. The county had become concerned about recent explosive population growth and their consultants had concluded that when population grew by a factor of two, governmental support requirements-water, sewer, roads, police, fire, courts, etc.-would grow by a factor of seven, as well as the fees and taxes needed to pay for them.
Even with such supporting statistics, however, I was more or less resigned to running what people called an "educational" campaign; publicizing the serious environmental issues, without really expecting to win.
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I made up this poster as a joke and planned to use it in the campaign until dissuaded by cooler heads. I also might have run into copyright problems with the Diane Arbus photo.
It was now a three-way race for First District Supervisor. Mayor Jerry Firestone, as expected, had declared his intention to run. So had George Bliss, a Carpinteria trucking magnate, Chamber of Commerce president, former planning commissioner, chair of the county civil service commission, and member of every community organization I'd ever heard of. I belonged to none. Marc McGinnes and Tom Kleveland approved. My kids were enthusiastic, my mother very dubious. Jerry Firestone was very much part of the local Democratic establishment, she reminded me, and as a sort of den mother to Democratic politicians, she was sure that Jerry would be calling for her support. "What can I tell him?" she cried.
[ go to part three ]
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