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Second Sight: The memoir of Frank Frost (Part 4)
updated: Jan 08, 2011, 9:30 AM
By Frank Frost
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Part 4 |
Frank Frost had unexpectedly survived the Supervisorial primary election in June. But no one thought that he had any more chance in November than George McGovern did on the national ticket.
An experienced and rigorous lawman, John Carpenter had been elected Santa Barbara county sheriff in November 1970, promising to professionalize a sloppy department that had been run by good old boys for three generations. In the aftermath of the June 1970, Isla Vista riots, the department had received outraged communications from Pete Pitchess, the sheriff of Los Angeles, as well as the sheriffs of Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, and the police chief of Oxnard. Their troops had worked with Santa Barbara law enforcement during the riots. All had denounced the bizarre behavior of sheriff's captain, Joel Honey, and refused to serve ever again in Santa Barbara county if Honey was giving orders. This was an extraordinary indictment of a fellow peace officer. Sheriff Carpenter conducted a careful investigation of the various charges against Honey and then, on 17 November 1971, fired him on the basis, not only of his conduct during the June riots, but for generally weird and unprofessional behavior over several years.
As expected, Honey sued the county and appealed his dismissal to the county Civil Service Commission, which had full judicial functions. The Commission was chaired by none other than George Bliss. The hearings began in March 1972, and continued for eight weeks. The commissioners heard the full catalog of Honey's misbehavior, dating back three years, but primarily during the Isla Vista riots. They saw photos of Honey brandishing a spiked mace and chain. They heard testimony that he had ordered officers to fire tear gas canisters directly at protesters - a tactic likely to be fatal. He had suggested to fellow officers that they should use "throwaway guns" to plant on protesters they shot so they could plead self-defense. He had struck a handcuffed prisoner in the face. Expert witnesses testified that he was psychologically unstable.
The Santa Barbara community and much of southern California reacted with horror to the reported testimony, thanks to excellent coverage by both the Santa Barbara News Press and the Los Angeles Times. But the sitting commissioners were a different story. They had all been appointed by the conservative Board of Supervisors and were, if anything, even more reactionary. Two years before, they had all sputtered and fulminated with rage at reports of students running wild, attacking police and destroying private property. They had applauded the photos in the papers of blood-spattered youths, handcuffed and being dragged into paddy wagons. To them, Joel Honey had been a rare voice of reason in the midst of madness. It reportedly took them ten minutes after they had adjourned, to decide unanimously in favor of reinstating Captain Honey with full back pay. The decision was made on 24 May, but not made public until 16 June. It was a bombshell.
Newspapers all over southern California published outraged editorials echoing the anger and puzzlement of the general public to the whitewash of a man widely regarded as a dangerous lunatic. And amid the outrage, emerged another shocking news story. A local far-right citizen, A. L. Lundy, had organized a Joel Honey support fund during the hearings. On 1 June, Lundy had thrown a big party for Joel Honey at which the guest of honor was none other than George Bliss, who was supposed to be impartially presiding over Honey's Civil Service appeal.
Poor George had trouble understanding all the indignation. "I never thought there was anything wrong going to that party," he said. "I was just naïve and stupid." Almost everyone agreed, including many of his former conservative and Republican supporters in the first supervisorial district.
After a short vacation, I was back by Labor Day and found a huge pile of letters from voters indignant at George Bliss for his chummy whitewash of Captain Joel Honey. Better yet, most of the envelopes contained checks. Mandy and I started going to every political event on the calendar--it was, after all, a presidential election year--and were encouraged by the warm welcome we received at primarily Republican gatherings. My former employer at the San Ysidro Ranch, Al Weingand, though a lifelong Democrat, was also a darling of rich and Republican Montecito, and he introduced me to many community meetings, assuring me that Montecito would support my no-growth platform. I had to admit that most of these Montecitans were an elitist form of environmentalist. They loved their open space; they hated crowds, complained about having to stand in line at the bank or the market. I smiled, shook their hands, and took their checks. Two events from late in the campaign will illustrate how feelings were running in the south county.
Between the Biltmore Hotel and the Miramar Hotel lay almost a mile of unsullied beach and meadow. It was the old Hammond estate, neglected since the death of the last Hammond heir in the 50s. The mansion had burned down and its ruins demolished. Between the Southern Pacific railroad tracks to the north and the beach to the south lay a broad meadow, the "Bonnymede" of the Hammond family. Surfers visited the fine breaks off the beach daily, and hippies ambled through the grasses smoking marijuana. But now a powerful developer had bought an option to fill the meadow with luxurious condominiums and much of Montecito was in an uproar. I naturally championed keeping the site as open space and eventually George Bliss and I argued the alternatives before an overflow audience at Montecito Union School. I insisted that Hammond's meadow was far too beautiful to be left to the designs of out of town developers, and urged that its future be left to the cautious planning processes of the Coastal Act. In fact, the Coastal Act had not yet been passed, but it was on the November ballot, just like George and me, and was far ahead in the polls.
George once again shot himself in the foot. "I went down there to Hammonds," he said, "to see what everyone was talking about. All I saw was a bunch of dirt and weeds." He seemed confused by the chorus of groans and exclamations of disbelief. The evening added several hundred additional dollars to my campaign chest.
It was only ten days or so before the election when Jim Slater called from Goleta. His campaign for third district supervisor was just cruising, as his only opponent had dropped out of the race because of some shady real estate dealings. Some women in the upper Hollister neighborhood had called Jim. They lived next to a pristine grove of eucalyptus trees. They had been horrified to hear the snarl of chain saws and see hundred foot trees topple and crash into glades where their children liked to play. The tree cutter had been rude to them. He'd been hired to take the whole grove down. A developer had bought the property and, knowing that his plans might be held up or altered because of the trees, had decided to eliminate the trees in advance. Jim told me that he was going to go to the site next day before work started and try to reason with the tree cutter. Did I want to join him? To me it sounded like a splendid opportunity for some publicity, and I alerted friends in the media.
An angry mob of housewives confronted the chainsaw wielder the next morning, and Jim and I informed him that what he was doing was probably illegal. He was just as angry, and shouted that he was just going to do what he'd been paid for. So Jim and I and our Greek chorus of tree lovers stated that we would stand between him and the targeted eucalyptus. He phoned the sheriff. A polite deputy rolled up in his black-and-white and asked Jim and me if we knew we were trespassing. It was a tough decision for Jim because he was, after all, a lawyer, with a lawyer's respect for the law, but he remained firm, stating that he believed this was the only way to prevent a tree cutting for which no permits had been issued. The deputy consulted his watch commander by radio while cameras flashed and TV reporters narrated. We were then formally arrested, but because of our station were not handcuffed. We were driven to the County sheriff headquarters, fingerprinted and booked, and then released to the custody of Jim's law partner, Ernie Pannizon. Everybody was happy. The developer called off his chain sawyer because of the bad publicity, the local women were ecstatic, and the sheriffs involved had their boring day interrupted by the excitement of an apprehension and arrest totally without danger. Only Jim was a little worried about what his fellow lawyers would think. But after ten months of intermittent campaigning, I had developed some political instincts.
"Forget the lawyers," I told Jim. "They don't understand voters." I was also able to tell a television interviewer that whenever the beauty of Santa Barbara was threatened that I would not hesitate to confront the bulldozers with my body.
In the heat of a campaign such hyperbole can be forgiven, although I cringe a bit now as I recall my boast. And it didn't hurt at the polls. On 6 November I defeated George Bliss, 14,271 to 12,682.
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Unbeknownst to readers of the paper, the photographer posed us as if watching the returns come in on television. But I didn't own a television set.
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