After almost 25 years as the city of Santa Barbara’s community development director and a city planner, Dave Davis now brings his expertise to the Community Environmental Council, where he serves as CEO and executive director.

LD: Did you ever think you would end up working for the CEC after retirement?

Planning for the future is what drives Dave Davis, CEO and executive director of the Community Environmental Council.

Planning for the future is what drives Dave Davis, CEO and executive director of the Community Environmental Council. (Community Environmental Council photo)

DD: The simple answer is no … but it’s great. It was taking all the things I had learned for 30 years and applying them from a community standpoint of being an advocate for positive change. … It was liberating for me to really focus on what needs to be done.

LD: It sounds like a unique opportunity.

DD: It really was. So did I ever envision it, no. But, boy, it slapped me upside the head and there was no denying that, yeah, I want to do this. I want to put my effort behind it.

LD: That’s terrific. What are some of your priority programs?

DD: Starting the energy program … to create a blueprint for Santa Barbara County. We found a nice little jingle, “Fossil Free by ’33.”

… We basically set the priorities. They are really simple. Within this region focus on energy efficiency, personal energy efficiency and building energy efficiency; second, transportation efficiency, and that includes everything from hybrid cars to mass transit and so forth, alternative fuels, building as many literally, renewable projects within the region as possible.

LD: What do you mean by that?

DD: Wind, solar, wave. What this blueprint does is it actually inventories the potential for any of those categories here in Santa Barbara. When you look at the state of California and … the amount of land that you can actually do major wind projects boils down to a very, very small area, two or three spots, and we happen to be one of them. In and around the Lompoc/Point Conception area, and offshore outside of the islands, there is a significant potential for wind development over the years that could supply major amounts of energy — not just for Santa Barbara, much more than we would ever use — that we would be supporting the energy use of Southern California.

… The big solar projects for us are inland, Cuyama Valley, those areas out there, that’s where the potential is. But there is on top of essentially almost every significant rooftop the opportunity to do major solar distributing to the community.

… Financing is just so expensive, so one of the things we’re working on … there’s been recent legislation that allows cities and counties to float low-interest revenue bonds which are then paid off by people who want the solar on their houses and their payments go onto their property taxes over 30 years.

… Lastly, when it comes to renewables there is potential within the region for wave energy. This is really new technology, … but again when you get off of Point Conception, the wave frequency, wave height — again we have a resource potential there that outstrips our usage here.

LD: So you’ve got this blueprint and you’ve got these plans …

DD: … so the last thing here is to move this out into the community and public policy. … We formed a coalition with the architects, the American Institute of Architects, the AIA; the Santa Barbara Contractors Association, the Sustainability Project and Built Green Santa Barbara, and we went to the city and challenged them to work with us to develop the most energy-efficient ordinance in California, if not the country, and we did. And adopted it. And it’s been in effect and we’re going to the county in the very short term to move that policy also out into the county.

LD: In Santa Barbara County, because of the fires, there’s a lot more building going on now than we would have ever thought.

DD: Now let’s go into another example. So the Tea Fire happened and we were all affected in one way or another, emotionally if not physically. … Again, we pulled together our same coalition … We held a community forum up at Montecito Covenant Church and we had 250 people.

Our coalition, led by us, went to the city and the county and said we want to develop a plan not just to fast-track these guys, but to basically put them on a whole other process so that they avoid the pitfalls of rebuilding. So we worked … that if in fact they come in and they want to build better, they don’t go down through that whole process of boards and committee and reviews. They have an independent review to look at those architectural, energy and fire-resistance improvements, and they would move, not just to the head of the line, they would go on consent calendar, that they would move directly on to the consent calendar of the design review board so that they can go immediately into building their house.

LD: It seems like incredible timing for that.

DD: Yes. … If you went in and tried to retrofit those big old houses it’s really complicated. But now people can actually think was that the best place to put the building. Did it need to be over here? Did the road need to be wider? Did the materials need to be fire-resistant? And while I’m doing this could the materials basically save me money energy-efficiency wise?

And I must tell you, the night we set up this forum it was one month to the day of the fire we held the forum, which was pretty quick to get people out, organization, everybody there. Not knowing how traumatized people would be … we really actually hit a nerve. … People came up to me and said this is the first time since the fire that I felt any sense of help. I teared up because it was really personal. … This was just a great opportunity for the community to come together.

LD: What do you think would be the single thing that we, as a community, could do to improve our energy efficiency?

DD: There isn’t one, there’s really two. They are at the heart of what I’ve been talking about. On the South Coast, the biggest things that we can do is one, make our buildings more energy-efficient. The second thing, if we could develop aggressive social carpooling techniques, it would be significant. … Young people, they’re geared to do it. Generationally, they’re going to do it, if we can give them the tools and encourage it, then you start pushing it up to old folks like me, we could go a long way.

LD: That’s actually a great use of technology.

DD: The other thing, too, if we build the freeway, … that third lane being an HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane and running buses from Ventura like they’re doing. They’re going through the roof with their subscriptions and carpooling of three people per car. It would make a difference not just on the freeway but on the city streets and in the parking lots.

LD: That has a good synergy with your work as a board member at MTD, too.

DD: Oh, absolutely. To my glee I found with my retirement that I could pull together all the good things that I wanted to accomplish and do them. Not bad. (Laughs).

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

DD: Clearly I’m passionate, and that goes from my avocations to my vocation; knowledgeable, both from the standpoint that I’m now a community elder, and that I have basically always loved to seek knowledge and continue to. You know the thing that I loved about my job with the city was that it brought me into contact with so many different fields of expertise and knowledge. … The other one I would say is basically I’m happy, that joie de vivre, let the good times roll.

Vital Stats: Dave Davis

Born: July 15, 1948, New Orleans

Family: Wife Jean, son Jesse (30) and daughter Nora (27)

Civic Involvement: Board member, Metropolitan Transit District, board member, UCSB Economic Forecast Project; CEO/executive director, Community Environmental Council

Professional Accomplishments: City of Santa Barbara’s community development director and city planner for almost 25 years; taught planning and environmental studies at UCLA and Moorpark College; Santa Barbara Downtown Organization Citizen of the Year; Citizens Planning Association Planner of the Year, American Planning Association National Social Advocacy Planner of the Year; Lifetime Achievement Award, American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara Chapter; Jacaranda Award for Lifetime Achievement, Santa Barbara Beautiful.

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Little-Known Fact: Until a few years ago Davis was an avid surfer, and once surfed 20-foot waves in Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore.

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