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Longtime Community Leader, Former County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz Dies

She is remembered as a 'role model and trailblazer' for her work as a public servant and for her efforts on behalf of many local organizations

Naomi Schwartz, a longtime pillar of political service on the South Coast, died Monday morning at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after complications from surgery. She was 78.

Naomi Schwartz
Naomi Schwartz

Schwartz was a prominent activist for environmental and social causes on the South Coast, and her political career spanned decades at the state and county level.

A New York City native, Schwartz received a bachelor of arts degree from Queens College in New York, and law degree from the Santa Barbara College of Law.

The former elementary school teacher moved to Santa Barbara in 1967, where she raised her four children, and it was ultimately the 1969 oil spill that propelled her into the political arena.

She went on to serve as chairwoman of the California Coastal Commission, and was a founding member of local organizations such as the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee and The Fund for Santa Barbara.

“There was no one like Naomi,” Geoff Greene, executive director of The Fund for Santa Barbara, told Noozhawk on Monday.

Schwartz was on The Fund’s first grantmaking committee in 1981, and Greene said Schwartz recognized the link between environmental and social justice.

He added that because Schwartz had worked as a teacher, she was empathic to people on a ground level. But she could also look at those problems analytically to see how they could be fixed by the political structures in place.

“She really bridged those worlds,” Greene said.

Schwartz served for a decade as the chief of staff for state Sen. Gary Hart, D-Santa Barbara, from 1982 to 1992, and then went on to serve as First District supervisor on the county Board of Supervisors. She was first elected in 1992, served three four-year terms, and retired from county government in 2005.

“No one cared more deeply about Santa Barbara, and California generally, or worked more passionately to preserve its quality and the public’s enjoyment of it,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said in a statement issued Monday.

Carbajal served as Schwartz’s chief of staff while she served as supervisor, and said the community has lost a great public servant, leader and friend.

“Naomi’s legacy will live on for many generations to come,” he said.

Board of Supervisors chairwoman Doreen Farr ordered that flags on all county buildings be lowered to half-staff.

During Schwartz’s term as supervisor, Greene said he respected her because she would always let people know when they did something she liked or she disagreed with, “but that never eroded her support.”

Greene said that many times Schwartz would find herself opposed to activists who were backed by The Fund of Santa Barbara, but that her support for the nonprofit never wavered.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, expressed sadness in hearing the news of Schwartz’s death, calling her “a dedicated public servant who represented our community with exceptional diligence and decency.”

“She was never afraid to tackle the difficult problems — and did so with a can-do spirit and graceful tenacity,” Capps said, adding that Schwartz had been especially diligent in environmental and women’s causes. “Naomi will always be remembered throughout the Central Coast, but especially here in Santa Barbara, as a role model and trailblazer. My heartfelt condolences go out to her family and all those who knew, loved, and admired her.”

Schwartz was also executive director of the Gildea Foundation, and served on the Dean’s Council of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB and the board of the Courthouse Legacy Foundation.

She is survived by three grandchildren and her four children. Her daughter, Deborah, is also active in public service and sits on the City of Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission.

Final arrangements are pending but Schwartz’s family has asked that donations in her name be made to the Environmental Defense Center, Santa Barbara Village or Transition House. A public memorial is being planned for late July.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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