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Community Environmental Council Expects Smooth Leadership Transition

Long-time CEO Dave Davis will step down — but not retire — while Sigrid Wright takes over as CEC sets course for next challenges

Sigrid Wright and Dave Davis say the Community Environmental Council will keep its focus on Santa Barbara County’s water, energy, climate change and food systems after a transition that will see Wright succeed Davis in the top spot.
Sigrid Wright and Dave Davis say the Community Environmental Council will keep its focus on Santa Barbara County’s water, energy, climate change and food systems after a transition that will see Wright succeed Davis in the top spot. (Community Environmental Council photo)

Ten years ago, most people in Santa Barbara County didn’t really know what “fracking” for oil meant, and the local climate change debate was far from ignited.

A lot can happen in a decade, and soon-to-retire Community Environmental Council president and CEO Dave Davis would be the first to tell you.

Well, first he’d tell you he’s not retiring at the end of the month. He’s stepping away from the position he’s held since 2005 because his handpicked successor and current assistant director, Sigrid Wright, is ready to take the eco-conscious Santa Barbara nonprofit organization to the next level.

When Davis ended his 25-year career as the City of Santa Barbara’s community development director and city planner 10 years ago, he said that wasn’t retiring, either.

He began what was supposed to be a six-month gig as head of the CEC, leading its pursuit of clean-energy efficiency until the CEC board of directors (on which he served) could find a permanent replacement.

“I got so excited about the mission six months turned into 10 years,” Davis said last week, in an interview at his downtown Santa Barbara office with Wright, marveling at the passage of time and what the organization has accomplished.

Wright will become the first-ever female CEO of the 45-year-old CEC, with a beaming blessing from Davis, who says he is leaving the organization and its seven employees in good hands and on solid financial footing.

Davis and Wright said they were proud of the succession process, since both generally share the same direction, interest in issues and love for applying national or federal environmental policies locally.

Water, energy, climate change and food systems are key CEC focuses, along with finding renewable energy sources and studying impacts of the ongoing drought and the May 19 oil pipeline leak near Refugio State Beach.

“It drew attention to our continued reliance on fossils fuels,” said Wright, who came to CEC in 1995 after moving from Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Alliance to Save Energy and the National Wildlife Federation.

As two Santa Barbara transplants — Davis is from New Orleans and Wright from Eugene, Ore. — they find something powerful being in the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, which was launched after the 1969 Santa Barbara Channel oil spill and spurred the creation of the first nationwide Earth Day celebration. 

“Santa Barbara is a beautiful and livable community and its residents want to protect it,” said Wright, a 20-year resident. “Environmental issues are complex. We’re small enough to get things done but large enough to matter.”

Wright’s most recent undertaking includes launching a community-based visioning process looking at the health and sustainability of the region’s food system, partnering with some of CEC’s nonprofit counterparts to create a countywide food action plan.

She and Davis were also pleased with CEC’s work to improve energy efficiency in buildings and to convince county and municipal leaders to start work on a community choice energy program, which would allow better local control of what types of energy that utility companies use.

After all, Davis said, CEC’s first name is “community.”

While Wright continues creating CEC models worth replicating nationwide, Davis will retain his role as board chairman, at least until October. He’s also still on the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District board and was recently appointed to the city Water Commission.

Davis isn’t sure what's next, but he is definitely not retiring (again).

According to him, he’s merely “slowing down.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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