Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett — a former Goleta mayor and city councilman, retired Santa Barbara County firefighter and longtime commuity activist and volunteer — is being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Goleta’s Finest Community Awards Gala on Saturday. (Goleta Chamber of Commerce photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on the honorees at the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s 70th annual Goleta’s Finest Community Awards Gala, to be held Nov. 23 at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara.]

Michael T. Bennett always wanted to be a firefighter. Raised in Pasadena, his dad would listen for fire calls on his ham radio. When one came in, he’d wrap his young son in a blanket and off they’d go, chasing the fire trucks.

You may know that Bennett, having lived and worked in Goleta for 50 years, served with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department for 36 years, retiring as a battalion chief. That service alone might be enough to garner him the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever Goleta’s Finest Lifetime Achievement Award.

But there is so much more to his service in and support of Goleta.

In his native Pasadena, Bennett watched residents and Old Town Pasadena businesses rise up to stop the tearing down of the old historical buildings, the city’s storied past. The experience helped shape his idea of public service.

He attended public meetings of the Goleta Governmental Group regarding local government options. He knew other people were thinking of new directions and of wanting to do something for the Goleta Valley.

In 1974, Bennett was chosen by a citizens committee to co-chair the Alliance Against Annexation. By the 1975 election, two-thirds of the City of Santa Barbara and the Goleta Valley unincorporated populations had said “NO” to Santa Barbara’s annexation.

“I participated in the community because I believed in it,” said Bennett, who ran for Goleta mayor in 1993, won, and become the mayor of an unincorporated city.

“I was Goleta’s first elected mayor,” he says with a chuckle. “Elected mayor of not a real city.”

In 2002, Goleta did become a city. Bennett retired from the county Fire Department in 2006, the same year he was elected to the City Council. He served 12 years, including as the official mayor — twice.

But even more significant, Bennett’s list of local community involvement is long, varied, and supportive of the causes and organizations he feels passionately about:

» Goleta Valley Historical Society, 6 years

» Goleta Valley Beautiful, 6 years

» Affirmative Action Commission,  sp;8 years

» Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, 9 years

» Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County, 5 years

» Goleta Chamber of Commerce member, 29 years

» Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime, 29 years (winning the Paul Harris Fellow Award there)

» Goleta Fireworks Festival co-founder, 1998

» Goleta Old Town Area Committee

» Board of Directors of LOSSAN

» Goleta Valley Library Committee

» Housing Trust Fund of Santa Barbara County, 12 years

» Community Film Studio of Santa Barbara, 4 years

» Terry Toon Memorial Fund, doing unique fundraising directed toward medical issues

Although Bennett ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2018, he remains optimistic and full of love for his adopted city.

“Goleta is one of the most engaged communities where public input makes a difference,” he said. “Honoring that input makes a great community.”

The Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s 70th annual Goleta’s Finest Community Awards Gala will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, 8301 Hollister Ave. in Goleta. Click here for more information, or to purchase tickets.

— Kate Schwab represents the Goleta Chamber of Commerce.