Naomi Schwartz (1934 - 2012)

naomi schwartz (1932 - 2012)

Naomi was raised in Queens, New York, an unlikely starting point for a woman who would end up devoting most of her life to the residents of Santa Barbara and the people of California. She married, had four children, taught elementary school and studied social psychology. From the beginning, the well being of her family and her community was her life’s focus.

In 1967, she moved with her family to Santa Barbara, and like so many others immediately fell in love with its warm Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches, pastel colors and friendly people. To Naomi and her family, Santa Barbara was paradise. Naomi soon became involved in public service and social issues, especially matters concerning families and children, education and the environment. She was active in the Parent- Teachers Association at her children’s elementary school, where her ability to appreciate multiple viewpoints and her outgoing nature quickly won her many supporters and friends.

In 1969, Naomi’s community involvement took a dramatic turn toward the environment when one of Union Oil’s derricks in the Santa Barbara Channel failed, spewing thousands of gallons of crude oil onto Santa Barbara County’s coastline. Deeply troubled by the environmental damage and its effects on the children and families of Santa Barbara, Naomi threw herself into the cause, beginning with joining Get Oil Out. She then helped found CoastWatch, and with her co-activists campaigned successfully for the establishment of the 1972 California Coastal Act.

As Naomi’s passion for California and her understanding of government grew, so too did her public service. From 1974 to 1982 she served on the California Coastal Commission, first at the regional level and then as member and eventually Chair of the statewide commission. While on the Commission she also began working for then assemblyman Gary K. Hart, and from 1982 to 1992 served as his chief of staff following his election to the California State Senate. From 1992 to 2005, Naomi served three terms on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors where she was known for her intelligent and collaborative approach to community development issues, many of which were often controversial, and her strong support for social services and environmental quality. In 1998, following the passage of The Children and Families First Act, Naomi was appointed the first chair of the Santa Barbara County First 5 Children and Families Commission.

Throughout her career, Naomi was a strong advocate for public participation in government. She believed firmly in the public’s right to have a voice in public policy decisions and to hold elected officials accountable. She was a champion of open government and the empowerment of average citizens. In addition to her service in public office, Naomi was an active supporter of numerous local organizations. She co-founded The Fund for Santa Barbara, The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee and The Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation. She served on the Dean’s Council of the UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, and in 2005 was named executive director of The Gildea Foundation, a grant-making organization supporting environmental protection and the needs of low-income seniors. She also took time to mentor many students and young people interested in government and public service, and in 1988, at age 54, completed a life-long desire and received her Juris Doctorate from the Santa Barbara College of Law. 

She will long be remembered for her inclusive and thoughtful approach to solving problems, her civility and integrity, her ready smile and warm embrace, her compassion and generosity toward others, her countless contributions to the Santa Barbara community and the people of California, and her deep love for her family.

Naomi was a founding member of the Santa Barbara Courthouse Legacy Foundation. Her passion for the courthouse and insight into non-profit management and sense of collaborative inclusion will be her legacy and sorely missed.

She passed on June 4, 2012.