Former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin died Friday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 75.
Mr. Conklin served on the Santa Barbara City Council from 1977 to 1993 and as the city’s mayor for a little over a year in 1993. Held in high regard for his stewardship in helping the city become an international, cultural destination, he was forced to step down after following a court ruling that upheld a new term-limit law preventing anyone from serving more than four consecutive terms.
He ran for mayor of Santa Barbara again in 2017 against current Mayor Cathy Murillo.
Mr. Conklin was reportedly diagnosed with brain cancer in September 2020 and underwent immediate brain surgery to remove tumors. He recently entered hospice at Serenity House.
He was known for his love of the arts and theater, and helped raise millions of dollars in support of the restoration of the Granada Theatre. Mr. Conklin also was a pillar in the city’s 1st Thursday celebration, as well as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, among others.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in social psychology from UC Berkeley in 1972. While he intended to work with poor children in Oakland, he ultimately decided to move to Santa Barbara and served as co-director of the Community Environmental Council for its first 10 years.
He arrived in Santa Barbara as a 22-year-old to visit a cousin who lived locally just days before the 1969 oil spill.
“I was still in school, so I had to go back to the Bay Area,” Mr. Conklin told the News-Press in a 2019 interview that outlined the memories and impact of the then-50-year-old spill. “When I came back, that’s when I realized how big the spill was.
“It became clear within the year that this was a turning point (for the environment),” he said, adding that local beaches were closed for two years during the cleanup.
He was part of the early efforts toward a recycling program and worked to redefine Stearns Wharf. The pier had been used as a launching point for oil companies with offshore platforms, but after the 1969 spill, the wharf’s future was uncertain.
While campaigning for a spot on the city council, Mr. Conklin worked to make the city’s pier a tourist site.
In 1981, Stearns Wharf reopened as a destination point where tourists could see the Pacific Ocean and enjoy dining and shopping. Mr. Conklin said a 1983 Coastal Commission study showed that the wharf was making more money than San Francisco’s famous Pier 39.
During his time on the city council, Mr. Conklin worked on managing and limiting population growth, planning the waterfront and preserving farmland in the Goleta Valley.
In recent years, Mr. Conklin took part in several forums and conversations on how to revitalize the downtown corridor. He took part in a 2018 forum led by the World Business Academy and recommended implementing more kid-friendly activities, such as a kid’s tour at the MOXI Museum or a kid’s night downtown.
Mr. Conklin also served as the founder and president of USA Green Communities. In addition, he was president of the California League of Cities and vice president of the National League of Cities. He served on the board of directors for the Institute of Local Government and was one of the founders of its Beacon Program, which sets sustainability standards for local governments in the state.
In 2014, Mr. Conklin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the League of California Cities.
According to a News-Press story from 2014 on the honor, Mr. Conklin said he planned to stay in Santa Barbara for just one year, but never left. Nonetheless, he certainly made his mark on the city.
Ms. Murillo told the News-Press that she has requested that the flag at City Hall be lowered to half-staff on Monday and the council would adjourn Tuesday’s meeting in his honor.
“As a Democratic Party elder, Hal was the bridge between the party’s environmental protection platform and the history of the environmental movement in Santa Barbara. He lived during an important time and made tremendous contributions,” she said. “I was on Stearns Wharf a couple of weeks ago and happened upon a plaque that memorialized Hal’s work rebuilding the wharf and making it a place for locals and victors. His family has so much to be proud of related to his public service.”
Rep. Salud Carbajal issued a statement Friday, describing Mr. Conklin as a “trail blazer who transcended partisan politics.”
“He was a mentor to many, including myself, and will be dearly missed by a grateful community for his public service, environmentalism, and advocacy. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones as they grieve,” he said.
Details on a memorial service were pending.