What Would Pearl Do?

By Gwyn Lurie   |   March 5, 2020

The California Primary is finally over and our sincere congratulations go to Das Williams for the win. Now let’s get to some serious bridge-building – something we’re all too familiar with in Montecito. Hopefully these bridges will take less time to build than the one at Parra Grande.

Am I pushing for a Kumbaya moment? I am. But I’m also advocating for something more: for the ushering in of a new chapter of visionary leadership to bring about some much-needed change.

Our cover story this week, by writer Mitchell Kriegman (story begins on page 22), takes a hard look at Downtown Santa Barbara and the vision vacuum that has plagued State Street and its surrounding area. This saddening situation has inadvertently placed a pall over Santa Barbara’s entire downtown and the moods of those who traverse its streets – State and its tributaries – passing empty stores, vacant commercial spaces, dilapidated structures, and a growing homeless population that itself needs better options.

The last time Santa Barbara achieved a much-needed re-envisioning, the charge was, in large part, led by a tireless community activist named Pearl Chase. Chase did not formally serve in an elected or appointed capacity, but she nonetheless had a profound impact on the re-shaping of Santa Barbara after the tragic 1925 earthquake that literally shook Santa Barbara to its core. Chase, an ardent advocate for historical preservation, parks, and public health, championed the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style for which Santa Barbara has become famous world-wide, and spearheaded the preservation of the Santa Barbara Presidio.

It typically takes a disaster – like the decimation that followed the 1925 earthquake or our 2018 debris flow – to bring about a seismic shift in people’s thinking. But does it have to? Is it not possible for us to push for change and paradigm shifts, without the catalyst of a disaster?

In exploring this subject, which led to Kriegman’s clarion call for visionary leadership, he spent considerable time studying our neighbor to the north, and how San Luis Obispo has managed, without the fuel of a disaster, to rebuild their downtown in an inspired way that has revitalized most of SLO.

Pearl Chase was once quoted as saying: “The secret of building a better community through citizens’ committees is to get the right citizens on the right committees.” Per capita, no community in the world has more talented citizens than Montecito and Santa Barbara – architects, artists, business leaders, environmentalists, social activists, and just generally a plethora of engaged visionary thinkers.

What if we could tap this abundant talent and bravely addressed our challenges? What if we saw those challenges as plum opportunities to bring about necessary change?

Most people believe it is the job of government to solve our larger societal problems. We hope our elected officials will be brave and visionary and inspired because that’s way they tell us they’ll be, especially during elections. But how often is that truly the case? Every elected official is expected to be a leader, but not every leader has to be an elected official. Look at some of the people who have most profoundly impacted our community. They were just inspired private citizens. Pearl Chase was not an elected official. She was a community activist at a time when women weren’t taken all that seriously. Abe Powell was a passionate guy with a shovel. A bunch of concerned local residents, none of them earth scientists, raised the money to put debris nets up on our mountains. Curtis Skene is the engine behind the soon to be Randall Road Debris basin. Who is Curtis Skene? a smart guy with a lot of big rocks in his living room.

When we look at the daunting problems facing our community, perhaps it’s time to ask: What would Pearl Chase do? Or maybe more importantly, what would you do? Because our next Pearl Chase… might be you.


You might also be interested in...