The MPC Shuffle: Commissioner Susan Keller Removed from the Montecito Planning Commission

By Zach Rosen   |   January 31, 2023

In the County of Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors meeting that occurred on January 24, 2023, First District Supervisor and Chair Das Williams asked the board to approve the removal of Susan Keller from the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC). According to Williams, this request comes after two MPC members stated to him that they would resign if Keller was not removed from the MPC. Commissioner Keller’s removal was uncontested and approved by the Supervisors.

During public comment at the meeting, Paula Lopez Ochoa spoke in support of Keller, citing their work together including the KEYT Unity telethons and on the board for Santa Barbara Revels, which Keller founded. 

Susan Keller then gave a public statement that cited her experience on Naomi Schwartz’s 1st District Task force in 2002, which helped develop the MPC “as an independent, apolitical, decision-making body.” Keller added, “It is not a rubber stamp for recommendations of the Montecito Board of Architectural Review. Commissioners should not accept County Staff recommendations without question, amendment, or possible disagreement.”

Both Lopez Ochoa and Keller brought up the optics of removing one of two women on the MPC with Keller citing an attempted block by three male commissioners that occurred three years ago as another female commissioner attempted to move from vice chair to chair, stating, “This current attack on the other female commissioner [referring to herself] creates a perception of sexist behavior that this Board cannot allow.” 

That past blockage ultimately failed, and Supervisor Williams began his response by mentioning his support of Donna Senauer during it. He then stated, “There have been tit for tat attempts to remove commissioners, including one just a year ago where Miss Keller tried to remove a commissioner. So, it is an unfortunate dynamic. It has affected the function of the Montecito Planning Commission.”

He then explained his position. “I have requested advice both from the planning commissioners themselves and from the planning commission staff. And I believe that this is going to ultimately be the best way to move forward. To me, it largely boils down to a math game. You know, it’s: do I keep two commissioners, or do I keep one – and the one that was planning on only serving one more year?”

In a later phone discussion with the MJ, Keller expressed her concern with the precedent that this “coercion” would set and acknowledged a letter to the Board of Supervisors that fully expressed her concerns, including efforts to compromise with the other members and the conflict of one commissioner not meeting Montecito-residency requirements.

During the meeting, the other Supervisors acknowledged the difficulty of Supervisor Williams’ situation. While speaking with the MJ, Williams commented, “I don’t like to have to iron out both a personality and a priority conflict between board members. I prefer that that would be solvable by the board themselves.”

He added, “I do think that what is important is that the MPC can meet and look at cases and people’s lives can move on speedily when they are working on home renovations, building improvements, or whatever permits they’re seeking […] I need a responsive body and cannot have a non-functioning institution – we would not be doing the people’s business speedily if we have a non-functioning institution.”

While speaking to the MJ, Ron Pulice, current MPC chair, said that the MPC in its best form should be an “appellate commission” to assist with disagreements between applicants and the County – as opposed to a ruling one. Pulice continued, “We should be more respectful of people’s time, as well as the time of other commissioners. And I think that’s probably the biggest issue as far as I see. Why are we debating something that could be settled in a lot shorter order?”

He continued, “The planning commission is trying to have less animosity between the applicants that are coming in front of us than we’ve had in the past. It’s not the end of the world whether we say that someone made a mistake and didn’t get a permit, or didn’t do this or didn’t do that – holding people hostage is kind of beyond the scope of what we should be doing.”

Pulice added, “The thing is we have to acknowledge the fact that [Keller] had volunteered for many, many years and no one should take that away from her, the amount of time and effort she put in doing her volunteerism. So that needs to be recognized and I recognize that. I mean, I would like her to know that. I don’t think it goes unnoticed, how many years she’s put into different boards and especially this commission.”

On the phone, Supervisor Williams echoed the sentiments of Keller’s public contributions, mentioning his long support of her career and adding, “I did offer her another spot and want to give her all the respect that she is due.” He then confirmed that all three of the candidates he is looking at for replacing Keller’s seat are women.


You might also be interested in...

  • Woman holding phone

    Support the
    Santa Barbara non-profit transforming global healthcare through telehealth technology