Jeanne Graffy: 1925-2017

Community Leader, Community Planner

Jeanne Graffy worked diligently for the community over the decades, fortified by her legendary sense of humor.

Courtesy Photo

Jeanne Graffy worked diligently for the community over the decades, fortified by her legendary sense of humor.

Jeanne Graffy served as a selfless, quietly effective community leader — from chair of the city’s Planning Commission to three terms on the Santa Barbara City Council, and later as chair of the County Board of Supervisors.

For decades, Jeanne fought to protect neighborhoods in our community. Her deep appreciation for the beauty and unique character that make this area precious earned her the support of so many people from all walks of life. In her capacity as the founder of Looking Good Santa Barbara, she raised awareness of the vital role our physical environment has on our neighborhoods, communities, and personal well-being.

On a macro level, Jeanne Graffy spearheaded the 1970s initiative to shape city planning efforts based on a population limit of 85,000, a size that would ensure quality of life and delivery of public services, and that specifically designed a community size based on air, water, and traffic quality and accessibility.

Jeanne focused on the number of developments throughout the South Coast, believing that many of them were misplaced or did not fit the existing character of the neighborhoods. During her tenure on the Santa Barbara City Council and County Board of Supervisors, Jeanne worked with applicants to redesign projects to be in keeping with the look and feel of surrounding neighborhoods. For example, she was able to reduce the density of the Oak View project by more than 50 percent (24 fewer units), which avoided shoehorning a high-density project into an infill location.

Working to provide more resources for parks and open spaces, Jeanne also voted to increase developer park fees by 1,200 percent.

When a proposal for a drive-through fast-food restaurant was proposed near a busy intersection in Goleta, neighbors were up in arms and county planners were between a rock and a hard place. Because the parcel’s zoning allowed such a restaurant, a denial of the project by the county would have led to an immediate lawsuit by the restaurant owners. Not only would this have resulted in financial damages to the county, but approval and construction of the restaurant would have been likely. Jeanne’s instincts as a former planning commissioner kicked into high gear. Her creative solution to deny two elements of the proposed restaurant — the drive-through bay and the 24-hour components — made the project financially unviable, which killed the project, avoided a costly lawsuit, and saved taxpayer dollars.

Jeanne’s pragmatic and inventive approaches to planning matters came from her rooted appreciation for the beauty of our physical environment. She valued earth, sky, and ocean, and her body of legislative and community work gives testimony to this.

Perhaps her seminal achievement was her role in the preservation of the Wilcox Property, which is now called the Douglas Family Preserve. She worked hand in hand with local legislators, community activists, and nonprofits to preserve this coastal gem for generations to come. It was through her efforts that nearly 40 percent of the funding was secured to acquire the Wilcox Property, leading the Trust for Public Land to commend her for her efforts. As one of the key participants, Jeanne Graffy’s name is etched on a monument stone commemorating the preservation of the Wilcox.

When local creek runoff began to spoil habitat and ocean water quality, Jeanne formed the first-of-its kind Friends of Arroyo Burro to raise awareness about the link between creeks, diffuse or multiple sources of pollution, and our coastal beaches. The program, which initially involved the Community Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Center, funded public education, expanded creek and ocean water testing, and led the way for Project Clean Water.

Additionally, Jeanne was integral in securing funding for Elings Park’s acquisition of the former Jesuit property to expand the recreational and open-space capacity for the park and the community. She also voted to provided funding for Fairview Gardens, Sedgwick Ranch, Burton Mesa, Carpinteria Salt Marsh, and the Gaviota Coast preservation project.

Graffy enjoyed the support of local police and firefighters, and she was also hailed by local business leaders for her support of a vigorous economy. Her efforts to implement performance-based budgeting at the County of Santa Barbara earned her praise from the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

In being honored by the California State Legislature as Woman of the Year, 1991, the legislators noted, “During her tenure as City Council woman she chaired the General Plan Update — ‘Project 2020’ — which gained more public participation in the review process than any other in the history of Santa Barbara and brought national recognition and honor to Santa Barbara in 1991 from the National League of Cities.”

Jeanne served the residents of Santa Barbara as a member of the boards of directors of the Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency and of the Conference and Visitors Bureau. She was also director of the League of California Cities’ Family Economic Policy Task Force and a member of its Revenue and Taxation task force. She served the Cachuma Conservation Release Board as a member of the city’s Water Commission and also was part of the Santa Ynez River project’s ad hoc committee. She was a coproducer of Santa Barbara’s five-year Water Plan and Shoreline Master Plan.

Her wisdom and expertise will be missed.

A memorial service and reception for Jeanne Graffy will be held Thursday, October 19, 2 p.m., at the Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Paul Bradford was chief of staff for Jeanne Graffy when she held the seat of county supervisor for the 2nd District.

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