Hal Conklin, former Santa Barbara mayor and Cal Cities past president dies at 75

May 26, 2021

Deeply affected by a major oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, Hal Conklin surfed into the Santa Barbara City Council on a wave of environmental activism. 

He served from 1977 to 1994 and won the mayoral contest in 1993. Conklin’s many achievements include leading the League of California Cities as president from 1991-92.

Conklin is credited for successfully redeveloping Santa Barbara’s downtown area, which helped turn the city into an international destination. The success and allure of the city’s arts and cultural district can be attributed to Conklin’s vision and leadership.

At Cal Cities, Conklin created the League Partner program in 2003 and was its first president. He also represented California on the National League of Cities (NLC) board of directors and served as NLC’s vice president from 1993-94. In 1991, Conklin and a team of NLC colleagues traveled to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to establish the Baltic League of Cities and to teach civic education to more than 300 newly elected local officials. In 2014, he received Cal Cities Past Presidents’ Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless efforts to “support civic engagement and advance the League’s strategic priorities.” He also helped develop and move forward priorities at the Institute of Local Government, serving as an active board member since 1999.

“Hal was truly an institution in the local government world, who pioneered new initiatives both within his community and the League of California Cities,” said Cal Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman. “His passion for public service and commitment to Cal Cities has inspired a generation of leaders and improved the lives of not just the residents of Santa Barbara, but Californians throughout the state.”

Conklin also served on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including USA Green Communities, Green Seal, and the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts. However, he is best known for his time as the co-director of the Community Environmental Council of Santa Barbara, one of the largest environmental teaching centers in the nation. During Conklin’s ten-year tenure, he helped launch California’s recycling movement.

Conklin remained politically active even after office, working as a lobbyist for Southern California Edison. He ran for mayor again five years ago but lost to Cathy Murillo. In the intervening years, he worked on several civic projects, most notably the Common Table Foundation and the Santa Barbara Leadership Group.

Mayor Murillo stated, “Even as the community grieves this accomplished public servant, we celebrate all the good work he did for our city and beyond. His leadership and advocacy for the natural environment, the performing arts, and voter engagement will always be remembered and honored.” Similarly, Rep. Salud Carbajal issued a statement calling Conklin a “trailblazer who transcended partisan politics.”

In memory of Hal Conklin’s service, the city of Santa Barbara’s flag will be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Sunday, May 30. His body will be interred in the Santa Barbara Mission and a public celebration of his life will be scheduled for a later date. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.