We’ve Lost a Champion

Lee Moldaver, Community Activist and Organizer, Cofounder of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Has Died

Lee Moldaver

Nick Welsh shares thoughtful details and memories in his beautiful profile of Lee in the Santa Barbara Independent. 

Josh Molina of Noozhawk interviewed our board president, Steve Forsell, along with a host of civic leaders for another loving profile of Lee in Noozhawk. Josh also sent us an interview with Lee for his podcast on SantaBarbaraTalks.com. Special thanks to City TV Production Supervisor Tony Ruggieri and to Josh Molina for these interview treasures. Lee’s articulate views were spot on, and as relevant now as they were then. 

Here’s an interview from 1999 with Lee, advocating for Gaviota Coast Conservancy on local college radio station KCSB, sent to GCC by Philippe leVasseur. “As well as this program, we will be broadcasting about Lee Moldaver this Tuesday, August 3, at 10am on KCSB 91.9FM and streaming live on KCSB.org at https://www.kcsb.org/listen/ .”

“This is as good a rationale for the existence of the Gaviota Coastal Conservancy as I’ve read or heard,” stated GCC board member and former Congressmember Lois Capps after hearing the interview.  

Thanks to these journalists and editors for sharing these views of the friend we’re missing now. On behalf of the board and members of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, we share in the profound loss of our respected and admired friend and colleague, and wish his family every comfort, knowing that he generously contributed for decades to the wellbeing of the Santa Barbara community, and especially to protect and conserve the splendid Gaviota Coast. 

Gaviota Coast Conservancy President Steve Forsell shared the news with the board. “I was informed today that Lee Moldaver has passed away. As most of you know he has been ill for a year now and in and out of the hospital. I saw him not long ago and he was hoping to be able to come back to GCC. We expect there will be a memorial, and we’ll let you know. I especially appreciated Lee as a friend. He, along with Mike Lunsford, are the ones who asked me to join GCC. He will be missed.”

Board member Mike Brown shared, “I’ve known Lee for over 20 years. His commitment to helping make the world and Santa Barbara, in particular, a better place, was an inspiration. I don’t think there is an individual in Santa Barbara who knew more people and who made more connections among people than Lee.” 

“Lee was a very sweet and dedicated soul, and he loved being part of GCC,” added GCC staff member Janet Koed. “Goodbye, friend.”

Former Congressmember Lois Capps joined the GCC board around the same time Lee began to get sick and miss meetings, an unusual situation after decades of never missing. “Lee Moldaver has been a strong force for all things environmental — for so many years! I’ve known him as the heart of the Audubon Society and never really had the opportunity to extend that to the Gaviota Coast Conservancy. Lee was so articulate, and such a trove of information. In short, he was a treasure. We will want to honor him in a special way. May he rest In peace.”

Board member Karen Feeney shared, “Lee has been a force in the environmental community for decades. His memory of details, political, historical, and even other people’s personal events, was unsurpassed.”

“Beloved Lee,” remembered board member Nancy Black,”was ever present at nonprofit mixers and community events… and now this community has lost a historian, principled advocate and organizer; one of our heartbeats. Marc McGinnes called Lee ‘a male Selma Rubin’. I can’t think of a higher compliment for such a dear man. We’re mourning for someone who contributed deeply to molding our efforts as an organization at GCC, and to shaping our greater community. It’s a great loss.”

GCC legal counsel Marc Chytilo stated, “Lee Moldaver had a continuous presence in nearly everything I have been involved in for the past 34 years in Santa Barbara. He was on the board of the Environmental Defense Center in 1987 when I arrived, and generously introduced me to dozens of community leaders and elected officials throughout Santa Barbara. He served for decades on the boards of the Citizens Planning Association, Santa Barbara Audubon Society, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and countless other organizations. He had contacts for seemingly every significant person in Santa Barbara and throughout the state, and tipped me and dozens of other followers to issues and opportunities of interest. He managed to be involved in just about everything, working closely with Selma Rubin and many others. And during that rich era when people left messages on answering machines, Lee’s outgoing messages were highly poetic and entertaining, earning multiple call-backs and suggestions that someone should ‘Call Lee now!’ His comments to the City Council and the Board of Supervisors were invariably poignant, clever, and on point. He will be sorely missed, and we are all the better for having shared time and place with Lee.” 

GCC Board Member Greg Karpain expressed his views, “I sure have missed Lee and his vibrant self during his illness, and will keep on missing him. I was always in such admiration and awe of his abilities, bright-eyed awareness, and warm super-smartness. But nothing beats when he got that pre-joke grin on his face, and started to lay out his latest joke to us all, bit by bit. You could tell he had something funny coming, and it was always funny. But my favorite part, half the fun, was just watching him enjoy the joke that he knew he had, and was getting around to the punch line, in unique Lee style. He always treated me with the greatest respect and kindness. Thank you for YOU, Lee, from your friend.”

The following is from the GCC archives, written with Lee Moldaver, and published in the 2016 Autumn Coastline newsletter:

Profile: Lee Moldaver, Dedicated Civic Leader

by Nancy Black

Long-time Santa Barbara resident Lee Moldaver currently consults on tech sector new product development, specialized in marketing and communications, after spending his twenties and thirties working in the entertainment and film industry. He was an original partner in Victoria Street Theater, buying the First Baptist Church that became the long-beloved and recently remodeled theater. 

He served on the Advisory Committee of UCSB Arts and Lectures. He knows half the town, and remembers details from every environmental battle over the last few decades here.

He first got involved with good social causes to “repay the world for a lifetime of good health.” A life-long outdoors enthusiast, he was an original board member and cofounder of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, Audubon CA, COAST and the Air Advisory Committee. Lee has held senior board positions with the Santa Barbara Library Commission, SB Metropolitan Transit District (serving 22 years); SB Transportation Committee; SB Creeks and Watersheds; SB Audubon Society; Citizens Planning Association; Environmental Defense Center; CRIC; ORCA; Citizens Council on Crime; COAST; South Coast Watersheds Alliance; Allied Neighborhoods Association; and SB Regional Economic Community Project. He volunteers with Partners in Education as well as numerous other civic and area nonprofits.

He serves as stakeholder for the City of Santa Barbara Charter update; the Santa Barbara General Plan and Circulation Element updates; City of Santa Barbara Measure E; SB County Measure D; Task Force on Electoral Systems; SB County Association of Governments advisory committees, especially as related to the 101 corridor, and other civic groups.

Lee wrote this next paragraph, and provided the list of affiliations. “Lee has been controversial for the inconsistency of his 25 years of East Beach volleyball play. He’s been known to tickle the ivories. A staunch advocate for Nine Inch Nails and for Clifford Brown’s trumpet and Earl Hines’ keyboard, he finds constant renewal in walking, hiking and visiting the beaches, hills, and paths of the Gaviota Coast. He’s rumored to be a decent cook.”

Gaviota Coast Conservancy is grateful for Lee’s years of dedicated, cheerful service, from our very inception. A long-time friend and brother-in-arms to Selma Rubin, he shares her sense of civic participation and responsibility, and our community has long benefited from his behind the scenes presence, showing up at hearings, meetings and gatherings, always with a smile. 

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