Annette Alexander

NWNL California Representative


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director & Photographer

Santa Barbara CA - February 17, 2019


PREFACE   1969: A Year of Catalysts

Memories of a 5th-generation Santa Barbara Resident

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

PREFACE   1969: A Year of Catalysts

The 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill spilled millions of gallons of oil onto cherished beaches, riverine estuaries and fisheries. Fish, sea lions, elephant seals and over 3,686 birds died. President Nixon ceased all drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel; but the oil kept coming for months. Petroleum covered 300 miles of California’s coast from Pismo Beach to San Diego.

Oil drilling wharves, Summerland CA, Pre-1903 (Creative Commons)

Horrified reactions to this 1969 swath of black goo began today’s US environmental movement. Five months later, shocking photographs showed Ohio’s Cuyahoga River “on fire” near Cleveland. Flames rising from oil slicks and chemical contaminants on the river’s surface spread concern for protection of our waters across the US.

Cuyahoga River Fire, near Cleveland OH, 1952 (Creative Commons)

In this same period, Apollo 8’s astronaut Bill Anders photographed Earth from above and described our planet as “a thrilling swirl of land, water and cloud. A new urge to protect our “Blue Marble” emerged from these three 1969 events. The Envioronmental Protection Agency/EPA was established in 1970; and the Clean Water Act  in 1972. On the EPA’s website is a Summary of the Clean Water Act.

Bill Anders “Earthrise” photo taken during the Apollo 8 Space Mission (Creative Commons)

Memories of a 5th-generation Santa Barbara Resident

NWNL  Annette, what are your memories of the 1969 oil spill?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER I remember it well, because in 1969 our family was divided on this situation. At that time, one part of my family were oil rig guys. My parents had a business in the Santa Barbara Harbor that involved Tidewater Oil. My brother, Richard Alexander, was a Captain of an oil rig boat that took Tidewater Oil workers out to the offshore, oil rig platforms. From age sixteen to twenty, he was the youngest operator certified to these multi-ton boats that supplied those platforms. That’s one part of what I remember.

However, at the same time, my cousins – the Selbys, the Sessions and some of the Alexanders – were working with Bud Bottoms, a famed sculptor of dolphins who founded a program called GOO! Get Oil Out on the first day of that pollution disaster. I remember it was quite contentious in our family. Yet it was the beginning of the environmental movement in Santa Barbara – and would soon become a national movement.

Santa Barbara Channel, Platform C oil rig

Unfortunately, Bud died last September, and thus missed GOO’s “50thAnniversary Call to Action” at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater, commemorating  the first 50 years of the environmental movement. But GOO! is still out there trying to make a difference, especially after that Gulf of Mexico oil spill by Deepwater Horizon and BP.  So, they keep trying to get Santa Barbara and the rest of the US off of oil. [Editor’s Note:  Specific GOO efforts to end US oil consumption includes Federal, State and local advocacy, off-shore lease buy-backs (particularly off the CA coast), their program called P.A.R.T. (Petroleum Addiction Rehabilitation Therapy), and educational & legal activities.]

NWNL  Was any of your family involved in the cleanup effort?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  I don’t know that in particular, but my cousin Judith Selby (my father’s sister’s child) was very involved. She has told me that the ’69 OIl Spill was a big, big deal for her and her family.

NWNL  Do you remember how you felt?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  I was not involved. I was 19 and living in Hawaii.

NWNL  So, you never saw the oil covering the beaches?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  No, I just understood what was going on and the tension that it created between the families.

President Nixon visiting the beach, 1969 (Public Domain)

NWNL  Has the spill made a long-term difference in Santa Barbara and if so how?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  Yes, of course it has had an impact in that no matter what happens, those people who were there – and the relatives of those people, like myself – will always know that we can’t be drilling offshore. So, in that respect, it did make a big difference.

NWNL  When you say, “those people who were there,” who were they?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  “Those people” were an early part of the Santa Barbara environmental movement that GOO! Get Oil Out still represents, and it’s always been really important to them. Most of those people from my family live in Colorado now, but since this is the 50-year anniversary of the spill, we’ve had a lot of discussion about it on Facebook, which is the way we communicate. The conversations began as soon as the 50-year anniversary came about last month.

NWNL  The Santa Barbara celebration of this critical environmental movement and ensuing activism was on January 28, 2019?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  Right. Leading up to January 28, 2019, there were notices all around Santa Barbara for the “Santa Barbara Oil Spill 50” presentation at the Arlington Theater, which was basically a documentary of 50 years after the ’69 event. There was also my family’s discussion back and forth, between those that still live in Santa Barbara and those that live in Colorado now.

Summerland’s shallow-water oil wells drilled from piers in 1896 are shown in this mural at the post office in Summerland, 4 miles from Santa Barbara

NWNL  What were they saying in your family?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  Basically, those in Colorado wanted to make sure that everybody in Santa Barbara would go to the 50-year anniversary at the Arlington Theater so they could get feedback. Unfortunately, I was ill at the time and could not go.

NWNL  Even though you were in Hawaii during the spill and unable to attend the 50th Anniversary remembrance, do you think the Santa Barbara oil spill indirectly affected your feelings about the environment or about oil pipelines?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  It didn’t at the time.  My head wasn’t anywhere near there.

NWNL  And in the long term?

ANNETTE ALEXANDER  Not particularly. It was probably my association with many different people, including Alison Jones, that brought the awareness to me about 2 decades ago of the critical vulnerability of our environment. I never had really been an environmentalist, I must say, so it was good I got the education when I did. Everybody needs that education. Protecting our natural world is a very important issue, especially now since there are those who want to start drilling again. We can’t have it. That’s what I have to say.

As for my brother, he now has children and grandchildren. That has given him a different perspective from the one he held 50 years ago. Today he is an avid environmental conservationist.

NWNL  Thank you, Annette, for sharing your memories from 50 years ago!

Santa Barbara Channel - Platform C Oil Rig Silhouette

Posted by NWNL on July 29, 2019.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.

All images © Alison M. Jones, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.