Oral Histories

Interview of Selma Rubin

Co-founded Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council in response to the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara. Founding director of Santa Barbara Citizens for Environmental Defense and the Environmental Defense Center.
Environmental Activism in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Environmental Movement
Biographical Note:
Co-founded Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council in response to the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara. Founding director of Santa Barbara Citizens for Environmental Defense and the Environmental Defense Center.
Collings, Jane
Rubin, Selma
Persons Present:
Rubin and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Session one: a coffee shop in Santa Barbara, California. Sessions two and three: Community Environmental Council office in Santa Barbara, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interviews are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA.Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing material news reports of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and other environmental issues in the Santa Barbara area, and also reading Norman Sanders's book Stop It: A Guide to Defense of the Environment (1972), which used Santa Barbara as a case study.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Rubin was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The series documents environmental activism in the Los Angeles area from the 1970s through to the present day. The majority of interviews are with either founders or knowledgeable participants in major regional environmental organizations. Represented groups embody a wide range of issues, including conservation, restoration, environmental justice and toxic waste disposal.Additional partially processed interviews are available through Library Special Collections.
Early life—The Great Depression—Trains to operate a steel milling machine during the WWII period—President Franklin D. Roosevelt—Moves to California—Attempts to organize Rexall Drugs office workers into a union—Marries and is subsequently widowed—Lives in Mexico—Meets future husband Bill Rubin—Bill Rubin’s work as a plumbing engineer—His affliction with Alzheimer’s Disease—An incident of racism in Santa Barbara—The Rubin’s begin a life of political activism in the Santa Barbara area—Rubin’s parents arrive at Ellis Island as immigrants and are re-settled in the Ohio region—Father’s love of education—Mother’s love of music as a young woman—Parent’s personalities—Rubin’s brothers—Religious education—Rubin’s lack of religious feeling—Rubin’s role as a leader and a mentor—Impact of father’s social philosophy on Rubin—Rubin is introduced to and galvanized by injustices of racism—Participates in the United Farm Workers movement—Participates in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee— Organizes thirty-nine groups to remember the Santa Barbara oil spill one year later—Forms Community Environmental Council—Participates in an early recycling effort in Santa Barbara—Current “green” projects in Santa Barbara—Participates in starting first Santa Barbara Environmental Defense Center in 1977—Community support for the Environmental Defense Center—More on early life influences—Teaches a young girl not to cross a picket line—Rubin’s economic well-being and the scholarships she has provided—Moves school each year as a youth and meets different types of people—More on father’s sense of social justice—A commemorative trail and bench at El Capitan in Rubin’s name—An upcoming award from the Legal Aid Foundation.
Decides against having a family while a teenager—Family’s views on the cause of WWII—The social desperation during the Depression—Family’s service during WWII—Rubin’s enlistment in the WAVs—Enjoys social life while enlisted—Switches to an office posting from machine work—Rubin’s patriotism during WWII—Her shame at the US due to the atomic bomb—The work of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation—The 1969 Union Oil Company Spill—Local residents launch a cleanup effort—Residents lobby Congress to stop the drilling—Organizes a commemoration of the oil spill event one year later—Earth Day, 1970, in Santa Barbara—The start of a profitable recycling venture in Santa Barbara—CEC—Plants an organic community garden—Offshoots of CEC in the area of ecology—Prevalence of environmental interest in groups of all political orientations—Efforts to save the Channel Islands—Jules Berman’s efforts to develop El Capital Canyon—Rubin’s participation in an effort to stop the development—The process of collecting and validating signature s for the referendum—Rubin charged with falsifying petitions—Undergoes a trial and is exonerated—The well cared for conditions of the preserved area at El Capitan—Community events at El Capitan—Participates in the South Central Coast watch of the California Coastal Commission—Hosts interns in her home who work for the Environmental Defense Council—Works on a coalition for a living wage in Santa Barbara—Activist successes of Community Environmental Council in the area of poverty and transportation—Works in support of Cesar Chavez—The demise of the Santa Barbara pier—Discussion with Pat Morrison about a radio interview—More on working in support of Cesar Chavez—Exposes housing discrimination in Santa Barbara—Pressures local business to hire minorities—Works with Friends of the Farm Workers in support of Cesar Chavez—Memories of Cesar Chavez—Pearl Chase—Pearlie’s Girls—More on Pearl Chase—Rubin’s wide range of activist issues—Takes voting issue seriously—Sponsors several young people to go to college.
Broadbase support for environmental issues in the Santa Barbara community in the wake of the oil spill—The Isla Vista community—A hard-won struggle against the proposed development at El Capitan—Rubin accused of altering petition signatures—An FBI informant infiltrates the petition drive—Endures a criminal trial on charges of signature tampering during the petition drive—The establishment of the Environmental Defense Center—The burning of the Bank of America in Santa Barbara—The ecological importance of the El Capitan coastline—Honored by the Legal Aid foundation—The shortage of jobs and affordable housing in Santa Barbara—Cultural offerings in Santa Barbara—Newspaper coverage of the Santa Barbara area—More on FBI infiltration of the petition drive effort—The aggressiveness of Jules Berman's efforts to win public support for development at El Capitan—Description of a flyer in support of the effort to save the El Capitan scenic area—More on Berman's efforts to develop the El Capitan coastal area—The El Capitan recreation area—More on broad-based interest in environmental issues in the Santa Barbara community—Rubin's residence in Santa Barbara—Social events at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC)—Educating the community in Santa Barbara about the oil spill—Peal Chase and Pearlie's Girls—Difference between Rubin's activist role and that of Pearl Chase—Norman Sanders—The John Birch Society in Santa Barbara—The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara—More on the John Birch Society in Santa Barbara—Earth Day celebrations in Santa Barbara—More on the events surrounding the burning of the Bank of America is Isla Vista— The contribution of Professor Richard Flacks to the Santa Barbara activist community—The instrumental impact of activist academics from UCSB on the progressive community in Santa Barbara—Rubin hosts EDC interns in her home—Rubin's overall satisfaction with her life.