As much as Supervisor Brooks Firestone is a product of his family name, he has created his own legacy.
“When I was born, in my early days, being named Firestone was a significant part of one’s life. It is not so now,” he said in an interview with the Business Times.
“We were the second-largest tire company in the world – there was nothing to compete with us overseas – and when you said the name Firestone, it immediately conjured an image of significance,” he said. “Of course, it’s absolutely nothing like that now.”
The Columbia University graduate said he grew up with “a unique sense of challenge, responsibility, intimidation and well being, all of which were exaggerated.”
Convinced he was destined for the tire business, Firestone said he was “frankly a little careless on my preparation for life and my exploration of the options.”
Lacking a taste for the corporate life, Firestone said he found himself more comfortable and satisfied in smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavors. Ergo, Firestone’s fantastically successful career launching a winery on the Central Coast; his stint in politics as a member of the state Assembly and Santa Barbara County supervisor; and his words of wisdom to his children:
“Certainly, to your own self be true,” he said, echoing Shakespeare. “And do not assume success or stability beyond your own endeavors.”
Despite his impending retirement, Firestone, 73, already has plans to publish a compilation of “fascinating” stories on “wild animals, domestic animals, commercial animals and dangerous animals” in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“This is unchartered territory for me,” he said when asked for an expected publishing date. “I have about 10,000 words and 20 stories on paper and a whole file full of potentials.”
One thing’s for sure, though. Firestone said he “can’t imagine” he will ever pursue elective office again. However, when asked about Montecito’s Miramar hotel project, he did offer some parting thoughts on development in Santa Barbara County.
“The process concerns me and, in Santa Barbara County, confirming the reputation that you just can’t do anything here really worries me,” Firestone said. “If people don’t know it yet, they will know it: the county is broke, we are living in the past … In the future, if we are broke with significant unemployment, this may change the whole atmosphere and playing field and the pendulum will swing and that worries me because we may engage in too much development simply for survival.”
Firestone said he is inspired by the Bible and history, as a “very enthusiastic believer in the American Revolution.”
“In other words, I believe we were great in the 1700s and I believe we’re great in the 2000s.”
Following are his responses to a Business Times questionnaire that may serve to offer a little inspiration of their own:
BP: Your family is well known for founding Firestone Tire & Rubber. What legacy do you hope to leave?
BF: We are the first winery in Santa Barbara County, based on county-grown grapes. There are now over a hundred wineries in the county and we are known around the world. I am proud to be part of the California wine success and part of the history of wineries in our community.
BP: You’ve been involved in beer, wine, politics, tires and agriculture – which was your favorite and what career haven’t you tried that you’ve always wanted to?
BF: Unquestionably, the winery has been my favorite career endeavor. I would like to write something worthwhile.
BP: What is your proudest accomplishment?
BF: Our family.
BP: Any regrets?
BF: I deeply regret my lack of success in influencing the California Republican Party toward the traditional sound basics of thoughtful governance and away from the extremes of the social agenda.
BP: What qualities define the Central Coast business community?
BF: The qualities of the Central Coast business community are extraordinary innovation, talent and managerial expertise in small business ventures. The opportunities and endeavors in significant business ventures are diminishing.
BP: What can be improved in the region?
BF: The region must realize that our future success and the maintenance of our extraordinarily pleasant way of life and environment depend on a sound economy.
BP: What needs to be done to keep the regional economy healthy?
BF: The region needs a far more positive evaluation of economic enterprise.
BP: Why did you come back into politics, what were your goals in doing so, and did you accomplish them?
BF: The three great motivators for my returning to politics were the possibility of a county split, the partisan and unproductive atmosphere of the Board of Supervisors and county politics, and the looming budgetary problems of California and Santa Barbara County. The county did not split; despite our differences, we have a very amicable board with a positive working relationship; and we have a very realistic assessment of our looming budgetary situation. I was very pleased to be part of those accomplishments.
BP: The Chumash Casino gives a major economic boost to the Santa Ynez Valley but many don’t like its impact on the area. Do you think the district can find a way to work with the Chumash while preserving the traditional character of the valley?
BF: The Chumash Tribe has a monopoly of an extraordinarily profitable gaming business. The economic potential of their situation is such that they could grow to completely dominate the Santa Ynez Valley. Ultimately this would be counterproductive for both the tribe and the Valley. Unchecked growth of this monopoly will bring universal gaming in California and the end of the Chumash exclusivity and profitability. Unchecked growth would also end the Valley as it is now known.
BP: What words of advice do you have for your successor in office and for Salud Carbajal, your successor as chairman of the Board of Supervisors?
BF: There will be a very different board in January. This board must work with all people of the county to prevent the kind of situation that led to the county split effort. The board will be dominated by the budget issue and constraints and to ignore this will bring disaster. The board must work very hard to maintain the productive working relationship of the board that is so important to good governance.
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