Meet The Candidate

Stephen Kurtzer, DVM, seems an unlikely candidate for the Santa Barbara School Board, but he has taken papers out and announced that he is indeed in the running for the upcoming November election. Sitting member Bob Noël recently announced his reelection plan (for more on Noël read “Local News” on page 29), and the only other available seat is being vacated by outgoing director Lynn Rodriguez.

A regular presence almost every morning at Jeannine’s on Coast Village Road during the moveable feasts that take place at one or more of the tables there, the affable Dr. Kurtzer seems not only emotionally qualified to sit on the school board, but also uniquely qualified in another even more important way: he has real-world business experience. He practiced veterinarian medicine and surgery in Long Island, New York, from 1969 to 1979, until he discovered he was “highly allergic” to one of his patients’ cats and experienced cardiovascular collapse. He was gone, he says, for “somewhere around seven or seven and a half minutes,” before being resuscitated by a team of paramedics that had stopped at a Dunkin Donut shop across from his animal hospital. “Whereas perhaps many people owe their obesity and maybe even demise to donuts and coffee,” he jokes during a short interview near his Coast Village Road redoubt, “I owe my life to donuts and coffee.” The cardiovascular collapse did, however, end Kurtzer’s veterinary career.

He headed west in 1983 to start a new division for Endo Technology Systems, a local company at the time, and developed video technology for what was then a new field: endoscopy. He left shortly thereafter to co-found Medical Concepts, Inc., which designed and manufactured miniature video systems for endoscopic surgery. Medical Concepts, Inc., was acquired in the latter part of 1990 and he continued to work there until ’93. By ’95, he had founded another company, 3-D Video Inc., based upon the invention of an adapter that could be attached to any type of video camcorder to produce stereoscopic 3-D content. He sold the company in 2000, and it still manufactures the product.

Kurtzer was later involved in an alternative energy company working with a scientist – Dr. Anastasios Melis from UC Berkeley – who discovered a metabolic pathway in single-cell organisms (such as green algae) that would release hydrogen in lieu of oxygen during photosynthesis, and which could provide a goodly amount of hydrogen for energy use. “Unfortunately,” Kurtzer says, “9/11/2001 put a kibosh on the money-raising element of that and much of the work has ceased,” though Melis Energy, Inc. still owns some proprietary technology.

Dr. Kurtzer, now officially “retired,” is a family man: he has a 7-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Leah, who becomes a second-grader at Roosevelt next month. His two sons, Jeffrey and Gregory, have given him six grandchildren.

His reasons for running?

1) He says he has the incentive to want to see the best for all students in Santa Barbara; and

2) “I have the basic feeling that one of the things one does in life is give back to the community.”

Dr. Kurtzer has been involved in his daughter’s education at Roosevelt, where he has served on the PTA and as Chairman of the Site Council. He has worked with Roosevelt Principal Dr. Donna Ronzone and has become “more involved with policy and oversight and have gotten a better feel for the educational system” because of it.

“These are difficult times for education in California,” Dr. Kurtzer proffers. “The cost of education is outrageous,” he claims, noting that “there is a financial crunch and education seems to be crunched from both sides. Education tends to be at the top of those areas that get cut when things get tight.” He says too that, “Education is one of those primary responsibilities of government. It should be at the top of the list of priorities,” and that as a board member, he would seek to ensure that education be given highest priority.

Kurtzer gets a little fuzzy when the question of building homes for teachers on school-district-owned property is broached, saying he would like to “make it easier for teachers to reside in Santa Barbara,” but then admits that neighborhoods fighting against denser housing need to be heard.

Upon being asked what he would do differently if elected, Kurtzer answers, “I can’t say that the board has done a bad job,” noting that the district’s $127-million budget “is a goodly sum of money to make decisions about,” and while he doesn’t know whether he can do a better job, he’d “love to see an ongoing level of fiscal responsibility and efficiency.” When pressed, he could not point to any one area of fiscal irresponsibility, however. He says, in fact, that he “is pleased with what I have seen so far. I’m not displeased.”

His focus, he says, would be on reinstating arts and music in classes where those subjects have been eliminated or cut back. When asked whether he would consider eliminating classes on diversity, multiculturalism, and the rest of the “progressive” panoply, and replacing those classes with art, music, and writing, he responds that “those decisions are made at the local level and are worth considering,” but wants to “keep an open mind.”

He concludes that “at this time of my life, I see that I have the time, I have the incentive, I have the energy, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be involved with that could be more satisfying” than serving on the School Board.

And, the main reason someone should vote for him rather than an unnamed opponent in November? “The business of education needs the experience of business,” he says.

Although Dr. Kurtzer filed papers on Tuesday July 25, his decision is “not one-hundred-percent made up yet.” He has until August 11 to either pull out or make his candidacy real.

Her Envious Heart

Carolyn Chrisman is now 17 and about to become a high school senior, but when she was 13, Montecito Journal wrote about her and her first animated short, the 1:10-long “Ascension Rite,” released in 2003 with “five hundred to seven hundred” hand-drawn illustrations that took her a year and a half to draw; the film was shown at that year’s SBIFF. Carolyn’s mom, Sarah Chrisman, says that while the short was acclaimed, “Carolyn didn’t actually win any awards” that year, because there was no “youth” category and she was competing with professionals. “So, just being accepted was a major accomplishment,” Sarah says. “Ascension Rite” did go on to compete at the Digital Days festival, whereupon it took “Best of Fest.” Sarah and Roger Chrisman retired from their Silicon Valley telecommunications company (Network Equipment Technologies, still traded on NYSE as and moved to Montecito from Tiburon seven years ago.

Carolyn’s animation career took flight when she was 11 and signed up for John Teton’s nighttime animation class at Anacapa School. “That’s how it all started; John recognized her talent,” Sarah says. Because of John (who heads up Earthlight Pictures Animation Training Program), Carolyn enrolled at Anacapa School in the seventh grade, where she still attends; Tom Decker, who has worked on feature films, like “Curious George” and others, now teaches animation there, as well as at SBCC.

Carolyn is not only an accomplished animator, whose latest film, the nearly five-minute-long “Envious Heart,” was unreeled during this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival, but she is also a budding novelist, and has 500 pages of a fantasy she began in the seventh grade, and that she is continually revising. “I keep taking the stupid stuff out,” she says.

She is considering attending either Cal Arts (where she attended a month-long animation program last summer) or USC after she graduates from Anacapa. John Teton contacted the head of USC’s film school and arranged an interview for Carolyn with Kathy Smith, who informed her there were 15 openings and that she hoped Carolyn would fill one of them. Another consideration is the animation program at Ringling School in Sarasota, Florida.

Her latest animation effort, “Mr. Smith” (3:48 running time), a class project she finished in June, is a politically tinged short that has been accepted at the upcoming Ottawa International Animation Festival in September, and which is quite different from “Envious Heart,” which features music from Carl Orff’s 1936 “Carmina Burana.” “Envious Heart” has been shown at film festivals in Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, Portland, Baton Rouge, Santa Monica, Austria and Palm Springs, and has been awarded various prizes, including a special jury award for Best Artistic Director at Austria’s prestigious Jugendfilmfestival. All of the young Ms Chrisman’s drawings were done by hand on paper before being scanned to Photoshop and then assembled and edited using Adobe Premiere software.

As to her future in the industry – which seems destined to be substantial – Carolyn says she “really loved the old Disney movies,” around the time of “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but that after “Mulan” and “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “it all became just rap and rock and they weren’t singing, like, Broadway music anymore. It was all Phil Collins and I couldn’t handle that. I miss the good old days.” She says too that she wants to animate like the old Disney cartoons.

“Disney used to do all 2-D where they were all drawings, and behind the drawings, there were paintings,” she explains. Now, they do 2-D drawings, but the backgrounds are all 3-D. It would be like an architect and you have a 3-D image of what your house is going to look like,” she continues, “and then put a drawing over it. It would look really tacky and they do that a lot now and I really dislike it.”

Carolyn, whose hobbies include swimming, SCUBA diving, and bicycle riding (she only recently learned to ride, explaining that she “was too iffy about it” before now) and whose pet is a black duck, says she plans to create a full-length animated film with just music similar to that from Mystere, O, or Cirque de Soleil. She says too that she is not interested in working for a big studio, worrying that “the type of animation I do would be exported to South Korea.”

Da Vinci at Cottage

Ron Worth, President and CEO of Cottage Hospital, welcomed the elite group of supporters and philanthropists that had gathered in Reeves Library at Cottage Hospital for a special event on Wednesday evening, July 19: a hands-on demonstration of the hospital’s new $1.5-million “da Vinci” robot, built by Intuitive Surgical, that further advances the cause of minimally invasive surgery. Worth thanked those gathered for their support and noted that without such support, Cottage could not do programs like it. “We were able to acquire [the da Vinci robot] because of an anonymous donation,” he said.

Worth introduced and acknowledged board members like Palmer Jackson, Peter MacDougall, present Board Chairman Marshall Rose, Tresha Sell and Charles Chester from Santa Ynez, Katina Etsell, Robert Nakasone and others.

Upon introducing Dr. David Laub, Worth noted that Dr. Laub’s training, “allowed him to be involved with the early development of minimally invasive surgical procedures for the treatment of female urinary incontinence and also with the first laser treatments for prostate obstructions in men.”

The da Vinci, a 7-foot tall remote-controlled device, features a high-resolution 3-D viewer and offers, according to Dr. Laub, “smaller incisions, less pain, less blood loss, less risk of infection, a shorter hospital stay, less scarring, and quicker return to normal activities.”

After a slide show and talk on the da Vinci’s features and potential, it was off to the operating room, with a stop to don “bunny suits” that covered participants from head to toe; shoe covers were put on separately, as were one of three styles of cap: “windswept,” “beret,” or “bouffant” plastic shower-cap style head gear. Dressed like extras in Woody Allen’s sci-fi spoof “Sleeper,” we trooped into the operating room, where Dr. Laub demonstrated da Vinci, explaining that only the surgeon controls the movement of the robot at all times, while watching everything on a TV monitor, sitting at a console.

“When we do traditional laparoscopic,” Dr. Laub says as we watch the monitor and he moves his hands and utilizes the various delicate tools, “we can only go in straight and have very little movement. The da Vinci lets you wrap around and actually come up from underneath.” He explains further that “the wrists have seven motions they can do, and the da Vinci can actually mimic those motions.”

Dr. Laub does note that an operation that “used to take an hour and a half, now takes over four hours,” but says he’s working on cutting that down, and is convinced that despite the extra operating-room time, the da Vinci represents “quite an advance” and is well worth the $1.5-million initial cost, the “parts that break” and the $100,000 a year maintenance contract. He then thanked those in attendance for their financial support, which, of course, made it all possible.

To learn more about how you might help, contact: Or to donate more than $1,000, call 805-879-8980.

Cigars & Champagne

Valerie Sobel’s son, André Sobel, was 18 when he died of a brain tumor diagnosed less than a year earlier. Valerie says that after that loss, she “came to understand what there is no other way to learn, and that is what a mother feels like” after such an event, and so created the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation “to help mothers who are alone.” The Foundation offers financial assistance, sometimes within 24 hours, arranging for everything from wigs, to rescuing homes from foreclosure. Ventura County, Children’s Hospital, City of Hope, Long Beach Memorial, and UCLA are participating hospitals and institutions.

“I hope to find some champions today,” she says during a conversation on Pat Nesbitt’s Summerland patio overlooking his practice polo field and the ocean beyond, “who will understand that there is nothing more unfortunate than a parent losing a child. And, there is nothing worse than for that parent to be alone and to have to carry the burden of the emotional and the financial horror of it all.” This is her foundation’s first fundraising effort on the West Coast; its very first fundraiser was held at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland just a month before.

“Cigars & Champagne” was the theme, and I wondered about that. “Someone said it’s a very good idea,” Ms Sobel, dressed in white that accented her pale East Coast skin, flaming red hair, and piercing green eyes, responded. “We had a ladies’ tea,” she continued, “and there were forty women and one man.” That one man – “Superman Returns” producer Jon Peters – however, gave them a $100,000 check. “Our board member who came up with the Cigars & Champagne theme said, ‘We really need to turn to men rather than the ladies, because they give differently.’ I said, ‘You’re absolutely right; we’d never had a hundred-thousand-dollar donation. Peters also sanctioned the Maryland fundraiser and tied it to the opening of “Superman Returns.”

Patty DeDominic, a River of Life Foundation board member, prevailed upon Pat Nesbitt, who offered not just his stables below, but the home he and Ursula Beaton share higher up. Larry Crandell introduced Ms Sobel to the mixed crowd of Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Summerland residents, and a live auction ensued.

Two more events are on the calendar: one in Stanford at the home of her son’s surgeon, and then another at Texas Children’s Hospital in Texas. A year from now, Ms Sobel suggests there may be a second gala, held this time on Jon Peters’s recently purchased El Capitan Ranch, just north of Santa Barbara.

For more information about the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, go online to:

A Haven for Young Americans

Coming up on August 13 is the 25th anniversary of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, the largest tax cut in U.S. history and President Ronald Reagan’s signature achievement. One group that plans a celebration is the Young America’s Foundation, the organization that not only purchased the Reagan Ranch on Refugio Road just north of Santa Barbara, but also runs a National Journalism Center education program at the Reagan Ranch Center, 217 State Street.

The Center, which opened recently in the building that once housed Venoco Oil, features a large section of the Berlin Wall upon entry. The center’s conference room can hold up to 300 and is set up so that if a speaker of national interest appears and C-Span, FOX, or CNN desires to cover the speech, a complete console unit with sound, lights, and video equipment allows for that coverage, instantly. Nearby, a 54-seat theatre currently features a 20-minute video on the life of Ronald Reagan, narrated by Charlton Heston, who makes a pitch for donations to YAF.

Director of Donor Relations Clark Vandeventer says, “In a lot of ways, this is a safe haven,” explaining that most of the group’s conferences take place on campuses, where their speakers and audiences are surrounded by messages that are antithetical to the one being delivered.

“Jump Start Your Career And Learn To Be A Responsible Journalist” is the message on the front of the National Journalism Center’s small flyer advertising the 12-week program that now takes place at the Center. It became a YAF program in 2002, although it has been ongoing in Washington, D.C. since 1977. Graduates of the 12-week course include Ann Coulter, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, and other prominent journalists and writers.

In addition to a tour of the Reagan Center and its National Journalism Center, YAF Communications Program Officer Tara Lynn French, a Westmont grad, gave a small group (myself, Marcia St. Clair, Ursula Beaton, Pat Nesbitt, and visiting Hillsdale College Professor of Economics, Dr. Gary Wolfram, scheduled to speak the next day at Santa Barbara Rotary) a tour of the Reagan Ranch.

The six of us piled into Tara’s red SUV and headed north on 101. Upon arrival, Tara unlocked the gate and we hurdled up a dirt road to “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” the fabled Reagan-era Western White House. We are all struck by how modest – how very modest – the main structure and the rest of the ranch is. Tara notes, for example, that when Gorbachev came for a visit “he was not impressed.” Gorbachev reportedly sniffed that ‘This was not a place for a president,’ “but,” Tara says, “this was Reagan’s heart.”

One of the first things Reagan did upon purchasing the ranch was to take down a series of telephone poles, turning them into distinctive fencing, which was added on to over the years. Reagan, even while president, called the telephone company himself in a search for leftover poles.

Inside the small ranch house, a table is set (for two) for a Thanksgiving dinner; the Reagans always had family gatherings in August, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Upon becoming president, Reagan gave up the Christmas family get-togethers, reasoning that the country deserved to have its president in the White House for that holiday. Otherwise, he and Nancy spent nearly a full year of his eight-year presidency at the ranch.

The Reagan Ranch, Tara tells us, is unique in that the furniture inside is the actual furniture the Reagans used, as are the mementos and memorabilia. Although Mrs. Reagan at one point had removed everything, she arranged to move it all back when the YAF took control of the property. “These were his treasures, not replicas,” Tara points out.

The ranch remains much as it was; there is no air-conditioning, no central heating – two large fireplaces take care of that – and even the fake brick floor tiles the Reagans installed themselves, by hand, are intact. Large Chumash grinding stones, found on the property, adorn the patio that looks out upon Reagan’s favorite view – the nearby hills where their horses roamed.

Most Western White House visitors stayed at the Biltmore; Queen Elizabeth returned to her yacht during the royal visit. No dignitary ever spent the night at the ranch – there simply was no room. Additionally, the facilities are so basic most would not want to spend the night.

Hand-tooled leather items abound – books, boots, belts, saddles – as do many articles of clothing, including trousers, riding boots, and shirts of his, and hats, skirts, and blouses of Nancy’s. Their master bed is constructed of two single beds tied together and is so short that a bench was used by the president as an extender at the foot of his side of the bed; it is still there. The shower, though fancied up with a Liberty Bell showerhead, is a fiberglass pre-fab stall. The master bath holds a basic mirror, no medicine cabinet, a plain soapstone sink, and a small dressing table. The quilt on the master bed was a gift.

It was rare for anyone to enter what the Reagans called their “inner sanctum” and where their bedroom and lounge are located. Even Ed Meese, President Reagan’s Attorney General, whose relationship went back to Reagan’s governorship days in California, had never been behind those doors; the two were close friends. When Meese heard that YAF had purchased and refurbished the ranch, he asked to visit. Somewhat surprised, they laughed, noting that he must have been there “hundreds of times.” Meese said yes, he had, but he had never entered the private area. When he finally did, he was overcome with emotion because a painting he had presented Reagan with many years before was hung in a central spot, and he had never known what had happened to it.

Outside the main house, Reagan’s old movie trailer served as a place to stay for two of Reagan’s old buddies: former CHP officers Dennis LeBlanc and Barney Barrett, although when they visited they were always put to work. Even as president, Reagan followed county rules on planning & development; the Secret Service building built for presidential security, is as basic as one could imagine; Secret Service officers slept in Santa Barbara and only on-duty agents resided in the building.

“You can’t walk away from this place and not have a sense of who Ronald Reagan was,” Tara says. It was a sentiment we all seemed to both understand and agree with. To learn more, contact The Reagan Ranch at 888-USA-1776 or online at

She’s a Bachelor Now!

Steve and Sue Brooks’s (MJ’s Sales Manager) daughter Michelle Brooks did it: she graduated from UCSB with a B.A. in Sociology. The MJ & VJ staff salutes her!