When in doubt, just let go
October 2, 2010
OPINION by SUSAN MULLEN
Whether it’s your family or town, knowing your history helps you to understand where you came from, what you are made of, and how not to make the same mistakes over and over again. You make a better future when you learn from the past.
So I’d like to share a little history in hopes of doing just that. I’ve lived in Morro Bay since 1981. I got involved in politics in 1989 because of a giant shopping center proposal that was all wrong for Morro Bay. The hillside to the east of Highway 1 at the entrance to our beautiful city has always been used for cattle grazing and sold through the years from family to family while zoned agricultural. The current owners, Tri-W Inc. led by members of the Williams family, tried two times to rezone part of the 177 acres within the city for commercial and visitor serving uses through a ballot initiative in the 1980s. They won on the second try.
However, when the plans came to light to reveal a 32 acre shopping center, larger than the entire downtown of Morro Bay,that would cut a massive hole in the hillside requiring tons of earth to be removed, I got involved in city politics.
In 1990, Measure H was born to rezone that 32 acres back to 13 gross acres of commercial only use and return the balance to agricultural. Ben Luna led the fight along with a great group of volunteers. In the summer of 1990, we both ran for city council. In November we won and Measure H won. We also campaigned for Rose Marie Sheetz for Mayor and she won. We now had a three person majority to fight the shopping center.
This was my first lesson in politics – be careful whom you help because they may just use you to win and then turn their backs on you. This is exactly what Rose Marie did to Ben and me. She changed her position on the shopping center once elected and Ben and I had to fight to get measure H enacted into city law. We fought for two years through the city process, the courts, and the Coastal Commission. It was a long and hard battle and after two years we still hadn’t secured what Measure H had promised. At the same time this was going on, we were also being sued personally by the developer in what is known as a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Political Participation) suit in federal court in Los Angeles. Our personal time and resources were being exhausted on purpose in hopes that we would give up – but we didn’t.
So in the spring of 1992, with too much on my plate to even think about running for Mayor, I met Bill Yates and suggested he run for Mayor after hearing his support for me and Ben and his liberal political beliefs. I promised to help him and I did. He was elected and the night he was sworn in, we voted to rescind all actions of the previous council and effectively killed the out-of-scale 32 acre Tri-W project. That was the beginning of a two year friendship.
With the shopping center battle over and the SLAPP suit thrown out of court, I now had time to work on more pressing city issues. I thought Bill was a good mayor and we were a good council. If you look back at that two year period between 1992 and 1994, you would see the Vision 2000 statement, a reworking of the zoning rules, low interest loans for business signage, roads being paved, high schools students having a day as the council and city staff, a water management plan, balanced city budgets and new twin bridges among the many accomplishments.
None of this was done by one person alone, but by all of us working together. One very important action was to direct staff to give us options and pros and cons – not direction so that we directed staff – they did not direct us. We increased methods of communication to the citizens – especially around the harbor plan and had many meetings discussing how to set goals and have more people in the city participate in their local government. There were a lot of 5-0 votes. On a personal level, I had many lunches with Bill and dinners and parties at his home and got to know his family too. I thought we had become good friends. I even agreed to jump parties and support him as a Republican if he ran for assembly. That’s how much I liked him.
But history repeated itself again in 1994. I was ready to run for Mayor but knew I would not run against Bill. I don’t run against my friends. So when he came to me in early 1994 and made it very clear he would not run again no matter what, I took him on his word and started a campaign for Mayor. Bill told me he was not spending enough time with his family and the city work was just too much. He told me he would endorse me for Mayor and was happy that I was running. I believed him. My term on council ended that year so my political career would be over if I didn’t win. I was sure I would win with Bill’s support.
My campaign started early. I raised money, bought signs, printed brochures, and did all the things one does to start a campaign. I was happy and excited and looking forward to a summer of campaigning. All that changed on the last day to file for office, when Bill called to tell me he had changed his mind and was going to run again for Mayor.
I knew I couldn’t beat him and my political career was over for now. I limped through that election like a wounded soldier. I did the best I could knowing it would not be enough. What hurt the most was finding out that he set me up and had been planning to run all along. And that everything he had told me to get me to run for Mayor was a lie. He had done it on purpose.
At this point you might say that this is all about sour grapes and losing but it far from that. It’s not easy baring one’s soul to a city after all these years. It would be much easier to be quiet. But history is important and this story needs to be told. And I know Bill will respond by saying he had too many people asking him to run again but don’t be fooled. I have had too many people confirm the setup to believe anything different.
So this story is about a friend betraying your trust. It’s about how politics has become a bait and switch game where someone will tell you they will do something only to make a complete change once elected. It’s about the loss of a friendship that can never be healed. It is also a warning to watch out for Bill because he apparently does not have a core that guides him, only an overwhelming desire to win at all costs.
I write this because I believe this goes right to his character. How can anyone trust Bill,if he can so easily betray a friend? Who will he betray next? I believe it will be you, the voters. Will he do what he says he will do? What agenda does he really have and what plans does he really have in mind if elected.
Obviously, I’m not going to vote for Bill Yates for mayor and if you are thinking about voting for Bill, I say you should have second thoughts about this decision. I don’t trust what he says and neither should you. The city is in too bad a financial condition to have someone at the helm that you just can’t trust.
Susan Mullen is a Morro Bay resident and a former Morro Bay city councilwoman.