Bill Yates, former Morro Bay mayor, dies at 66

Longtime community member served four terms for the city and loved his sailing adventures

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 20, 2014 

William Yates, former Morro Bay mayor.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — The Tribune Buy Photo

William “Bill” Yates, whose four terms as Morro Bay mayor spanned eight of the years from 1992 to 2012, died Wednesday at the age of 66. He had been battling lung cancer, his family said.

Yates was colorful in many ways, from his brightly patterned Hawaiian shirts to his quotes and his solo sailing adventures, including a well-documented but unsuccessful 1997 attempt to complete 2,800 nautical miles across the Pacific aboard his 38-foot sloop, Obsession.

“Few things change a man like extreme solitude surrounded by the grandeur of ever-changing nature,” the yachtsman said later. He said he was “definitely more appreciative of life and our environment.”

He flat-out loved being mayor, a job that “fits me,” he once said. “I rolled out at all times of the day and night when we had disasters such as fires, floods or accidents” — or the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. “It’s almost like being the town shrink.”

Yates often asked someone to start Morro Bay City Council meetings with a joke, hoping to defuse some long-term grudges and bickering, often a hallmark of Morro Bay politics.

One of his campaign slogans was “Lighten Up.” Some of his elections had squeaker endings: He won one by 73 votes and lost another by 129.

He could be conciliatory, combative or both. In 2011, Yates ruffled feathers when he wanted a clean sweep of the city Planning Commission (it didn’t happen). One of those commissioners was Jamie Irons, who snagged the mayor’s seat away from Yates in the 2012 primary election.

Bill Peirce, who served on the City Council with Yates, recalled him as colorful, controversial and dedicated to doing what he thought best as mayor.

“When Bill Yates ran for mayor for the first time, the city government was in chaos,” Peirce said. “He was magically able to pull it all together.

“He was a little more autocratic than some people liked back in those days, but he got the job done.”

Yates was unabashedly pro-business, especially for Morro Bay’s trademark fishing fleet; he thought regulations were strangling that industry.

He supported a rent-control ordinance and a revised housing element, and he endorsed updating the Duke Energy/Dynegy power plant, rebuilding Twin Bridges between Morro Bay and Los Osos, keeping a Coast Guard cutter in Morro Bay, beautifying the Embarcadero, boosting tourism and the town’s economy, bringing in more weekend entertainment, establishing a maritime museum, reopening a closed skating rink so youngsters could recreate there and upgrading a sewage-treatment plant that Morro Bay shares with Cayucos. Not all of these dreams were accomplished.

For a dozen years, Yates and his wife, Lindsay, operated Zephyrine Jewelry in Marina Square on the Embarcadero.

The shop specialized in nautical and marine-life jewelry, reflecting his love of sailing and the sea. They later moved the business to the Internet.

He contributed regularly to the then-Sun Bulletin newspaper. Yates’ descriptive blog at chronicled his solo sailing and more.

Yates wrote there, “I had endured having the boat submerged under towering, breaking waves. I had picked flying fish and squid off the deck in the dawn light. I had been surrounded by hundreds of frolicking porpoises and had watched in awe while whales breached 100 feet from the boat. I had sailed with night skies so clear it was as if being in a planetarium … I had experienced so much.”

Services and a cremation by Benedict-Rettey Mortuary in Morro Bay are pending. The family has tentatively scheduled a celebration of his life for April 25. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Association.

Yates is survived by his wife; daughter Janelle Blaise of San Francisco; daughter Wendy Lister of Carlsbad; daughter Heather Lukusa of Jersey City, N.J.; daughter Alisha Yates of Morro Bay; son Graham Yates of Morro Bay; and six grandchildren.

Tribune staff writer David Sneed contributed to this story.

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