I was going to say something at former Arroyo Grande Councilman Tom Runels’ memorial; however, that would have been preaching to the choir. I believe that the congregation should hear this as well.It’s easy to say that Tom was “there to do what was best for the community,” or “even if you were on the other side ... you would respect him,” or that “he had a firm handshake and ready smile,” but Tom was a whole lot more than that.
Tom and I served together on the Council, and he — in his homespun, articulate way — would let you know just how he felt about an issue. If he felt it was something that was going to affect the community, he would let you know how he felt and vote that way.
In that eight-year period from 1996-2004, the city was changing. The real estate market was booming. A new group of people was coming and buying homes two, three, four times larger than they had owned. They had money left over from the sale of their previous residence. They wanted open spaces with vistas. They had no idea of who the folks were that lived here and what their abilities were.
They wanted parks, performing arts centers, upscale stores. They did not have a clue of whether there was money to pay for them, or not.
We, the city, were again coming to grips with unfavorable choices regarding the budget and our employees. We needed revenues, or we had to make cuts.
There was 44 acres of land, zoned commercial, which had remained undeveloped for 20 years. This could provide the needed revenues necessary to change the economics for years to come.
There were five of us on the council. Two had to excuse themselves because of a conflict of interest. Each meeting became more and more agitated. The community was becoming more vocal and forming sides. Two of us were in favor and one against. Tom and I stood by our feelings that the project proposed would not only solve our economic problem but also provide a shopping outlet for all the people in our area.
Week after week, we were subjected to truths, half-truths and outright lies, but Tom fought hard for the people he was serving.
Thanks Tom Runels, for your service to the community. Thanks for your loyalty. Thanks for your friendship and, most of all, many of us thank you for that vote.
Pete Dougall is the former mayor of Arroyo Grande.