For 52 years, the San Luis Obispo Citizen of the Year has served the city in various capacities — working 36 years as its Public Works director, then serving 16 years as a City Council member, including eight years as mayor.
Dave Romero, who handed over the mayor’s gavel in 2010, was honored Saturday at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce’s 110th annual dinner.
“Dave’s love affair with SLO is deep and true — and it’s infectious, too,” former San Luis Obispo City Manager Ken Hampian said in a news release from the chamber. “For nearly 60 years, he has shared his love in both words and deeds. And, yes, he has built many big, important physical things along the way, too.”
Romero, 86, grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., receiving a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1950 from the University of New Mexico.
He served as San Luis Obispo’s Public Works director from 1956 to 1992.
A Telegram-Tribune article from 1973 described him as “fast talking” at council meetings and usually dressed in “modish suits, and an occasional purple shirt with matching tie.”
He served as a councilman for eight years before being forced out by term limits at the end of 2000. He lost the race for mayor that year but was elected mayor in 2002 and served for eight years.
Romero is also active in numerous community organizations, including the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, the Senior Center, the Retired Active Men’s Society and the Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo.
In a 2010 interview, he said he was proud of the city’s participation in a project to receive Nacimiento Lake water; a seismic-retrofit program that forced seismic improvements to about 100 buildings; and the Performing Arts Center built with partners on the Cal Poly campus.
“Dave Romero has long deserved this high community honor,” Mayor Jan Marx said in the news release. “Of special significance during this extreme drought is his leadership during his 16 years on the City Council in making sure the city of San Luis Obispo has an adequate and secure water supply.”
In addition, there were numerous projects, including two parking garages, new parks and the Los Osos Valley Road freeway overpass, though funding and approvals for that project took 25 years.
“Everything I do leaves some kind of mark on a community — every street, every sewer or water line, every tree, parking lot, parking structure, parking meter,” Romero said in a 1986 interview. “After enough years, it’s become my town because I’ve helped build all of it.”
In the 2010 interview, Romero said he also thinks fondly of the city’s controversial decision to block off a section of Monterey Street and develop Mission Plaza in the 1960s. He said the project nearly cost him his job because he expressed support for a plaza when the council at the time was focused on widening Monterey Street past the Old Mission.
“I cannot think of a more satisfying career — it has been a work of love,” he said upon leaving the council in December 2010.