Former SLO County Supervisor Shirley Bianchi ends her career in public service

Shirley Bianchi
Shirley Bianchi

Former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi, 88, of Cambria is ending her public-service career, having resigned effective Monday from the Cambria Community Healthcare District Board of Trustees.

Earlier this month, she left the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group she helped to reenergize in 2015, and which she has led ever since.

Her resignation letter to CCHD board chairman Jerry Wood read: “It is with regret that I must write this letter, but my husband (Bill Bianchi) has been diagnosed with some moderately severe health problems. Thus, my time and energy will be directed toward insuring that he returns to full health.”

Public service

Shirley Bianchi has been an active, influential participant in North Coast and county government for decades. She served two terms as District 2 supervisor through 2006, and prior to that, served two terms on the county Planning Commission.

In 1984, she was a co-founder of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County.

As county supervisor, she worked toward permanent restriction of development on the Hearst Ranch and helped to craft rules guiding or restricting development in various other areas of the North Coast and the county. Her wide-ranging other accomplishments include establishing a program to combat substance abuse by pregnant women and fighting to televise the supervisors’ meetings.

Bianchi’s achievements have been lauded by many through the decades. Most recently, the Area Agency on Aging named Bianchi as the 2018 senior citizen of the year, based in part on her trusteeship on the healthcare district board and leadership of the Focus Group.

The Bianchis have long ties to the North Coast.

Bill Bianchi’s grandfather Celestino “Charles” Bianchi came to Cambria’s Santa Rosa Creek from Switzerland in 1878. In 1926, Shirley Bianchi’s grandfather Lloyd William Gregg bought what is now the Stepladder Ranch on San Simeon Creek Road. Various members of both families have been on the North Coast and in San Luis Obispo County ever since; Bill and Shirley Bianchi’s home is on part of Gregg’s original land purchase.

Health care district

This has been a year of upheaval for the board. Current Trustee Bob Putney wasn’t reelected Nov. 6. Board Chairman Jerry Wood opted not to run again, and former trustee Mary Anne Meyer resigned Aug. 15 and moved out of the district.

Reaction to Bianchi’s resignation was swift and sad, but sympathetic.

Wood said Monday that her decision “wasn’t a total surprise,” due to her previous resignation from the Focus Group. If she was going to leave the healthcare board, he said, “I thought she would wait until the new board was on. But family comes first — family and health.

Bianchi “was good for the board,” he said. “I didn’t always agree with her, but she listened to everything and made up her own mind. She’s an independent thinker.”

Bronson Gray said, “It’s very sad news that we’ve lost Shirley from the board. I understand, but she’ll be very sorely missed for her quick mind, amazing way of summing things up in brief and knowing how to do things well.” Shirley came to the board “at a time when she was really needed. I enjoyed being a colleague of hers.”

Incoming CCHD district trustee Igor “Iggy” Fedoroff said, “I’m disappointed. Shirley has so many years of experience and knowledge of the workings of the San Luis Obispo County government, which has been useful on the healthcare district board.

“It’s a shame, but understandable if she’s doing it for her husband’s good,” he added.

Fedoroff said with a sigh that, with Bianchi’s resignation, “I guess we’ll be looking for another board member.”

Wood mentioned that Putney’s fourth-place showing in the election could put him in line for a quick appointment to the vacancy, but “I’m not sure if the board, as it will be situated, if that would be something they’d want to do.” If not, “they’ll have to go through the appointment process that’s in place, having people apply.” However, “they’ve got enough to do to keep things running properly. This is just one more thing they’ve got to deal with.”

Bronson Gray said she believes that “legally, we have to have an appointment process” and that the “board would want to hear from volunteers in the community who want to come forward.”

Leaving the district

Bianchi was elected to the healthcare board in 2016 and served two years of that term.

It was a financially fraught time for the district, with delays in receiving crucial tax revenues from the county, cuts in Medicare reimbursements, a one-time legal expense of $97,000, a decrease in calls north of Ragged Point (to a large extent due to the year-plus closure of Highway 1 at Mud Creek and other locations) and other fiscal constraints.

On Election Day, voters turned down a parcel-tax ballot measure to help pay for specific district costs.

Then administrator Bob Sayers resigned in September, as he had planned to do for some time.

Bianchi said in an interview with The Tribune that helping to keep the district going while it was on the verge of financial collapse was one of her proudest accomplishments.

She said that, after working through the issues with staff, other trustees and the community, “I feel I am leaving the district in fairly good financial shape. Since May of last year, the district has cut some $160,000 out of annual operating expenses,” out of a total annual 2018-19 budget of nearly $1.7 million. She said those cuts and other belt-tightening measures have left the agency on a firmer financial footing.

Bianchi gives lots of credit to all the CCHD staffers, especially acting administrator Jason Melendy and Heidi Holmes Nagy, the district’s administrative services manager.

“They and the entire crew worked diligently to help resolve the district’s financial crunch,” Bianchi said, “while at all times maintaining their excellent, caring, professional service to their patients.”

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