The group of eight stood crowded into a hallway at the Shell Beach house. Some were looking out the large bay window to the ocean and waves below, while others stood clustered around various pieces of artwork dotting the hall. The conversations were relatively benign: Most commented on the lavish decorations, while others gossiped about shared acquaintances and “where are they now?” tidbits.
Looking at them as they casually meandered about, you might not guess that they made the decisions that shaped Pismo Beach.
Five former Pismo Beach mayors — plus the current one — gathered at the Chapman Estate in Shell Beach on Friday, along with a couple guests, for a special luncheon to share stories and food.
“I wanted to bring together all of the leaders who have made a difference in Pismo Beach,” current Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said. “And just to have the opportunity to say thank you. Look at how great our city is, and it wouldn’t be great without the sacrifice and time that these folks put in.”
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Higginbotham has served as mayor since 2010, though she recently announced plans to retire at the end of this year.
The luncheon was the first of its kind for the city of Pismo Beach — never before had its former mayors been deliberately brought together, she said.
Mayors from the past four decades were there: Marian Mellow, who served between 1976 and 1978; Bill Richardson (1982-84); Tim Bittner and John Brown represented the 1990s, serving terms in 1992-94 and 1996-2000, respectively; and Mary Ann Reiss (2004-10) represented the 2000s.
People forget. Those little plaques wear away. But it’s really important to hear all of it.
Shelly Higginbotham, Pismo Beach Mayor
Several other former mayors couldn’t attend for a variety of reasons, including illness and lingering political tensions.
Notable among those was former Mayor Dick Morrow, who died April 4 at the age of 87. Morrow, who served on the City Council from 1986 to 1994, was known for purchases such as the Dinosaur Caves Park and the new City Hall, and approving major economic projects like the Pismo Beach Premium Outlets.
For Reiss, who still sits on the City Council, meeting several of the past mayors was an opportunity to get some insider insight into issues facing the city today.
“Just to find out the history — what did they do different then than we do now?” she said. “It’s a chance to compare notes.”
Looking at the former civil servants as they walked through the spiraling rooms of the Chapman House, it’s not obvious that many of them have butted heads over the years for a variety of fiercely divisive issues that have gone before the city. Between the laughing at somewhat inappropriate political jokes and congratulations for good works during their times in office, the group looked more like a cordial gathering of acquaintances — joined together by a unique shared experience — than tense rivals.
“It’s been very nice to meet all of them,” Mellow said succinctly. “As they all know, I don’t always agree with everything they do, but I don’t think you have to be disagreeable to disagree. It’s been very pleasant so far.”
Richardson — a tall, friendly looking man wearing hearing aids and a Hawaiian shirt — summed it up easily.
“I’m just happy to be here — we all are,” he said as he patted Reiss on the back before ambling toward the front lawn for pictures of five decades of Pismo Beach leadership.
As the mayors stood around chatting after the photos, Higginbotham looked on with pride.
“I think they’ve all made incredible decisions that we’ve all benefited from, and we need to hear that,” she said. “People forget. Those little plaques wear away. But it’s really important to hear all of it.”