About the Colony

Looking back: The summer of 1979, when Atascadero voters approved cityhood

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions because that results in two things I have to do: make the resolution and then actually do it.

I do, however, like to look back on significant years in my life and make mental notes of the especially good ones, such as when my two daughters were born, when I received my commission in the U.S. Navy or when I earned my diploma from Cal Poly. I’ll never forget my first year of teaching.

I cherish the 35 years I spent practicing small-town journalism in Atascadero, whether it was reporting on a youngster’s 4-H sheep project, getting pictures of students of the month in the newspaper or the pleasure I felt when a random editorial I wrote led to a permanent home for Atascadero Loaves and Fishes.

As a journalist, I especially enjoyed reporting on the creation of a new city following the narrow approval of cityhood by Atascadero voters in the summer of 1979. The process was interesting because I knew I was not only reporting the formation of a city government, but recording history, too.

First we elected a city council of five local men and women — Bob Wilkins, Rolfe Nelson, Marj Mackey, Bill Stover and George Highland. Those five hired department heads such as a police chief, planning director, public works chief, city manager and others. The police department hired its lieutenants, then the sergeants and finally the patrol officers. As a newsman, those years made my job easy because there was so much news being generated.

And, once we had a local government in place, reporting the news was easier because I only had to go over to City Hall for information. Before cityhood, information for a vehicle accident had to be obtained from the CHP office in Templeton; for a theft, I went to the Sheriff’s Office; for planning and public works projects, the county’s offices in San Luis Obispo.

Atascadero had one year from the time the voters approved cityhood to when we had to provide all those city services ourselves. I remember waiting in the lobby at midnight as the city’s first patrol hit the streets on July 1, 1980. It was the first time we had our own law enforcement. I still remember the headline I wrote: “The Force is With Us!”

The years speed by faster and faster as I age. It is fun to zero in on one and relive the joy it provided. Fortunately, at least for me, bad years seem to slip from my memory and disappear, leaving only the good ones to relish.

I hope 2016 is a good one for us all.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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