Photos from the Vault

Morro Bay declares independence

Aerial photo of Morro Bay and rock in 1963.
Aerial photo of Morro Bay and rock in 1963.

For residents of Morro Bay, July 7 is Independence Day.

Controversy on the coast is not new. Citizens living in the community of Morro Bay had to decide half a century ago if becoming an incorporated city was the thing to do.

Spoiler alert: Incorporation passed by a 2-1 margin.

The unofficial tally reported July 8, 1964, was 1,505 for and 746 against.

Regional editor Charles Judson told the story about the upcoming vote in the then-Telegram-Tribune on July 4, 1964:

Community to test maturity with vote on incorporation

MORRO BAY — This north coast community known in the guide books as beautiful Morro Bay may elect to become the City of Greater Morro Bay next week.

The decision will be made on Tuesday in a special election on incorporation. At the same time voters will choose five councilmen from a field of 23 to serve if city status is approved.

The outcome of the voting is in doubt. The community is divided by Highway 1 freeway as well as other respects.

While there is wide agreement that the administration of the community from the Courthouse in San Luis Obispo has not always been good for it, the community does not fully trust itself.

Morro Bay remains a disturbed settlement, due in part to a childhood that was less than happy in some respects and because of other things that have occurred in more recent years, such as the tidelands title suits.

The ghost of the late E.G. Lewis also still haunts this lovely neighborhood. Lewis was a real estate promoter of an earlier California land boom era who left a lot of heartbreak scattered along the coast.

Lewis appropriated that section of Greater Morro Bay known as Atascadero Beach, for use as a branch of his mail order land promotion and development at Atascadero.

While time has erased most of the evidence of the Lewis promotion, some of this old hurt remains and is a factor in the current campaign for Morro Bay incorporation. Since the Lewis disaster, that area north of the PG&E plant and east of the highway known as Morro Del Mar has been fighting to hold on and make a comeback.

While considered the poor relation by some in Morro Bay proper, Morro Del Mar has its own water district and fire department now, both debt free. The water district has a comfortable surplus. Both of these facilities and services would be absorbed under incorporation and some residents don’t fancy this.

Aside from Morro Rock itself, the PG&E generating plant is the biggest thing in Morro Bay and its influence is much greater than the rock.

While it clutters up the landscape, it represents a cherished island of high tax assessment and is the main reason why Morro Bay can entertain the idea of incorporation.

A contributing factor to some degree of Morro Bay’s split personality is the legal tanglefoot involving the waterfront.

Until these painful title issues involving county administration of the tidelands are resolved, Morro Bay incorporated or not, can scarcely call its soul its own.

While Morro Bay has a whole lot going for it — an attractive and desirable area, sufficient assessed valuation to pay its own way, and a favorable growth situation — community leadership has been lacking.

The process and fact of incorporation might produce the challenge that would create the leadership.

Anyway the vote on incorporation Tuesday will test the will in Morro Bay to grow up.