Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor: Readers remember Mission Plaza founder Ken Schwartz

A monument in downtown San Luis Obispo acknowledges the key role former Mayor Kenneth Schwartz played in establishing Mission Plaza.
A monument in downtown San Luis Obispo acknowledges the key role former Mayor Kenneth Schwartz played in establishing Mission Plaza. sfinucane@thetribunenews.com

Plaque a fitting tribute

My friendship with Ken Schwartz goes back over a half century. He was a great civil servant, dedicated to the city of San Luis Obispo and an extraordinary human being. Ken got the see the bronze plaque created in his honor, although in his typical humble style, he didn’t want anything drawing attention to himself.

The plaque was designed by Pierre Rademaker and developed by former Mayor Jan Marx. It will be a great tribute to Ken that will last through time, continuing the honor bestowed upon him for eternity, so that all will remember what he did and what he stood for.

Dr. Lou Tedone, San Luis Obispo

Schwartz a great teacher

I served as city manager under Ken Schwartz for several years. While we always had an excellent relationship, I was not spared his strong opinions and occasional barbs.

Once when he was arguing to fund a public fountain, he wrote a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek memo, ostensibly to my wife (who he liked a lot) that included these memorable lines:

“Your husband is as fiscally tight-fisted as they come. He seems to believe that 20 computers, a police SUV or a new park lawn mower have a higher priority in the scheme of things than an attractive and fun water display. Is there a way to change his hide bound attitude for the benefit of our otherwise attractive community?”

Ouch! Naturally, I wrote a zesty rebuttal — to his wife, Martha (who I liked a lot). But he had made his point.

Yes, Ken could go long and hard in expressing his views. However, my advice to others was that if you listen carefully, you will always learn something new.

Ken was a great leader. But moreover, he was a great educator. I learned a lot from him and he made me better. More importantly, he made SLO a much better community.

Ken Hampian, San Luis Obispo

A different view

As a resident of San Luis Obispo for more than 50 years, I have never seen a single bad word published in The Tribune about Mr. Ken Schwartz. Now he has passed away, praise upon praise has been heaped on him. Would it be possible for a different opinion to be heard?

As a newcomer and an assistant professor in 1969, I soon learned the friendly and distinguished-looking gentleman was the mayor of San Luis Obispo, as well as one of four directors of the School of Architecture.

As an immigrant, realizing my American Dream was one of my major concerns. During my first three years in SLO, I didn’t have a down payment to buy a house, so my American Dream was only a dream.

Mr. Schwartz was a huge proponent of the Architectural Review Commission in San Luis Obispo, and he promoted it to the whole state of California. ARC oversees the appearance of new buildings.

When a city government made beauty an official business, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what would happen to the housing costs in SLO.

It worried me to death: Could I save fast enough before the housing prices in SLO rose 25% to 30% annually? I was lucky to be able to buy one of the last inexpensive tract houses in 1972.

Ever since colonial times, every generation of Americans has been able to live a better life than their parents, until now. Try to convince young Americans today that they will have a better life than their parents.

Singchou Wu, San Luis Obispo

Ken Schwartz will be missed

During various intervals, I had the good fortune to serve with Ken Schwartz on the SLO City Council. We served together as council members, vice mayors and mayors. During those times, we were blessed by Ken’s city planning skills, his superb ability to create a park-like atmosphere (Mission Plaza) and his outstanding foresight in setting guidelines for the development of the remainder of downtown.

After Ken’s retirement from the City Council, he continued to contribute money from a trust fund to add many improvements to Mission Plaza. Few cities can boast of such an attractive core to their downtown.

Ken’s passing is a sad time for us all. He hasn’t really left us ... his spirit will be with us forever.

Dave Romero, San Luis Obispo

Schwartz a true inspiration

I read about the passing of Ken Schwartz with much sadness.

Ken was an inspiration to the SLO community in many well-known ways, such as Mission Plaza, Creek Trail Network and others. On a personal level, he had a profound effect on my life to this day. Ken was one of my first instructors when I arrived at Poly as a freshman in the School of Architecture.

After two and a half years of school I found myself on the cusp of making a change in my major. I visited with Ken to explore my options. He listened carefully and suggested I consider city and regional planning, which was a career he felt better suited my demeanor.

I took that path and graduated. I was able to remain in SLO, first working for Pismo Beach, then starting my own consulting firm that is successfully operating today. I was able to marry and raise my children in one of the greatest communities in California.

We crossed paths many times at City Hall and during one break I was able to share this story with him. He smiled. He was unquestionably one of the most important inspirations in my life.

David Watson, Nipomo

Schwartz a ‘giant’

Many years ago, Lou Tedone introduced me to Ken Schwartz. The three of us had dinner together every six weeks or so. My partner, Sky Bergman, came into the picture and it was a foursome. Standing on the shoulders of these two giants was a pleasure and honor that is hard to describe. The friendship, transfers of information and wisdom from our elders taught me many great lessons.

The comraderie, the closeness and true love of another human being is one of life’s great lessons. I urge all who read this to find an older friend, get to know them over time. Offer your help and time to them. Learn from them. Love them. As you bless them with your kindness, you will reap the blessings of theirs in the future. Your planting of these seeds will grow into the sweetest fruit over the years. And maybe if you’re lucky, maybe someone will do the same for you when you get older. Thank you Ken, for your words, your wisdom and friendship. And thank you Lou for the same. We are better people because of you.

Jeff Eidelman, San Luis Obispo

SLO has lost a champion

The city of San Luis Obispo has lost a champion of good government with the passing of former Mayor Ken Schwartz.

When I first arrived in San Luis Obispo as the new city administrative officer (now city manager), I made it a point to meet and talk to the former mayor to seek his advice and counsel. Years later, he came back on the council and I had the opportunity to work directly with him.

First and foremost, Ken was a true gentleman who loved his family. It was fun watching the usually serious, scholarly Ken interact with his fun-loving, effusive wife, Martha.

Ken had the city of San Luis Obispo in his bones. He was always talking about the city and advancing ideas for improvements. On my last visit with him, though he had great difficulty seeing and hearing he was still advocating. As Pierre Rademaker said, while some would view him as opinionated, he was always idealistic and steadfast in his pursuits. He had a dear love for citizen involvement and democracy. Ken served his students at Cal Poly and his city with love and distinction. He will be missed.

John Dunn, Avila Beach

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