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John Headding: Morro Bay's new mayor

I moved my family from Merced, California to Morro Bay. In doing so, we moved from an area known for its poor air quality (the Lung Association said the Central Valley’s soot pollution remains among the worst in the nation) to an area renown for its clean air and pristine ocean. I think about that every day—how fortunate I am to be here with my family.”.

The above statement offers a noteworthy glimpse into Morro Bay’s new mayor. When asked to share his journey, John related his varied path that led him to Morro Bay.

“I grew up in Pittsburgh, CA in the Walnut Creek area. After receiving my bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, I proceeded to earn my doctorate in Pharmacology. Soon after, I began a career in pharmacy administration—basically running hospital pharmacies. Eventually, I moved to Merced and took a job at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock as a pharmacy director and was eventually promoted to a position as the hospital’s chief operating officer. During my tenure at Emanuel medical center, I returned to school and received a Masters in Health Administration in order to pursue my goal of becoming a hospital CEO. Soon after, I became CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Merced California. I ended my career in hospital administration in 2004. My family and I decided to move to Cambria in 2005, after purchasing Cambria Drug which we operated from 2005 to 2013. In 2010, we opened a second pharmacy in Morro Bay—Morro Bay Drug and Gift. Cambria was a great community, but we just felt more comfortable here in Morro Bay. John’s wife, Sue, worked as a Registered Nurse for 45 years and joined her husband insuring the success of the pharmacy. One of his two daughters and her husband also helped.

“My wife has always had the gift of mercy; she is special. When we moved here, she went back to school and earned her pharmacy technician license, so the pharmacy became a family operation. I was the pharmacist, my son-in-law was the store manager, my wife was the pharmacy tech and nurse; it worked well for the community and us. Today, it is the same for our Morro Bay Pharmacy. Fortunately, I only have to work on Saturdays now, so that gives me time for being Mayor.

“Why, at this time in your life, did you decide to run for Mayor? Why not just take it easy and work one day a week?” “Well, that is a good question.” He chuckled. “To be candid, I had never been involved in politics. However, I felt I did have a particular skill set that could be of help to the community of Morro Bay. I had served on the Morro Bay City Council for four years, so when the election came around, I ran for Mayor. My time with the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce serving as vice-president helped prepare me. I felt I had some worthy skills to offer, and I am looking forward to working with all the talented people around me. You met Scott Collins—our new City Manager, and Jen Callaway our Chief Financial Officer, just two of our wonderful city staff members.

After winning a close race, John was congratulated by former Mayor Jamie Irons. “I consider Jamie a friend. Working with him as mayor and with my council-member peers helped prepare the way for my move up to Mayor.”

“What are you excited about when it comes to the future of Morro Bay?”

“Imagine 30 huge windmills off our coast—30 miles offshore, so one could not see them, but they would be connected to the power plant area. The Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) will be involved. Two weeks ago, Massachusetts embraced the ocean technology we are considering. They leased three sites at $135 million per site. Picture this—a private company comes in and leases the offshore site here in Morro Bay. The average cost to build these floating windmills is around four $4 billion. The entire process takes about 5 to 7 years, and we are about 2 years in right now. Afterward, the result would be this fantastic, non-polluting energy generating electricity; it would also be generating money for our Morro Bay community. Thus far, Morro Bay and Humboldt are the only two California Ocean coastal areas being considered. Trident Wind is one of the private companies trying to secure the lease.”

“The second idea I am excited about concerns the potential repurposing of the former Morro Bay power plant. In about 4 years, the city of Morro Bay may be able to buy the land for one dollar. However, the problem with the land involves the cost of cleaning the property—$50 to $100 million. Sadly, we don’t have the money. One option might be to utilize a portion of the property as a maintenance facility for the potential future wind farm. This would offer 30 to 50 good paying jobs and could help in cleaning up the site. We will continue to explore opportunities with Dynegy—the current shuttered plant owner to examine opportunities for repurposing the site.”

“Thirdly, several properties on our Embarcadero are being redeveloped. There are plans for a potential future new aquarium, two new boutique hotels, and the remodeling of several other lease sites bringing new restaurants and retail to the area. That said, we want to maintain the key integrity and charm that attracts thousands of visitors to Morro Bay every year.”

Also, the old Distasio’s building property is a city-owned property currently being considered for redevelopment. The concept there would be mixed use … possibly including a convention type hotel with 100+ rooms, outdoor amphitheater, new retail and connector from the downtown to the Embarcadero. The potential to boost our city’s income is exciting—all without compromising the viewshed. We are also looking into a greenbelt around our community to prevent urban sprawl and are in talks with Chevron about incorporating “Dog Beach” into the city and looking at a bike connector from Morro Bay to Cayucos.

“Finally, there is the controversial waste-water treatment system that is going be constructed on the north side of South Bay Blvd. We are hoping to bring some drought resiliency to our city by producing clean water from the recycling component of our new wastewater treatment facility. Remember, state water is not a guarantee—there could be another severe drought. Our existing wastewater treatment facility is over 55 years old and outdated. Building the new water reclamation facility will provide the community with a state-of-the-art waste-water treatment plant and water recycling facility costing the rate-payers only $41 per month in additional assessments over a 35-year period. The overall project also includes $40 million in new pipes to replace our old pipes that need to be fixed. We should be able to turn dirt in about six months. Also, we have a community oversight committee advising the Council on the technical aspects of the project.”

As we concluded our interview, John added one final comment. “I realize that building an effective business involves a different mindset than creating a successful community; however, I hope to work closely with our council and residents to preserve Morro Bay’s distinctive beauty.”.



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