It’s so long but not goodbye for Ken Ibarra, who claims his departure from the San Bruno City Council after more than two decades is not indicative of an intent to fade away forever.
Ibarra, along with former mayor Jim Ruane and outgoing City Manager Connie Jackson and City Clerk Carol Bonner, received recognition late last month from San Bruno officials and residents for their long careers in public service.
While Ibarra said he appreciated the acknowledgment for his civil service which started in 1996, he intends to maintain interest in community issues down the road.
“I can take this experience I’ve had with public office and regional experience and you’ll probably see me involved somewhere,” said Ibarra, who decided to not seek re-election in the most recent City Council election for the first time since being appointed nearly 22 years ago.
His move came concurrent with Ruane’s retirement as mayor, and the position was filled by former councilman Rico Medina who defeated challenger Annette Zink in the fall election. Ibarra and Medina’s spots on the council were filled by newly-elected councilmembers Laura Davis and Michael Salazar.
For his part, Ibarra said it was enjoyable to retire from the council at the same time as Ruane.
“I can’t be happier or more proud to step away with my old friend Jim,” said Ibarra, who helped run Ruane’s initial campaign to win election in 1995.
Shortly after Ruane’s success, alongside Councilwoman Irene O’Connell, Ibarra said he believed his role in public service was done. But when a spot on the City Council opened following a resignation, Ibarra was encouraged to fill the void and won appointment over 11 other candidates.
With a majority of the City Council comprised of fresh blood, Ibarra said he, O’Connell and Ruane took initiative to usher in a new era of development in San Bruno.
The effort paid dividends, said Ibarra, citing a variety of infrastructure improvements and developments such as building at The Crossing near the intersection of Interstate 380 and El Camino Real among notable accomplishments.
He said the progress was borne from an aggressive approach adopted by a young and enthusiastic council seeking to push forward a traditionally sleepy community.
“They were the right decisions. As much as they weren’t popular with a lot of people, we can all proudly say that if we didn’t make those decisions, those problems would still be here and they would be worse,” he said.
He said the developments were even more impressive in the context of moving ahead concurrently with the construction of train rail grade separation and a new BART station.
He characterized the transportation projects as “very involved,” which took almost 10 years to complete and sapped the attention of officials whose attention was pulled in many different directions.
Despite the various successes Ibarra knew during his term, he also noted the pain and challenges tied to overcoming the city’s most tumultuous period.
In 2010, a fireball ripped from a Pacific Gas & Electric underground gas line and through a residential neighborhood west of Interstate 280, killing eight, injuring 66 and causing millions of dollars in property damage.
As San Bruno came into national focus in the wake of the tragedy, Ibarra said he was heartened by the effort of officials not only to push for restitution, but also to assure another similar incident would not occur again.
Yet despite the city’s triumph in seeking state utility reforms while also landing sizable settlement payments, Ibarra said he maintains reservations over the way he personally responded to the blast.
“One thing I probably would have liked to have done after the explosion, I would to have liked to have been a little bit more engaged in the community,” he said. “City staff was employed to take care of the issues. But because it was a tragedy, it needed just a little more personal touch from elected officials.”
Ibarra said he was able to provide some of that support as part of the Lions Club though, which he helped foster lasting friendships with survivors of the blast still preserved today.
Looking ahead, he plans to maintain his activism in the community with his role in the club, as well as just being an engaged resident.
“We’ve got some important projects that moving forward I will pay attention to but I’m confident the leadership can handle it,” he said.
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