After more than two decades as an elected official — including eight years spent guiding his community through its most tumultuous stretch — San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane is retiring from his post.
Ruane, 70, said he will not seek re-election this fall, opening a vacancy for the only local mayor’s position which is elected separately from the rest of the City Council.
Following 22 years on the City Council, Ruane said he is proud of the time he spent serving his community, especially in the aftermath of the 2010 Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline explosion.
“Because of San Bruno, something good has come out of this,” said Ruane, pointing to the variety of legal decisions against the utility company mandating more stringent regulations designed to enhance public safety.
As the court proceedings begin to wind down for the blast that killed eight, injured 53 and devastated the Crestmoor neighborhood, Ruane said he felt it was due time to step down.
A federal judge earlier this year sentenced PG&E to pay the maximum $3 million fine plus run ads publicizing its pipeline safety convictions for the explosion that destroyed 38 homes. The decision followed state regulators fining the utility $1.6 billion for the tragedy, on top of the millions paid in private lawsuits to victims, as well as the San Bruno community.
Last year, jurors also convicted the company of five counts of violating pipeline safety laws, including insufficiently examining gas pipeline threats and deliberately dismissing public safety risks.
Throughout the legal process, Ruane spearheaded the city’s communications effort and he said the community’s perseverance was fueled by a desire to assure other cities are safe from similar threats.
“We could have just rebuilt a neighborhood and said ‘get on with it,’ but there was a lot more to it,” said Ruane.
Ultimately, Ruane said he believes the committed fight against PG&E has resulted in a safer San Bruno as well as other cities and communities across the nation.
“That was our goal. Whatever we can add to the bigger picture of safety, so no other community has to experience what we did,” he said.
Councilwoman Irene O’Connell, who has served the longest alongside Ruane, admired her colleague’s dogged determination to advocacy when San Bruno residents needed him most.
“One of the things that stands out to me is his exceptional leadership during the pipeline explosion and afterward … he was like a rock, and people really responded to him,” she said.
Ruane’s tenure was marked by more that merely his work following the tragedy, O’Connell noted, pointing to his work building the city’s arts and cultural resources as well as improving its infrastructure.
“He’s always been steadfast in trying to make San Bruno better in any way he could,” she said.
Ruane pointed to his focus on economic development through helping loosen building regulations and increase allowable heights plus breaking ground recently on some notable and sizable new mixed-use projects as other highlights during his tenure.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but it’s a positive thing and we have worked hard to achieve it,” said Ruane, of the city’s growth.
Looking ahead to a life after office, Ruane said he will sink many of his available hours into his job as a plastering contractor and work with surrounding labor groups. He also plans to spend more time with his family and four grandchildren.
The San Francisco native who moved to San Bruno in 1976 said he was called to community service out of a compulsion to do more than criticize the decisions of local elected officials from the sidelines.
“I figured I’d give it a try instead of just complaining about it,” he said.
Following many years of tireless and often taxing work, Ruane said he is prepared to turn his attention to other endeavors with confidence the community will continue to grow and thrive.
“I think I leave the city in pretty good shape,” he said.