San Bruno mayor still undecided on re-election effort

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane talks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein before a hearing on Capitol Hill in 2010 about the fatal gas pipeline explosion in his city.

Three-term San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane says he might not run for re-election in November, partly because his other public and private service commitments require so much of his time and energy.

But some of Ruane’s constituents and colleagues say they hope he will seek to retain the mayor’s seat. Among them is Councilwoman Irene O’Connell, who applauded the mayor’s response to the PG&E gas pipeline explosion that destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood in 2010, killing eight people and injuring 60.

“He has given his time and energy to making this city better, most impressively through his fight for the victims of the PG&E gas line explosion,” O’Connell said.

San Bruno is the only city in San Mateo County in which voters elect a mayor. In others, city council members take turns in the position. San Bruno instituted mayoral elections in 1980.

Ruane served on the San Bruno City Council for 14 years prior to becoming mayor, and said he originally thought about the job in terms of “balancing the budget and fixing potholes.”

But when a gas pipeline explosion devastated the Crestmoor neighborhood Sept. 9, 2010, Ruane’s role dramatically shifted.

The mayor was at the disaster site almost continuously for more than two days. And on the Sunday morning following the event, when it was time to move some residents back into the homes that could be safely occupied, Ruane said the process was “an eerie, surreal experience.”

In the years since the explosion, Ruane has become a nationally recognized advocate for pipeline safety. He is a founding member of the Mayors’ Council on Pipeline Safety, and has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to testify before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Natural gas pipeline disasters happen too often, Ruane said, noting that just a few months after the San Bruno explosion, a similar event in Allentown, Penn. killed five people and injured 60.

“They have pipes in Pennsylvania that are 200 years old and made of wood,” Ruane said.

Other pipeline-related disasters include a March 2014 event in East Harlem, N.Y. that killed five, injured 70 and destroyed two apartment buildings; and an April 2015 explosion in Fresno that injured 11 and led to the temporary closure of state Highway 99.

While pipeline safety reform has come to define his career, Ruane can also point to other accomplishments that occurred on his watch, including last year’s passage of Measure N, which eased height restrictions in San Bruno. Permitting developers to build as high as 90 feet along the Caltrain transit corridor allows for the kind of density that might help alleviate the Peninsula’s housing crunch, Ruane said.

The mayor touts an 83-unit housing development is being constructed at the corner of El Camino Real and San Mateo Avenue.

Ruane said he is also proud of things the City Council achieved prior to his first term as mayor, such as helping facilitate the complicated renovation that transformed the ailing Tanforan shopping center into a thriving, first-rate facility.

And he considers it a significant achievement that the former Navy Western Regional Engineering Command site was redeveloped and is now home to about 1,700 dwellings, 20 percent of which are designated as below-market-rate housing.

But seeking justice for the victims of the pipeline explosion, and making sure “nothing like this ever happens again,” are priorities Ruane will continue to work on regardless of whether he seeks re-election.

“We could have just rebuilt the neighborhood and moved on,” Ruane said, “but in memory of those eight people who died, we don’t want business as usual to continue.”

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

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