T. Keith Gurnee in the backyard of his home, which he built in 1973. Kylie Kowalske | Mustang News. Credit: Kylie Kowalske | Mustang News

T. Keith Gurnee’s name may be new to the mayoral ballot, but it is not new to the city council. Gurnee was first elected as a San Luis Obispo councilman in 1971 at the age of 23, while he was still a student at Cal Poly.

“I would like to see somebody break my record,” Gurnee said. “I’m the only student that has ever gotten elected and that was back when you had to be 21 to vote — my wife was too young to vote for me at the time.”

Gurnee graduated with a degree in city planning from Cal Poly in 1973, eight years after starting at the university. He joked that liking Avila Beach “a bit too much” put him behind, but also said serving on both the city council and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) student government took up much of his time. 

After serving on the city council for nearly seven years, Gurnee decided to stay in the area.

He quite literally has deep roots in San Luis Obispo — he planted the now-towering redwood trees in the front yard of his home, which he built himself and raised his two children in.

Gurnee worked as a city planner in San Luis Obispo County for approximately 40 years before retiring. He says he is eager to use his experiences as a city planner by rejoining the council he served on before the city even had a bus system.

Gurnee’s platform: For our neighborhoods

Gurnee was inspired to run for council over what may seem like a relatively simple issue: a bike lane.

“What really ignited [my decision to run] was this council decided it wanted to put this exclusive bike lane through our residential area,” Gurnee said. “What really disturbed me, other than them not listening to [residents], is that they’re not focusing on the right places to put bike lanes.”

Gurnee’s campaign slogan is “For Our Neighborhoods.” As a longtime resident of San Luis Obispo who stayed for the “delightful, small-town character,” he said he is focusing on building a campaign around preserving the original character of the city.

“The top two priorities in our city government for the last 10 to 15 years have historically been open space restoration and protection and neighborhood wellness,” Gurnee said. “This last year, I feel like those two goals have disappeared. I want to return to those goals.”

Gurnee worked toward land preservation while on city council almost 50 years ago, working on projects that inspired his campaign’s yard sign design.

“I helped with all four transactions that permanently preserved Bishop Peak while on council,” Gurnee said. “That’s why it’s on my yard signs. It took a lot of work to get it preserved, and preserved it is — and I’m proud of that.”

If elected, another major goal for Gurnee is to build a stronger relationship with Cal Poly. To address the lack of affordability in San Luis Obispo, Gurnee said he is planning to jointly sponsor a design competition with the university to design a new neighborhood on campus, “a place students will want to live, with neighborhood amenities.”

He said he hopes Cal Poly can begin to accommodate up to 75 percent of its students on campus, instead of the current 30 percent.

There is a lot of good Cal Poly does for this community, but there [are] also a lot of impacts, particularly on the housing crisis,” Gurnee said. “If Cal Poly were to house second and third years, it would free up a lot of the housing we have currently occupied by students for working people.”

Gurnee’s push for election

There has not been much time for relaxation during campaigning. Gurnee has spent his days walking precincts, attending forums and meeting as many voters as he can. He also makes time to write every morning, from editorial letters to position papers on issues.

Gurnee does not expect things to slow down and is excited at the possibility of helping San Luis Obispo return to its roots. If elected, he wants to work closely with students and hopes students will join the city’s commissions to get involved with local politics.

“I really gave students a voice on city council and I think they need to have a voice in the city council,” Gurnee said. “I’ve been their champion before and I want to do it again.”

Gurnee said that if he is elected, he will run for a second term as well.

Vote by November 6

Nov. 6 is the last day to vote for mayor and city council seats.

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