Sonora councilman leaves office after 52 years

Sonora councilman retires after 52 years

Ron Stearn reflects on his 52 years on the City Council in Sonora, Calif., on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (John Holland/
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Ron Stearn reflects on his 52 years on the City Council in Sonora, Calif., on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (John Holland/

Ron Stearn ended his 52 years on the City Council on Tuesday with one last walk up to the second-floor chambers.

“I’m getting too old,” he said earlier in the day. “I’ll be 88 on July 22, and there’s 24 steps going up to City Hall.”

Stearn is believed to be tied with the late Talmadge Burke of Alhambra, in Los Angeles County, for the longest tenure among city council members in California. Admirers said he achieved it with an easygoing approach that was forward-looking while also respecting the 165 years of Sonora history.

“He’s a true gentleman,” said Tim Miller, city administrator since 2010, “and I’m going to miss our regular meetings.”

Stearn said his highlights include the 1970s construction of a parking garage, which eased the demand on Sonora’s narrow streets, and the building of Coffill Park on the site of downtown buildings that had burned. He also helped guide the restoration of the Sonora Opera Hall in the 1990s.

Stearn was the longtime manager of Mundorf Mercantile, a hardware and houseware business that thrived in the era before chain stores on the east edge of town. He has long advocated for downtown while realizing that most of the city’s sales tax revenue comes from those shopping centers. The recent widening of Mono Way to serve that traffic is among his highlights.

“There’s a lot of history in his life, but he does look to the future, too,” said Pat Perry, city finance director from 1984 to 2004 and official city historian since 2003.

Stearn was born in Oakland and spent most of his boyhood in San Francisco before moving to Sonora in 1943. It has long been the Tuolumne County seat and a draw for visitors from as near as Modesto and as far as Asia. The town has only about 4,900 residents, but the narrow downtown streets can get congested.

Stearn was sworn in on April 21, 1964 – the elections were two months earlier then – and declined to run in the June 7 election. He said he might stay involved with Vision Sonora, a streetscape effort that he said could remove too many parking places.

Stearn’s wife, Lorraine, died in 1988. He has a son, two daughters, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The family is planning a birthday event that also will recognize his public service.

“He really cares about the city and always tries to do what’s best for the city,” Perry said.

John Holland: 209-578-2385