Frank Mecham, retired SLO County First District Supervisor, likes to spend time these days looking back—way back. The fifth-generation resident has a rich and storied family history in the area and enjoys genealogy as one of his new post-career passions. He laughs that it took “160 years to get a family member back on the on the Board of Supervisors.” It was his great-great grandfather Joaquin Tomas Estrada who served on the first Board in 1852. Estrada was the original land grant owner of the famed Santa Margarita Ranch where, in 1845, he and Governor Pio Pico and General Juan Castro met to discuss what the future of California might be after the Bear Flag Revolt.
Successful in his lifetime endeavors including owning his own business, serving as the first directly elected mayor of the City of Paso Robles and later elected as Supervisor from 2008 to 2016, Mecham, when asked if he has a desire to continue to have a voice in government, easily responded, “Not really. The folks in office have more information than I do so give them the benefit of the doubt and let them do what needs to be done. I look back and feel I did the best I could. Now it’s someone else’s turn.”
However, Mecham does reflect on highlights from his days in public service as memorable and satisfying though he tackled a few tough issues, including water concerns in North County. “I’ve done a lot of research on water issues. And, if you look back over the history in California, droughts are a common occurrence. They’ve created tremendous losses; as far back as the 1860’s, droughts played a major role in the economy. And now, we have larger population, more irrigated agriculture, so the demand is greater. Water will continue to be an issue. I’m very pleased to have been involved in facilitating the construction of the Nacimiento Water Project.”
Mecham also vividly recalls the 2003 earthquake during his tenure as mayor of Paso Robles that claimed the lives of two Paso Robles citizens and resulted in major property damage. “Shortly after the 9/11 crisis I had coordinated with our city government to determine how we would react in the face of a local catastrophe. ‘What are we prepared to do? How many aircraft can our airport handle? How secure is our water supply?’ I asked. Our fire chief developed an emergency response scenario for us,” Mecham said. Subsequently, when the earthquake occurred, Mecham and his team were prepared and reacted promptly.
Soon after, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the city to offer state assistance. “After a high profile meeting, the governor shook my hand and said, ‘Well I think I got you some good press,’ to which I replied, ‘Thank you but all I needed was your signature.’” And to add to the interesting moment, Mecham says, was that an aftershock roiled everyone’s nerves at the very moment the governor was signing the declaration. Following that meeting, Mecham walked across to the park area where a water eruption had sent sulfur water flowing down the street. Realizing this was a public relations situation, Mecham acted quickly. “People—including some writers from the Los Angeles Times— thought it was sewer water because of the smell but I knew it wasn’t. So I scooped up some of the water and drank it and put those rumors to rest.”
Mecham’s easy-going, upbeat attitude explains why he’s well liked and highly respected around the community. “I had fun being Mayor. I’d run into folks at the grocery store or around town and have the opportunity to chat with them,” he said. He also relished his position as a Supervisor. “It’s the last position in government (hierarchy) that’s non partisan,” he remarked. “And yet, people were always surprised when I returned their phone calls, particularly after a vote. ‘I can’t believe you called me back,’ they’d say. But I did.”
Mecham’s community involvement includes looking forward to volunteering at Rios Caledonia and Paso’s Historical Society which ties in nicely with his interest in family history as he traces his family back nine generations from their arrival in Baja, California in 1664. He’s also interested in finding out more about the women in his family’s history. “I know for sure that the women played a key role and were influential in decisions.”
He notes that his roots reach back to the time of Christopher Columbus via the Vallejo family. The Vallejos—and later the Estradas—played a significant role in California history. “It was General John Fremont that arrested my great-great grandfather Joaquin Estrada. Estrada, along with his ranch manager, were eventually released though.” Mecham is currently working on a book that compiles the research and intriguing story of his family through the generations.
Mecham, who recently received an Honored Alumni Award from Cuesta College where he played on the school’s first football team in the 60s, joined the Navy in 1966. He recalled an incident where his ship was anchored at Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. “A few of us went over to toast the astronauts that had landed on the moon. We only had enough money between us for one round. On the patio of the Sheraton Hotel, we met Connie Stevens and Marty Allen who were filming there. And as the night wore on, Connie Stevens asked me to dance! And, Marty Allen told the bartender to put all our drinks on his tab.” Another memorable time for Mecham was when he was invited to Poland. There, he met the First Lady of Poland and exchanged gifts. “She was a very kind and gracious lady,” he commented. Sadly, she was onboard the plane that went down with her husband and several other high ranking members of the Polish government in 2010.
Mecham loves to spend time at his son-in-law, Ben Work and his daughter Kelly’s family ranch. He’s proud of Ben and Kelly for their participation with the Mighty Oaks Program. Kelly takes the soldiers on trail rides and a lot of them have never been on horseback. Between his wife Deb, their combined family of Kelly, Jeremy, Corrie, Tyler, Cristy, Ava and their families, plus nine grandkids and their two dogs, Jack and Jill, Mecham said he keeps busy.
After Mecham retired in 2016, a local news story ran what was called “Mechisms” sharing quotes from Mecham’s service that reflected his character and personality. Among them was “My dog would probably leave me at the pound, but I wouldn’t leave my dog.” Explaining this, he referenced the vote he made for the new county animal shelter. “My dogs would be mad at me if I didn’t support this!”
Another Mechism goes, “I can’t see the sense in doing nothing.” Though that was related to water conservation, it applies aptly to Mecham’s busy life today. Between writing, woodworking, volunteering and trying to help on the ranch, he says, “I’m not quite ready to be history just yet.”