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October 19, 2012

An Interview with Morro Bay Councilwoman Christine Johnson

by Central Coast Lending
Christine Johnson (1)

Christine Johnson won a seat to the Morro Bay City Council on the June 5 primary election and will take her seat in December. In the meantime, we caught the council newcomer for an interview with the SLO Locals Blog.

We were tempted to ask about the election, her views on the wastewater treatment plant, business expansion, and other aspects of Morro Bay public policy, and we are sure that Christine could have answered these questions well. On the other hand, the politics stemming from the national election are exhausting. So we decided to use the opportunity to get to know one of SLO County’s newest public figures on a more personal level, which is certainly one of the perks of small-town local government.

Read on to see how many places Christine has lived (12 places, 5 countries) and how she found Morro Bay, as well as her take on leadership, travel, comfort food, and so much more.


How about we start by listing all of the places that you have lived.

Born in Greensburg in Western Pennsylvania and grew up in Bloomsburg in northeastern PA.  After graduating from Penn State, I’ve lived in order: Philadelphia PA, Huntington Beach CA, Columbus OH, Santiago CHILE, Seoul SOUTH KOREA, Short Hills NJ, Panama City PANAMA, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL and Morro Bay CA.


What sent you around the world? 

I got my masters degree in Student Affairs and began my work in higher education in Philadelphia. Lee worked for Maersk, the world’s largest container ship company, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. After 5 years in Philadelphia, Lee had a chance to relocate for his job to Long Beach, California. We made the move west.

It doesn’t seem like a major decision compared to all the other big moves, but it launched us into the world and then led us back to Morro Bay. This decision meant that we agreed to put Lee’s career opportunities above mine for the short-term. A less esoteric reason for this decision was that he made more money at his job than I made at mine. So, I would transition into the ‘trailing spouse’ (the official corporate name for it) and I would have to be flexible with my career.


What led you to Morro Bay the first time? How/when did you decide to settle down?

Morro Bay (Rock 2)My husband Lee and I met at Penn State, graduated in 1990, and took a cross-country trip before we began our “real” jobs in back in Philadelphia. We happened upon Morro Bay in the classic manner – it was our stopover on Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. We decided to push on to the little town with the big rock, so the AAA guidebook said. Lee was dubious about how big this rock would be and thought maybe it was a bit of hype…teasing me as I read aloud about the size of the rock and it’s geological history. So as we approached Morro Bay on Highway One we were a bit unprepared for—-BAM—-there is The Rock.  To this day, he admits that The Rock turned out to be really big and really cool and not overhyped at all.

For the next two days we camped at Morro Strand State Beach and loved exploring the town and thought that it seemed to be the perfect place to raise children and to settle down in one day. I was 21 years old at the time so ‘the future’ seemed both far away and open for anything, even ending up some day far away from Pennsylvania.

When our son Nicholas was born in 2005, we felt a strong desire to come back home and to walk away from the demands of Lee’s career that would always and forever require frequent relocation.  Since home could be anywhere, we decided to try and make a life for ourselves in Morro Bay like we thought about doing years before.


You received a masters in Student Affairs in Higher Education and since then you have been working with various communities around the country. What thoughts you have had along the way that helped shape your views on public service and leadership? 

My master’s degree is in Student Affairs in Higher Education and is sometimes also called higher education administration or leadership in higher education. In Philadelphia, I worked at a 2-year college as Director of Student Development and in Long Beach, CA I worked for the Girl Scout Council as Assistant Executive Director in Charge of Membership, Marketing and Volunteers.

I enjoy helping people become leaders at any level in their lives.  It’s obvious in Girl Scouting because we use the term “Leader” specifically to mean a leader of the troop and in the community.  At the college level, we were working to build leadership skills in students so they would be successful at work and in their personal lives.

I believe we all have leadership ability and we use it in various ways in our daily lives.  When we do focus on developing our personal leadership skills, it helps us to take responsibility for our actions and helps us to focus our energy on the tasks we believe are important for our well-being and good quality of life.


Let’s get to the “important” stuff. You can answers these as brief as you would like. What is your favorite season? Coffee or tea? Favorite kind of pie? Beer, wine or sparkling cider?  

I like the season of September in any location on the planet. I like how September can be both summer and fall. September stretches out summer.

Coffee.  Coconut Cream Pie.  A Michelada – Mexican beer served over ice with fresh lemon juice and salt on the rim.  Ok to sprinkle some pepper on top.  I don’t add Tabasco but lots of people do.


Describe your perfect Morro Bay day. Mine is the first day of the warm winds in October. The sun is out but not too bright, and golden life kind of floods the streets. Everyone seems happy. 

It’s hard to compete with your perfect day in MB.  You nailed it.

I’ll also make a pitch for winter rainy days that reveal rainbows suddenly when there is a break in the cloud cover so that the sun and rain make their mutual appearance.  Do you ever notice how many rainbows we seem to have in Morro Bay. I wonder if other people notice that, too? I have snapped so many photos of Morro Bay rainbows: over the ocean, over the hills, near The Rock.  Could Morro Bay rival Hawaii in terms of rainbows?


Switching gears – let’s share some of your worldly knowledge. You are my travel agent. I have $1,500 (including airfare) to book a week-long trip anywhere. Where do you send me and what do I do there?

Japan is my hands down choice for one week – especially if you can go in the fall when the leaves are changing. I select it because it’s such a different travel experience to visit a location where you so obviously stand out as not native – it’s a very exposed way to experience a place.

I can only make this trip affordable with your budget because I calculated the airfare from Seoul to Tokyo not from the US – is that cheating?  I was living in Seoul when I did this trip!

For more on Christine’s Japan travel guide, click HERE.


If you could go to any one city or country and eat the culinary specialty of that area, where would you go?

Sao Paulo, Brazil. Every kind of region is represented in this enormous city so all the food of Brazil is there. But, really if you eat meat it’s all about the Churrascaria, or Brazilian Steakhouse. Skewer after skewer of perfectly grilled beef, chicken, pork are bought round to your table. Trays of bacalao also glide by… bacaloa is salted cod fish popular in Brazil. Fantastic salad bar, too, for the non-meat eaters.  Dozens of salads and roasted vegetables and fruits.

It’s an experience and every Sunday you’ll find the churrascarias packed with Brazilian families.  Some of the bigger places even have their own play areas for kids supervised by babysitters and families linger over their food and their Caipirinhas, too.


I am a post-grad trying to make my way in the world on a tiny budget. You invite me over for a special home-cooked meal to fill my stomach with happiness and warmth. What does your family cook for me? [Ed. note: sorry, that was a bit of a selfish question].

One dish that is filling and delicious and has the right balance of salty and sweet is a favorite comfort food casserole from Chile that I learned to make is called Pastel del Choclo.  Layered in a casserole dish are ground beef, pieces of roasted chicken, golden raisins, olives (pits in!) and slices of boiled egg. Then you top the dish with the choclo mixture.  Choclo is the word used in Chile for corn. To make the topping, you husk fresh corn and cook it for a while with milk and lots and lots of sugar. Then, puree it and pour it on top.  Bake.  It’s a crazy combination of textures and flavors and is something that I’ve seen people eat third helpings of it.

Chileans only make this dish in the summer when the corn is fresh. But, for a starving post-grad, I could whip it up in the winter with frozen corn – I’m not a purist about it.


Now on to popular culture. Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, or Soccer? A brief explanation?

I’m from Penn State so football is in my heritage but I dropped out of the football world long before the current trauma at Penn State.

I prefer a day at the baseball park to any other spectator sport.  I love the Blues games in SLO.

These days it’s all about my son’s sporty nature so we rotate through soccer, basketball and baseball seasons for the Under 8 set.


You are culture czar of the United States and you are concerned that we have are heads stuck too far in the technological cloud. But you can force every person to do one cultural activity (Read one book, view one play/musical/opera, see one painting, watch one movie, attend one concert, etc). What/which activity would it be?

I love plays – dramatic plays. Not musicals. Repeat: not musicals. Sorry to all who love them, especially my mother who tried for years to get me to appreciate musicals.

But, a good play in a small, intimate theater like The Little Theater in SLO…that’s money well spent.  I have no favorite plays, I’ll see anything.

You know, this question reminds me of the philosophical argument I’ve had with my brother in law for years:  I say plays are better than movies.  He says movies are better than plays and then quotes Homer Simpson:  “I’ve seen plays that were more exciting than this…honest to God…plays!”


And finally, on to a few questions about your life. What hobby(s) would you pick up if you had the time?

Stand up paddle boarding and bread baking.


You have the day to yourself with no family in sight. You aren’t too tired from a long week and money isn’t an issue. You can do anything for 24 hours. What do you do? 

Read one entire New Yorker magazine cover-to-cover in one sitting.  Go to a yoga class at HMC. Walk on the beach. Listen to Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Eat avocado and bacon sandwiches. I don’t need to travel far, we have so much to enjoy here.


If your house was burning down (and you family was safe) and you could rescue three items… what would they be? Would 18-year old Christine approve of these choices? 

My grandmother’s well-worn kitchen table that I use now as my desk. I’d have to have help carrying it out, I guess.

My son’s book of work from Kindergarten that shows the dramatic development of his literacy skills. It also marks the end of art projects that involve tracing a little boy’s handprint.

My wedding ring.

Eighteen-year old Christine would not want to save the table!


What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

My marriage to Lee. We’ve made it 20 years so far.


Thanks Christine! Best of luck on the MB City Council!


The SLO County Locals blog explores some of the best “locals” spots around the county, seeking out the businesses, activities, people, and events that make this place so unique. For more see:SLO County Locals blog.

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