Leading North County Activist, Jan Mitchell, Dies at 75
January 24, 2013
It was through necessity that Jan Mitchell and her husband, Ed, learned about county permitting and land use rules: In 1998, they got wind of a proposed development near their 17-acre Prunedale Ranch and were worried about their water supply. So they attended their first-ever public meeting, a Minor Subdivision Committee meeting, to each testify for three minutes.
In the 15 years that followed until her death on Monday, Mitchell learned to navigate the political process with expertise, serving three terms on the North County Land Use Advisory Committee and co-founding two land use watchdog groups, the Prunedale Neighbors Group and Prunedale Preservation Alliance.
She was also a co-founder of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, which has subsequently become an active political action committee, the North Salinas Valley Fund for Responsible Growth.
"Like many people that become activists, you get involved with a smaller issue. You start to learn the good things and the bad things about dealing with the county and was it allows subdivisions to do," says Ed, who plans to run again in 2014 for county supervisor. "There were, it seemed to us, many bad things."
Though Mitchell struggled for decades with pulmonary and cardiovascular disease, she remained a seemingly tireless presence in major battles. (The smart growth side prevailed both against Carlson Estates, the 1998 proposal, and Rancho San Juan developers.)
"We saw these things that were unfair, and we wouldn’t back down," Ed says.
Mitchell's illness eventually stopped her from dancing, which was how she originally met her husband at an Army dance at the Hyatt. Ed, who was serving in the Army and was stationed at Fort Ord at the time, remembers: "I saw this outstanding, incredible beauty, and I was able to get a dance with her. I wasn’t too shy and asked to see her again, but her date book was full. It took three weeks until we got to dance next."
Mitchell was born in Glen White, West Virginia, and spent much of her childhood in Mississippi. She originally moved to Salinas in 1965 where she became a licensed building contractor and realtor. For five years, she represented the Salinas Board of Realtors as a California Association of Realtors director.
Then she traveled with Ed until he retired from the military and they settled in Prunedale 1990. He was traveling, and she spent the first night in their rural home alone, scared of the noises and the owl sounds, Ed recalls.
Mitchell died on their 31st wedding anniversary at Community Hospital on Monday afternoon from kidney failure, surrounded by family members.
She is survived by her husband and survived sons Jay Ancelet of Salinas, daughter Karen Pemberton of Arizona, Randy and Lori Ancelet of Prunedale, Chester and Jeanne Ancelet of Arizona, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
A service will be held Friday, Feb. 1 at 9am at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery, 18200 Damian Way. A celebration of her life begins at noon that day at the Prunedale Grange at 17890 Moro Road. She will be buried in a plot "overlooking the agricultural fields once threatened by the Rancho San Wrong project."