Willard "Bill" McCrone was a relentless champion of the city of Monterey. It's a role that sounds like it might have made him a cheerleader, but McCrone was more of a bull in a china shop, willing to upend the status quo if he thought it would lead to a better, fairer outcome for the city. It was an approach that made him a controversial figure, even as he cheered for the city's success.
McCrone, a two-time Monterey City Council candidate, one-time mayoral candidate and long-time planning commissioner, died on Feb. 7 in his home of 34 years. He was 74.
"Having lived (in order) through the Vietnam War, his beloved 'Age of Aquarius,' four heart attacks, a heart transplant, and two amputations, he was dubbed—lovingly, endearingly—'La Cucaracha' because it seemed that nothing could kill him; cancer of his liver, lungs, and bones finally did," according to a family obituary.
McCrone worked as a business and real estate lawyer, a career path he was inspired to pursue back in his days as a West Point cadet during which he was ticketed "during a flagrantly excessive traffic stop, and he vowed to never again be taken advantage of by those in authority."
Even before he retired, McCrone set about applying his real estate know-how to a thorough examination of Monterey's leases for commercial space on Fisherman's Wharf. It's an issue he arrived at by happenstance—as a planning commissioner, he volunteered to serve on a waterfront subcommittee in 2010, and asked for an inventory of the city's waterfront leases.
City administrators denied the information he requested, setting him on a search to find the information from a confidential source—and a quest to reform the leasing process, noting that wharf businesses paid the city under market rate for their prime locations.
“It just really pisses me off to see the public ripped off,” McCrone told the Weekly in 2015. “I can’t stand still for it.”
As a political candidate, it made him unpopular with the business community and with city officials. He ran twice for council and once for mayor, and lost in each of those elections.
In his unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2018, when he challenged incumbent Mayor Clyde Roberson, McCrone again raised the issue of city oversight over city property, and said he wanted to focus on the wharves and the Monterey Conference Center.
During McCrone's years on the Planning Commission, city officials made efforts to slow and stop nightlife. Although he at times voted for more restrictions at certain businesses, McCrone distinguished himself as supportive of nightlife: "There's no move to roll up the sidewalks at midnight. There are some people on city administration who I think might like to see that, but I’m that one of them," he said in 2012, when he was first running for council.
In addition to his focus on reforming the city's approach to property, McCrone devoted himself to preserving Monterey's history. He served on the board of the Old Monterey Foundation, a nonprofit that formed in 2010 largely to map out a vision for rehabilitating Lower Presidio Historic Park.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Carol; children Trudy, Jack and Ian; sisters Pat and Susan; and granddaughters Amara and Valerie.
A funeral ceremony was held today, Feb. 16. Family members ask that in lieu of sending flowers, donations be made in McCrone's memory to the Old Monterey Foundation.