As a rookie police officer in the 1970s, Jerry Sanders patrolled San Diego’s Kensington neighborhood, with its rows of Spanish-style homes and iconic red tile roofs. “I’ve always loved the community,” recalls Sanders, who would work his way up through the ranks to become police chief and, later, a two-term mayor. “I just thought I’d always like to live here.”
In 1994, his wife Rana Sampson, then a law enforcement consultant who grew up in New York City, fell in love with the area, too. “I like living in the city, I like neighborhoods, and I love old homes,” says Sampson as she and Sanders show Ranch & Coast around their charming Spanish Revival built in the 1920s. “I walked four feet inside and knew this was it,” she remembers. “It had good bones.” That included original oak floors, a working fireplace, and “majestic, swaying queen palms” planted in front.
Over the years, the couple has formed a close partnership with community service at its core. Sampson, the former vice president of development and marketing for the San Diego Center for Children, now has a new job with Union Bank. Recently named vice president and promotions manager, she oversees marketing and community outreach in San Diego County, the Coachella Valley, and Riverside. Sanders is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which works on relations with the military and Mexico, and job creation.
A tour of their 2,000-square-foot home offers a revealing glimpse into the lives of a power couple who act anything but. Sanders (who his wife brags) has “an incredible green thumb” and has landscaped the front yard with lush, drought tolerant succulents which helped the couple cut water usage in half while Sanders was mayor. On the colorful backyard patio strung with lights, Sampson, a gifted artist, crafted the large mosaic tile table, a favorite family gathering spot when the couple’s daughters, Lisa and Jaimie, visit from North Park. Behind the garage, there’s a pocket-sized pool, perfect for a quick dip.
The couple retained the cozy living room and dining room with its original gumwood doors, but completely redesigned the kitchen with cherry wood cabinets, granite counters, and Mexican tiles. Sanders’ only requirement was an armchair where he can read the newspaper. (Request granted.)
The couple took a much-earned sabbatical last year, hiking 1,000 miles through Italy and touring Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, and Liguria. Sanders, who lost 80 pounds several years ago, keeps fit by walking 16 miles a day on weekends; the petite Sampson likes to zip around the neighborhood on her Vespa. The couple favors such local establishments as Fish Public, Bleu Boheme, Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, and Clem’s Bottle House & Deli, which stocks fine wines and hundreds of craft beers.
They continue to volunteer their time to a variety of causes. Sampson just completed serving on a CEO search committee for the San Diego Center for Children. She also serves on the board of the San Diego Museum of Art, the Board of Visitors for the California Western School of Law, the Advisory Board of the San Diego History Center, and the San Diego State School of Public Affairs Task Force. Sanders is chair of the Business Leadership Alliance, and serves on the boards of BioCom, Connect, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, and SDSU’s Campanile Foundation.
San Diego’s spirit of volunteerism continues to inspire them. “What’s fascinating to me is that everybody has the sense that to be a community, everybody has to pitch in,” says Sampson. “It’s a remarkable town.” Adds Sanders: “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” ANDREA NAVERSEN