SAN MARCOS — Chris Orlando and his son, Ryan, are at a crossroads that few father-and-son duos face together.
Call it ‘term limits’ — figuratively and literally.
Chris Orlando is a San Marcos City Councilman in the final year of his last four-year term of office. Ryan Orlando, 18, is a standout basketball player at San Marcos High School, playing his final high school basketball season.
Both are plotting their next steps. For Chris Orlando, the next step could be a run — for mayor, that is. For Ryan Orlando, it could be a walk — as in “walk-on,” the term for a nonscholarship member of a collegiate basketball team.
But both of them are enjoying going through the transition together.
“It’s really interesting, as I am considering my next step and watching him do that, the realization that we’re both figuring out what the next chapter is, is kind of cool,” Chris Orlando said. “My son has a strict ‘no pep talk’ policy, so we keep the pep talks to a minimum, but it is neat we are at a new chapter at the same time. It’s been good.”
The Orlandos’ respective political and athletic journeys have virtually paralleled each other. The elder was elected in 2006, around the time that the younger first picked up a basketball.
Ryan Orlando’s first sports love was baseball, he said. But as the 6-foot-3 player got older — and taller — basketball became more of a natural fit.
“It’s a lot of fun, I really like the team thing, hanging with the guys before and after games, and the camaraderie,” Ryan Orlando said. “I also like the running around a lot more than the standing around you do playing baseball.”
Chris Orlando, who called himself “vertically challenged” at 5 foot 9, said he didn’t really know where he got the basketball ability, but he supported his son’s career, making every game possible as he balanced being a father with being an elected official.
“I think every family has a balancing act they have to go through, but I try to make all the games,” Chris Orlando said. “He tells me, ‘Dad, you don’t have to make all of the games,’ but I tell him that I do all the other stuff so I can make the games. It’s not perfect but it works out.”
The “other things” include defining policy for one of the fastest growing cities in North County.
Chris Orlando served on the five-member City Council during a critical period in the city’s history, joining at the height of the housing bubble and into the recession, which hit municipalities like San Marcos the hardest.
“We weathered some really tough times in the recession, but we were well positioned to come through it in a better place because our financial house was in order,” Chris Orlando said. “There’s no shiny building to show for it, but for me that’s one of the biggest accomplishments from us working together as a team through that time, which was a tough time for every city.”
Following the recession, San Marcos has continued its growth.
Chris Orlando said some of his proudest accomplishments include the North City project, which has transformed the area immediately north of Cal State San Marcos into a bustling entertainment and residential district that has enlivened the campus and the surrounding areas, and the general plan — the city’s blueprint, which he called “innovative.”
“There have been a lot of changes the last 12 years, and it’s gratifying to be a part of that,” Chris Orlando said. “I don’t consider it the end, obviously I am termed out from a council standpoint that is a milestone, but for me it has been a really good 12 years, and I have enjoyed it a lot.”
Chris Orlando’s accomplishments haven’t been lost on his firstborn son, who said he has a strong admiration for his dad doing what he considers a thankless job.
“First of all, I don’t know how he does it, whenever I go to a meeting, people yell at him all the time,” Ryan Orlando said.
But he said he’s strongly considering politics in his future, with his father as his inspiration.
“I can’t exactly say why I like it yet,” Ryan Orlando said of politics. “It’s an odd job because it’s very thankless, but you know what you are doing is very important even though some people might not appreciate you for it.
“It’s kind of funny because he’s been doing this as long as I can remember,” Ryan Orlando said. “And now to see him leaving and shifting into something else.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Ryan Orlando asked his dad with a laugh.
His father smiled. “I’ll let you know soon,” he said.
Chris Orlando said he is mulling whether to run for the city’s elected mayor position, which is currently held by Jim Desmond, who is also terming out of office and running for the County Board of Supervisors.
“I haven’t said anything publicly, but I am looking at it real closely, and trying to assess from folks in town if there is support (for a mayoral run),” Chris Orlando said. “We’ve done a lot of great things in San Marcos, and I’d like to continue that, so I’ll be saying something really soon about that.”
Meanwhile, he’s continuing his work as a councilman and as a proud dad. This week, he sat in the stands at El Camino High and watched his son play a key role in the Knights 78-56 victory over El Camino, the team’s 15th win of the season.
“I’ve seen my son grow from 6 years old to 18 years old … it’s amazing,” Chris Orlando said. “When I first started on the council I put pictures up like everyone else does, they are tiny, my oldest (Ryan) was a first-grader, and now he’s obviously about to graduate high school, he’s 6-3 or 6-4, things have changed, but it’s been amazing watching him grow to be as much a part of the city as I have.”
San Marcos is currently ranked in the Top 10 of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s basketball poll. Ryan Orlando is loving every bit of what could be his last season with some of his lifelong friends.
“It’s a lot of fun, we expected to be good, but you can’t be prepared for how fun it is going to be,” he said. “We were talking about how we just played our last first league game, and it’s weird that it all might be over in a couple of months.”
Known for his perimeter shooting and his tireless motor, Ryan Orlando said he would like to extend his career if at all possible, potentially walking on to whatever school he chooses to attend.
“I would love to walk on somewhere, I am going to work hard and see if I can do that, definitely,” he said.