James R. Mills
James R. Mills. Photo credit: caltransit.org

California’s transportation secretary paid tribute Saturday to James R. Mills, the former San Diego-area assemblyman and state senator who spent 22 years in the state Legislature.

Mills, who helped create the San Diego trolley system and Old Town State Park, died March 27 of kidney cancer at the age of 93.

“I offer my heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Senator Jim Mills, whose 22 years of public service as a state assembly member and senator left indelible marks on public transit in San Diego and throughout the entire state,” Secretary David Kim said.

“The California State Transportation Agency joins with his family in asking Californians to celebrate his life and his contributions to California with a ride on a trolley, train or bike.”

Mills, born June 6, 1927, grew up in San Diego and Coronado during the Great Depression.

He attended local schools and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from San Diego State. He served in the Army during the Korean War, then taught history to middle school students.

He won a seat in the 79th Assembly District in 1960 in a special election and served in the Assembly for six years.

Mills then won a seat in the state Senate and served until 1982.

In 1975, Mills introduced legislation creating the trolley, which now covers about 54 miles.

He chaired the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board for nine years and was on Amtrak’s board and the California High Speed Rail Authority. He was inducted into the American Public Transportation Association Hall of Fame in 1995.

Services are pending.