Claremont’s new mayor gets down to city business

Joe Lyons is not one to say no. The lifelong proponent of volunteerism admits it’s a characteristic that sometimes gets him into trouble as he piles on new and challenging duties. His latest volunteer position, however, is a welcome addition to his full schedule as he takes on the title of Claremont mayor for 2014-2015.

With that role comes heightened responsibility. Staying true to his style, however, the council member has hit the ground running. In the first week since his election, the new mayor has attended the LA County library commission—chaired by Claremont’s new Mayor Pro Tem Corey Calaycay—traveled downtown with other local mayors to get up to speed on the doings of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, taken a trip to Yosemite for a sustainability conference and met with a concerned citizen about the city’s interest in purchasing the water system.

All this in addition to serving as the chair of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government’s housing, community and economic development committee and serving on a similar committee for the League of California Cities. He is also fiercely committed to supporting the efforts of advocacy groups such as Tri-City Mental Health, the Pomona Valley Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It might be enough work for several individuals, but Mr. Lyons is taking his latest additions in stride.

“Claremont is an active place with so many active volunteers,” he said. “It’s what our city is all about.”

His need to give back in a more meaningful way is what drove him to run for city council in 2011. With former Mayor Linda Elderkin announcing her intent to step down, Mr. Lyons found his opportunity to come forward.

“I didn’t see any candidates as strongly aligned with her philosophy of both collegial governments and civility at the dais,” Mr. Lyons said. “I decided to run because I thought I could give that principle and philosophy a voice.”

Mr. Lyons prides himself on his lifelong mission to provide a voice to the voiceless. It’s a characteristic instilled in him since childhood. A product of the 1960s, Mr. Lyons grew up in a progressive family, deemed liberal even for the time. Politics and the role of government were frequent dinner-table discussions.

“How government should act as opposed to how it was acting and the safety nets that were put in place—such as the fair housing laws in place at the time—were all certainly part of the family conversation, all of which I was in support of,” he said.

Always a proponent of social justice, his course in support of equality was set in the early 1960s when his family made the move from the suburbs of Boston to California. The family had two choices: travel through the north and risk bad weather, or travel the southern route and head right into what might be some difficult situations in respect to the civil rights conflict going on at the time. The family choice was to head south. Mr. Lyons says he was shocked by what he witnessed.

“The signs [reading ‘whites only’] were so unabashedly and unashamedly displayed, and seeing lines at service windows of African American people and the counters inside the restaurants with all white people was a seminal moment in my life,” Mr. Lyons reflected.

“These were the injustices that, despite our constitution and despite the fact that everyone is protected and considered equal, made it apparent to me that something needed to be done,” he continued. “It really cemented my sense of the destructive nature of segregation and social inequity.”

As a person and as a council member, he has made it his mission to continue to work towards helping the marginalized and to help create a sustainable future on all fronts—economic, environmental and social.

To date, the council has been successful in these areas, bolstering city finances to a state of surplus, providing an update to the city’s sustainability plan with the help of Sustainable Claremont and working with community groups to help the area’s homeless population.

As he embarks on his term as mayor, Mr. Lyons is making it his charge to continue the focus on sustainability issues. This includes moving forward with the affordable housing issue with care, and exploring the possibility of incorporating “pocket neighborhoods” or smaller areas with affordable housing instead of lumping it together into a large development. He says he will also encourage providing as much support as possible, both emotional and financial, to aid Sustainable Claremont in furthering the mission of the city’s sustainability plan.

“These focuses have been part of issues I have championed and been involved in, both in my private life and in my time on council,” Mr. Lyons said. “This is an opportunity to give them a voice.”

His aim is aided by the council’s reputation for working together despite the 3-2 political split. He looks forward to continuing the city’s work in this spirit.

“The principles on which we view things have been, at other levels of government, the source of much incivility and ineffectiveness,” he said. “Yet we have been able to act effectively because we can respect each other’s opinions, even if we don’t agree on everything. For that I am very grateful.”

—Beth Hartnett



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