Joe Lyons works for equal access, civility in politics

The Indian philosopher Chanakya said, “The one excellent thing that can be learned from a lion is that whatever a man intends doing should be done with a whole-hearted and strenuous effort.”

For Councilman Joe Lyons, who is about to wrap up his one year of service as the mayor of the city, this sentiment couldn’t be more true.

Mr. Lyons has whole-heartedly worked to diminish social inequalities in the community and strenuously led the charge in acquiring the Claremont water system. His activism and passion began years before he ever thought of running for office.

“The turning point in my life was when my folks moved from Boston to San Diego during my junior year of high school. We went through the South during the buildup to the major anti-segregation movement, and I remember being taken aback by the fact that the things you read about—Blacks Only, Whites Only—they were real,” Mr. Lyons said. “They weren’t just pictures in newspapers anymore. I saw it firsthand and said, ‘This just isn’t right!’ I think that was a seminal moment in my life to begin doing something.”

Born in Fresno, the self-proclaimed hippie was the second of five sons raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. From there. he crisscrossed the country back to California and settled in San Diego with his parents and siblings. After graduating from high school, Mr. Lyons went on to earn his bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees in microbiology from San Diego State University. He worked in medical research at UC San Diego School of Medicine from 1973 until accepting a position to help establish an Infectious Disease Research Laboratory at the City of Hope National Medical Center in 1983.

“It was a tremendous experience—the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says of working with the City of Hope.

With a family of his own, Mr. Lyons began life in San Dimas, where the patriarch was active in youth sports and activities in which his four boys participated.

Following his divorce, he found love once again after meeting his beloved life partner of nearly 20 years, Sharyn Webb. Both had worked at the City of Hope but never met until Mr. Lyons joined Toastmasters in preparation for his first oral presentation of a scientific paper.

“That was the first time I actually met her personally,  after being on the phone with her on numerous occasions,” he said with a smile. “We keep kidding today that I was the ‘uh’ champion at Toastmasters. I had it in all of its variations, which has since improved. I really didn’t overcome the angst about speaking in public until I ran for public office.”

The couple moved to Claremont in 2000.

After an unsuccessful run for California State Assembly in 2008, followed by retirement in 2009, Mr. Lyons dedicated his time to two organizations dear to his heart: the Inland Valley Recovery Services and the Pomona Valley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health, both of which he remains active in today.

Then, in November 2010, Linda Elderkin announced she would not seek re-election to Claremont’s city council.

“At that time there were only two or three declared candidates and none of them had Linda’s perspective on civility and governance, sustainability and heritage that we inherit as council members,” says the 69-year-old. “Sharyn had asked me if I’d given it any thought and I said, ‘If no one else gets in there, I will.’”

Mr. Lyons won that election and began his first term in March 2011. As he looks back, he’s most proud of his committment to promises made during his campaign.

“Most rewarding to me has been the ability to deal with issues that were on our plate when the three of us took office: Occupy Claremont and the commitments the council made to that body in order to bring closure to their presence on the steps of city hall,” the councilmember explains. “Out of that developed an understanding of the needs of the homeless and then the creation of the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP). It is in the backing of people who are willing to do the heavy lifting that I have my greatest sense of accomplishment. CHAP is one area where, just by being persistent and keeping my promise, I was able to support a success that is not matched anywhere in the county.”

A defining moment as mayor came in November 2014, when 72 percent of Claremont voters passed Measure W, allowing the city to finance the acquisition of the local water system owned by Golden State Water Company.

“It was good to be in the position of mayor at that time,” Mr. Lyons said. “We’ll look back at that as one of our major accomplishments, getting the public to that point where they could be informed and then make an informed decision on the facts we were able to collect. At the end of the day, I think everything we were told during that long, three-year process only convinced me all the more that it was the best thing for the city to do. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the public’s unheard-of level of support.”

As his mayorship concludes and Mr. Lyons begins his second term on city council next month, he will continue to look toward the future for both the city and its residents while keeping sustainability in mind. Community participation in the Georgetown Energy Prize is the next step.

“Any changes we see as necessary have to really be owned by the entire community. Otherwise, there will be pockets of dissent that will push back and make it difficult to achieve,” Mr. Lyons said. “Sustainability is something that everyone can do. Council’s best decision would be to simply get out of the way of that effort—to give all our support and promote it to the extent our resources allow, but to let Sustainable Claremont and the Claremont Energy Challenge do that with our complete support. Everybody can do something today, and then do something again to improve it tomorrow.”

—Angela Bailey


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