In the eastern San Gabriel Valley, nearly everywhere you go, you’re playing on Matt Lyons’ turf. He has the home-field advantage. He grew up in San Dimas, lives in La Verne, ran a successful business in Upland, and his father is Joe Lyons, a city councilman in neighboring Claremont.
He knows the lay of the land like few others. And he currently serves as deputy district director for Chris Holden and the 41st assembly district, created after the 2010 U.S. census to encompass the northern San Gabriel Valley.
So the guy is connected at the local, regional and state level, and by extension knows how to get things done.
“I have a unique regional perspective that no other candidate has,” said Matt, whose La Verne profile has been rapidly rising after his first attempt at a council seat in 2015.
Also, if Matt looks familiar or his name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve seen him before. His first real college job was working at the La Verne Car Wash handling the register, where it seems half the city passes through. He probably honored your expired coupon or upsold you a Quickie’s oil change. Vouching for his character when he applied for the job was Elizabeth, another young car wash employee who knew him from her days at San Dimas High. Like a wash and wax, they became inseparable and later married.
After high school, Matt attended Citrus College before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona, where he majored in behavioral science. The La Verne Car Wash owner, recognizing Matt’s managerial and entrepreneurial talent, also tapped him to run his second location in Hacienda Heights.
“At the time, it was a great college job,” Matt said, noting how he could schedule work hours around his class schedule.
Business and Politics
After graduating from Cal Poly, Matt joined the management team at Allstate in Diamond Bar before making the leap to start his own “scratch agency” in Upland. From scratch — meaning starting out with zero customers — Matt built a successful agency and then sold it in 2012.
That was the same year that Chris Holden, who rose in the political ranks serving on the Pasadena City Council and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, took the reins of the newly formed 41st assembly district, stretching from Pasadena in the west to Upland in the east.
Of the candidates running for the assembly position, Matt liked Holden best and campaigned for him through the primary and the general elections.
“I liked his longstanding local service, almost 24 years at the city level,” Matt said about his boss. “He was also a business owner, a Realtor by profession. We just seemed to agree on a lot of the issues.”
When Holden won office, Matt approached him about a position on his staff.
“I gave him my elevator speech, emphasizing my east San Gabriel Valley ties and how I could help him hit the ground running,” Matt said. “He saw value in that.”
That word, value, has become the nexus of Matt’s mantra.
“Show up and add value,” Matt said simply when asked to define the theme and driving force of his campaign.
In his role as deputy district director, Matt has shown a knack for building relationships, believing that when you partner with people you can get more done. In particular, he has been working with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Government’s Water Committee to help provide legislative solutions for cities that have been mandated to implement the LA County’s MS4 Permit, an unfunded mandate with an estimated total price tag of $20 billion that Los Angeles County cities will have to shoulder. To put this into perspective, California voters passed a $7.5 billion statewide water bond in 2014, which only scratches the surface of total statewide need.
“The MS4 issue hasn’t been getting a lot of press,” Matt said, “but if it isn’t addressed, this alone could bankrupt cities.”
On the business front, Matt, as a former insurance agency owner, is keenly aware of how many small businesses struggle to pay their rising workers’ compensation premiums.
“They are tough for a small business owner to absorb,” Matt shared. Through his work with the 41st Assembly District’s Small Business Advisory Committee, he has been able to work with local businesses owners in identifying possible relief and assistance for small businesses.
Matt believes he can also help deliver a more vibrant Shop Local program to La Verne, which will help the city address its ongoing budget deficit.
Shop La Verne
While the city of La Verne currently boasts a city council subcommittee on economic development, comprising two council members and two staff members, Matt wants to see it expand into a commission filled with downtown business owners, chamber members, university representatives and other stakeholders.
“A focused economic development commission that is city-focused, city-driven and focused on building the best possible community in La Verne will help us address top-line revenue growth,” Matt said. “And by bringing more people into the conversation, we will have better solutions.”
As Matt sees it, one economic development flywheel will turn the next — a great dining experience followed by a great shopping experience, both fueling a higher-octane engine of commerce in La Verne.
Matt said a Shop Local program doesn’t have to wait for the Gold Line to roll into town to be effective. “The Shop La Verne program can be implemented now, far before the transit program,” he said.
Economic development in the city, however, encompasses far more than filling restaurant and retail vacancies along Foothill Boulevard. La Verne features other key assets that can uniquely contribute to the city’s economic development. For example, in Matt’s 2015 run, he discovered the outstanding work performed by the La Verne Land Conservancy, a public non-profit that has been working to protect the remaining foothill open spaces above La Verne to support the health of the city’s watershed and to ensure future access to and enjoyment of the foothills.
Matt noted that land acquisition by the Conservancy can expand passive recreation opportunities (non-consumptive uses such as hiking, biking and wildlife observation) for not only La Verne, but also its neighbors. A trail system that connects Marshall Canyon to the Claremont Five Loop Wilderness Trail creates not only more recreational opportunities, but also a better environment for business because the recreational activities can be followed with dining and shopping along Foothill or in Old Town La Verne.
“It can attract more people to La Verne and also raise our property values,” Matt said.
Notwithstanding Matt’s strong regional perspective, he also has been a mover and shaker at the most granular local level.
Since his son Evan was a kindergartner at Grace Miller Elementary, he was a member of the PTA and quickly helped turn around the school’s money-losing or revenue-neutral fall festival into Grace Miller’s second-largest fundraiser.
“I always like disguising fundraisers into fun,” said Matt, who still volunteers at Grace Miller despite Evan’s graduation from Grace Miller last year.
As a PTA member, he also saw early on the value of Grace Miller partnering with the local chamber. “We needed to support them because they always supported us,” Matt said.
The improved business relationships favorably impacted Grace Miller’s bottom line.
“We were able to build bigger and better programs for Grace Miller that ultimately benefited our students,” Matt said.
In Matt’s second turn at running for city office, he seems to be enjoying it more.
“I’m just continuing the conversation we started in 2015,” Matt said, noting that there are more organized forums and meet-and-greet opportunities this campaign cycle for the electorate to get to know their candidates.
In Matt’s career, there have been many mentors, but two of the biggest have Assemblyman Holden and his councilman father.
“Few people know this,” Matt said, “but I actually helped my dad get involved in politics.”
At his urging, his father, who had retired from the City of Hope where he had run the infectious diseases department, ran for a California state senate seat. Although Joe lost, he gained invaluable name recognition, which eventually propelled him to a seat on the Claremont city council.
“He’s been a great mentor,” Matt said.
With keen political instincts, Matt is well aware that there are five people vying for two places on the council; in his last run there four candidates competing for two spots. He is used to working in a crowded field, however.
“I’m the second oldest of four brothers,” Matt said.
Matt has proved on numerous occasions, he’s always ready with a suggestion or a solution, and ready to fill in where needed.
At a recent Rotary meeting, the original guest speaker couldn’t show, so the club president asked Matt to fill in. He didn’t flinch, not a hiccup or a hairball could throw him off stride.
“I had a prepared presentation,” said Matt, who is accustomed to filling in at a moment’s notice, a role that he performs easily and well.
The guy is prepared to serve.