Tim Hepburn. Maybe all you need to know about his candidacy are the last four letters of his last name: B-U-R-N. He’s burning for change.
If he were running for the White House and not mayor of La Verne, he would be seen as someone running outside the beltway and politics as usual.
“Just because you’re affiliated with the old regime doesn’t mean you have the right for that position,” he said. “If you want to be mayor, you better be ready to work for it.”
What exactly lit the fuse on Tim’s political run for mayor?
The spark may go as far back as October 2013, after the passing of Robert Rodriguez, the city’s longest-serving councilmember. Tim and 15 other candidates applied to fill the vacancy created by the passing of councilman Robert Rodriguez, but all were passed over by the last-minute addition of a 17th candidate.
The fire was further stoked, when Tim, who was the only member on the La Verne Planning Commission to vote against Walmart coming to town, saw the city council unanimously approve the market for the Foothill Plaza at Foothill Boulevard and Wheeler Avenue.
Seeing how easily his recommendation could be overturned or how little his input counted didn’t sit well with Tim. “It upset me,” he said. “I resolved that I was going to take the next step and be one of the five on the council.”
Two years later, honoring that commitment and leaving nothing to chance, Hepburn ran for city council and commanded the largest share of the vote.
His victory came as no surprise to his supporters, then and now. He’s always been a person of action.
An electrical contractor, Tim, free of charge, provided all the electrical conduit under Bonita High School’s new turf at Glenn Davis Stadium, controlling the speakers and scoreboard. He also provided the approach lights at the stadium’s entry, making it safe for parents to drop off and pick up their kids at Bonita football games.
At the new Habitat for Humanity House that will be home to a military family on March 4, 2017, Tim again provided the electrical work. The contribution, which included materials and labor, was in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“I told my wife Patty, ‘You know what, this isn’t getting done, somebody has to step up and do it,’” Tim recalled. “My guys were really into it, and it was for our veterans, for whom I don’t think you can do enough.”
He’s helped out so many times, it’s become a pattern. He passed the duck test a long time ago (“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”). He’s that duck, the real article who isn’t ducking anything or anyone.
Years ago, he and his neighbors helped a father with terminal cancer realize his wish of fixing up his family’s home before his passing by providing both the painting and siding.
“We’re not wealthy at all, but there is always extra money to help people,” Tim said.
But why the ardent desire to run for mayor with two years left on his council term?
“I personally just want to take it to the next level now,” Tim said, laying out the reasons for his urgency.
His foremost issue is with the city’s budget, which has been facing a large deficit.
He’s heard the argument that the deficit will be made up by the end of the fiscal year, but he’s not buying it, or if he were, he says it’s still not any way to run a business.
Tim is qualified to address the subject. He has been running his own business since 1991 and has been in the construction business for 41 years.
“I’ve been through the abyss,” he said. “In 2009-2010, my business came to a screeching halt. It hit a block wall.”
But he turned it around and shared his winning formula.
“You dump the bucket over, then retain only the things you absolutely need to survive and to survive safely,” he offered. “And all the excess you get rid of.”
Tim is heartened by a compensation study now underway in the city that he believes will help the city determine if its employees are being compensated fairly and in line with other cities.
At the same time, he’s concerned the city will struggle to meet its California Public Employee Retirement (CalPERS) obligations, a system he believes is broken.
The budget could also be pressured by a supplemental PERS program, or irrevocable trust, reserved for as many as 43 upper-management employees, according to Tim.
“I think if you give for one, you give for all,” he said. “There should be no special treatment, I don’t care who you are in the city.”
That’s why Tim is so intent on seeing the results of the comp study. “It’s going to be an eye-opener,” he said. “We spend 9.3 percent of our budget on pensions. That’s not bad, but it could be better.”
Tim said the entire budget process has to be made as transparent as possible because there is simply too much at stake. He believes the coming of the Gold Line will only increase the demand for more public services, so if the budget runs a deficit, he doesn’t want citizens to be asked to pick up the tab.
“Young families and seniors, they need to be protected,” Tim said. “We have eight mobile home communities here and Hillcrest. If we have to go to them for increases, what’s it going to do those people? In those parks, they are on a fixed income.
“So it’s that snowball that keeps getting bigger and bigger, and we’ve got to stop it. Frankly, we’re not ready. We have to make sure we are fiscally sound.”
Police and fire typically account for the largest part of any city budget, and La Verne is no different.
“I love our fire and police,” Tim said. “But if it comes to a juncture where we are really having difficulty in paying for these services, we need to sit down with our community and discuss this.
“I just want to repeat, however, that I don’t believe we will go to a county model. I want to keep our fire and police.”
Tim believes he has earned the right to speak out. “I’m a resident here, I raised my kids here,” he said.
For years, he was flipping burgers for the Bonita Boosters, not to mention being the group’s president. He’s sat or chaired various athletic committees, and is a Jim Scranton award winner and Founders Award recipient for community service.
He also knows what can happen when he and his fellow La Verne residents don’t speak out.
In particular, he used his voice as a resident and councilman to help fight and stop the Marshall Canyon/Sierra La Verne land swap.
“The trouble is, had it become a signed deal, try to unravel that,” he said. “You have to stand up and stop it before it happens.”
Tim wants to encourage even greater involvement and activism on the part of residents, the kind of participation that was seen en masse at the recent White Avenue street striping and widening controversy. That’s when he thinks La Verne is at its best. “We have such a great group of people in our community,” he added. “They’re brilliant. Their potential is untapped.”
To encourage their participation, he wants to see podcasts of city council meetings. “I love technology,” Tim added. “Today, you can reach thousands of people within minutes.”
With buy-in from residents and businesses, he wants to see more family-oriented, multi-generational retail establishments that invite an “open atmosphere where you can say hi to people when you’re eating,” along the lines of an Encinitas or Carlsbad in north San Diego County. “Honestly, that makes me happy.”
Proper planning will help keep more tax revenues at home, Tim noted, adding that $9 billion of retail dollars will be up for grabs along the Gold Line route from Azusa to Montclair.
“I’m in retail,” Tim added. “I know how it works. Build it, and they will come, but build it to what people want. I don’t want out our tax dollars bleeding out to other communities.”
Right now, there are thickets of competing mayoral signs littering the town. Is a particular neighborhood in play Kendrick Country or Tim Territory?
“Signs don’t vote, people do,” Tim was quick to point out. “I’m selling myself, but I’ve already sold myself. Our community knows who I am. Whether they agree with me or not, they know I will tell the truth.”
Then Tim returned to one of his main campaign themes: “Serving is not a right, but a privilege,” he said. “If you come into public office, you are a steward of the community. That said, I’m not happy with what’s going on. I want to make a change.”
A firebrand for change? Maybe that’s too dramatic a description, but no doubt Tim is asking his fellow residents to feel the burn.