MARCH 7 ELECTION: Mayor Brings Tru-Man Show to La Verne

February 17, 2017
Share this story:

Sitting in the conference room of the Don Kendrick Real Estate office on Bonita Ave. in downtown La Verne, the mayor is someone who is extremely well positioned.

To his left hangs a Burton Frasher panoramic photograph of La Verne taken between 1905 and 1910, according to best estimates. The sparsely settled community shows more orchards than structures. To his right hangs another panoramic photo of more recent vintage. The town once known as Lordsburg looks all grown up.

It’s between these two photographs – the old and the new — that Don appears to be most comfortable. In his mind, they now form one seamless image, vividly showing a clear connection to the past and a bountiful bridge to the future.

They also serve as a constant reminder of his own very deep La Verne roots, which go back to 1885. That’s when his great grandparents, the Bixbys, came to town, ahead of even the Santa Fe Railway, which wouldn’t arrive until 1887.

“My great grandparents were the first to plant citrus in north La Verne,” Don said, displaying his trademark La Verne pride every bit as bright as a Sunkist label.

His great grandmother also gave La Verne its name. “It was a loose term, which meant ‘The Green’ in French,” Don explained. “They had been to France, and she liked the name.”

The name would stick as did plans for a new high school. “She carried the petition that started Bonita High School,” Don said. She and her husband also donated 10 acres of land for the new school.

Don’s mother was born on their La Verne ranch in 1914. His father would arrive in La Verne in 1929 and start a chicken ranch near where White Ave. and Arrow Highway are today.

“I was raised on that ranch,” Don said. “10,000 chickens.”

His father also served on the La Verne Planning Commission for 15 years, from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s. The city council adopted his idea to name streets after La Verne residents who had made notable contributions to the city’s development.

“We probably have 35 streets in the community today named after people,” Don noted.

Clearly, Don reveres La Verne’s past, and reserves some of his highest praise for one of the town’s past leaders, Jon Blickenstaff, who served La Verne as mayor for 27 years.

“He was the finest mayor this city will ever see, and the wisest mayor this city will ever see,” Don said. He credited Blickenstaff, as well as former councilmembers Tom Harvey, Dan Harden and Robert Rodriguez, for preserving much of La Verne’s charm and its foothills, in particular.

“Lewis Homes, which has built about one out every nine homes in La Verne, wanted to build about 290 homes in the area up Esperanza before it begins to rise, now known as “La Verne Heights,” Don recalled. “All the ridges around there would have seen the Diamond Bar effect or the Claraboya effect. Instead of the 290 homes, far less than 200 were built, and as a result, we have a much nicer community.

“So when I became mayor in 2009, my vision was to continue the high quality of the leadership and decision-making that had been going on for a couple of decades.”

After serving more than six years on the planning commission, Don successfully ran for council in 2007. About half way through his term, Blickenstaff informed him that he wasn’t going to seek another term.

“I tried to talk him out of it for a year and a half,” Don said.

The Kendrick Years

Don ran for mayor in 2009, and hasn’t looked back. Oddly, he ran unopposed for mayor in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015, and is only the city’s fourth mayor in the last 50 years, when La Verne moved from a rotational mayor format.

That said, Don is no newcomer to campaigning. Besides running his own 2007 council campaign, he assisted several La Verne residents in their runs for political office, including Dan Harden and Robert Rodriguez.

“I know how to run a campaign,” Don said.

Asked whether, as mayor, remaining neutral might be a more judicious or safer policy than supporting a particular candidate, Don said, “It’s non-partisan, I think it’s good that good people help good people.”

He then shared how Harden had started La Verne’s Youth and Family Action Committee, which works to provide at-risk kids with lots of activities and mentorship.

“Why don’t you want to work for someone like that?” Don asked.

But this time, Don’s record will clearly be the focus. It’s his stewardship over the last eight years that will ultimately be given the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Top Priority 

For Don, that stewardship begins and ends with public safety. It has and will remain his priority No. 1.

“When I started knocking doors 12 years ago, I didn’t really have a concept of what people were going to say to me, but I know what they going to say now,” he said. “Because I’ve heard it so many times: ‘La Verne is a safe place. It’s a good place to raise my family. My kids don’t have to worry about being safe.’

“It relates back to our police department.”

Don had fresh evidence of the police department’s effectiveness. Less than 24 hours before LaVerneOnline’s interview, Don’ real estate office had been burglarized. Don had already nailed up a plywood square over what had been the glass section of the front door.

“How they caught the guy was pure luck,” Don said.

Officers in their patrol car were a block away when they heard the sound of breaking glass, not a sound you expect to hear at 10 p.m. Drawn to the noise, the officers found the suspect on the second floor of Don’s office.

“By the time I got here, he was in jail, and I didn’t want to see him anyway,” Don said.

Although the burglary was an isolated incident, it also points to increase in crimes not just in La Verne, but all over the state, a result, according to Don and other authorities, of early-release programs of non-violent, non-serious and non-sex offenders and the decriminalization of various felonies to misdemeanors.

“I wouldn’t consider La Verne a wealthy community, but people here work hard and have some means, and there are people who are trying to take it away,” Don said.

In response, he and the council have been working to get the police force back to full staff. He was also the catalyst for the city’s purchase of license plate-reading technology that lets the department know who’s driving in and out of town, which helped the city intercept 54 stolen cars last year, as well as solve other crimes in town.

“When I heard it was going to cost $1 million, I said we’ve got to find a way, and we did,” Don said. “We got them for half. We have to push the technology. If you want a safe community, we have to make that commitment.”

He’s also committed to keeping the police force a La Verne police force, not a county one. “We’ll contract out the tree-trimming and road paving, but not police and fire,” Don said.

But as a businessman who survived recessions in 1993, when there were more than 350 homes in La Verne for sale, and in 2009, when there 152 homes for sales, many of them distressed or short sales, Don knows that police and fire are the biggest portion of the budget.

In the 2017 campaign, talk of the budget has taken center stage, although from Don’s perspective the talk or attention has been overblown campaign rhetoric.

“There is no budget problem,” Don said, adding that under his watch reserves have increased from $8 million to $12 million.

Only once since becoming mayor has the city had to dip into reserves, he also noted. And during that time, he emphasized the city didn’t lay off one employee.

“We have always been very conservative,” Don said about the city’s budget approach. “We under-inflate income and over-inflate expenses, so when we enter the planning process, we know we really have to watch our Ps and Qs.

Some potential revenue sources aren’t budgeted for “even though we know they are going to happen,” he explained. One of those was Gilead, which is expected to fill city coffers with an additional $300,000, if not more, a year.

Meanwhile, compensation for city employees is based on studies the La Verne undertakes each year, comparing itself with 13 other cities with similar characteristics. La Verne’s goal is to be in the middle of the pay grade.

“We will not be at the bottom because the city is not a training ground, and we can’t afford to be at the top,” Don said. “If salaries go up, our employees get an automatic raise. That is our commitment to our employees.”

There is an additional pay package for police and fire, but Don said this supplement covers medical only.

“It’s not like the old days when our police would pull over a couple kids doing 40 mph in a 25 mph zone,” he said. “Today, they’re chasing down criminals who know they can’t get caught, so we’re having police go out on injury, and we’ve never had that before.”

Like almost every city in California, La Verne faces mounting employee pension obligations. It’s considered an unfunded liability that is placed in a bucket separate from the budget. “We are about dead center,” Don said, sizing up the employee retirement shortfall. “Some cities are better than us, some are worse than us, much worse.

“We have a plan to pay for it, and we can still provide all the services that residents have come to expect,” Don said.

For special projects, like the La Verne Veterans’ Memorial, Don with Dan Harden, Robert Rodriguez and others spearheaded a fundraising drive that netted $265,000 in contributions from residents and businesses from both La Verne and other neighboring communities.

“It’s fully paid for,” Don said.

One of those participating families from outside the city were the Hylands, a Claremont family whose son Neil was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11.

Future Plans

As much as Don is working to preserve La Verne’s rich heritage, he is clearly focused on the future. “You can’t live in the past, you can only develop the future,” he said.

In that future is a downtown “live, work, play” hub served by the Gold Line, which will be the catalyst for new mixed-used housing and other amenities, such as a boutique cinema and a hotel (southwest corner of Arrow and White).

Uptown, he envisions a large tree-lined median bisecting and beatifying Baseline. He also, like many city residents, eagerly anticipates the opening of Sprouts at Wheeler and Foothill.

Sprouts became the winning entrant after Walmart decided to pull out of the under-utilized center. Don provided his perspective on what became a highly charged and controversial issue that still may reverberate on Election Day, March 7.

Although the planning commission voted 4-1 in favor of Walmart, with only Tim Hepburn dissenting, Don appealed so that the vote could go to the full city council. There the city voted 5-0 in favor of Walmart coming to La Verne after hearing from 54 people at the community center, with a slight majority siding with Walmart, according to Don.

Interestingly, while the council voted unanimously in favor of Walmart, Don said he and the council prefaced their vote by saying they personally opposed Walmart. Knowing, however, that Walmart had met all six criteria for the space and that the site had been the former home of an Alpha-Beta, they feared they would be opening the city to substantial litigation.

“Our city attorney told us that Walmart was winning every case on grounds that cities don’t have a right to make a decision based on a name,” Don said. “Did we want Walmart? No. Did we want a huge lawsuit? No.”

Even little La Verne, no longer the San Gabriel Valley’s best kept secret, has a few messy sausage-making political moments. Although Don’s tenure isn’t yet up there with Blickenstaff’s, he can point to a long record of public service. Why not walk away and give someone else a turn?

“I don’t think leadership should be decided on ‘It’s my turn,’” Don replied. “In the late 1960s, our residents decided they didn’t want a rotating mayor. They decided they would be the ones who would determine who would serve and for how long.”

Although Don and his wife Gaynel, a retired teacher, own a travel trailer and a timeshare, they pretty much stick close to town.

For Don, an off day is retreating to his garage wood shop where he fashions craftsman quality furniture.

“It’s a place I can go and relax, and my mind goes somewhere else,” Don said.

Don is also an avid reader and said he is looking forward to rereading David McCullough’s biography of Harry S. Truman.

“I think he was one of our top five presidents,” Don said, adding that Truman had read the Bible three times by age 12.

Like Don, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry! knew his history because he said he didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Truman also said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Maybe who deserves the credit is best left for voters to decide.

Leave a Reply