"Mrs. Pat Murphy, Mayor Pro Tem of Cathedral City and Chairperson of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments announced today the appointment of a new Executive Director of the Association. He is Dr. Lester Cleveland of Placerville, California." These were the words that introduced CVAG's second Executive Director to the Coachella Valley in a press release dated February 17, 1984.
What led this 28-year clergyman of the United Methodist Church to the field of government? While part of the United Methodist Church, Cleveland was a community organizer in the field of delinquency and crime prevention; however Cleveland was no stranger to regional government or politics for that matter. Serving as the first Mayor of the City of Simi Valley, Cleveland sponsored the very successful Neighborhood Council System which encouraged citizen participation in the city's decision making process. While Mayor, Cleveland also served as the first chairman of the Ventura County Association of Governments.
Holding three degrees, Cleveland's doctoral project was titled "Dialogical Community Action," which described the power of citizen participation in community decision making. It really is no wonder that he found himself at the helm of CVAG, working with Mayors and Council Members, also known as community leaders practicing citizen participation in local and regional government.
Cleveland was a soft spoken and deliberate speaker. He was always very calm and approached every situation with the intention of keeping everyone happy. He was the consummate professional and wore a tie to work every day, regardless of the weather.
While at CVAG, Cleveland was instrumental in the creation of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). This was a program which allowed for seniors to volunteer in various agencies, doing tasks such as delivery of meals on wheels or clerical and professional services in the fields of legal, medical and accounting. Another trail blazing project was the creation of an insurance authority for the purpose of providing insurance services to the CVAG jurisdictions.
Cleveland strongly focused on transportation issues in the Coachella Valley. It was during his tenure that, then Riverside County Supervisor Corky Larson, Mayor Richard Kelly of Palm Desert and other local elected officials, worked on taking the first Measure A to the voters (1988). Also during this period of time, when transportation improvements were a main effort of CVAG, the Transportation Uniformed Mitigation Fee (TUMF) program began. The intention of the successful TUMF program was to mitigate development's effect on transportation infrastructure throughout the Coachella Valley.
It was also during Cleveland's tenure that the Fringe Toed Lizard Plan was written and adopted in the Coachella Valley. This Plan was the predecessor to our current Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
In December, 1994, Lester Cleveland retired from CVAG with the bright intentions of spending his days traveling with wife Darlene. Six years later, on February 15, 2000, Cleveland passed away. "SIMI VALLEY - Lester Cleveland, Simi Valley's first mayor selected by a City Council, has died from complications of Colon Cancer." These were the words used by his children when saying good bye to their father in his obituary. Those of us who were lucky enough to know and work for Lester Cleveland feel a great sense of honor for having done so.