Tim Hepburn, the mayor of La Verne, is also an electrical contractor and president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

Tim Hepburn, the mayor of La Verne, is also an electrical contractor and president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

by Olivia Modarelli
photography by Abelina J. Nuñez

He walks into the La Verne City Hall with a smile and an orange bow tie as lively as his character. He converses with his peers while he and Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Lau distribute water and candy while awaiting the beginning of a study session concerning the city’s social media presence. He livens the mood during the meeting with perfect comedic timing, making those in his presence feel welcome. 

He is animated. He is friendly. He is personable. He is La Verne’s Tim Hepburn. Residents may know him best as mayor, but he is also a devoted husband, father and grandfather, an electrical contractor and president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. To know him is to have a friend in your corner. 

But who is Tim Hepburn? Well, through all his responsibilities and titles, his core values stay simple and consistent. Transparency and communication are two values that lead the way for him. He and his wife Patty, who just retired after 44 years as a nurse, have instilled these values into their three children from a young age. Two grew up to be attorneys, and the third is now a teacher.

“We’ve always taught them to be open, transparent, honest. Honesty’s the best policy,” says Hepburn. 

These are the same values that translate over from Tim Hepburn the person to Tim Hepburn the mayor. “I’m a big believer in transparency,” he says. “I think the residents need to know what’s going on even if it’s painful. Let’s talk. Before we do anything, we must engage the residents and make sure that they’re aware of what’s going on, and that they make an informed decision, and we make it together.”

So, how did he get to this point of leading and advocating for his residents in the first place? Believe it or not, Hepburn never planned on being mayor. It was never a distant goal or a dream job. He was inspired to his role by witnessing firsthand the work that needed to be done within his community. And when he launched his first candidacy in 2017, he lost by a narrow margin of seven votes to then incumbent Mayor Don Kendrick. 

“I very seldom ever give up,” says Hepburn. And he did not. He ran again with the support of his family and friends. “There was a major negative campaign against me for my second time, and they tried to discredit me, and I just stuck to my guns. I kept positive.” He explains that it was extremely important to move forward with positivity rather than negativity. “We’ve got a wonderful community. They don’t deserve that kind of a political arena… .” 

As far as what he thinks he brought to the table as a candidate, he described himself as a “new beginning” for the community. And a new beginning he was, winning the candidacy the second time around in 2020. 

One aspect of that new beginning he brought to the community was a revamped La Verne Fire Department. A lawsuit was filed against the city of La Verne’s fire chief at the time by the Fire Department in 2017. Employees were upset because they were working under unsafe conditions with inadequate safety equipment. “It was just unconscionable to me that you could treat an employee group like that,” says Hepburn. “And not only that, it has to do with the safety of our residents.” 

So, he took action. “I just thought to myself, that’s not happening. And I broke away from my council and our city management. They wanted to go ahead and do a lawsuit against the firefighters.” The Fire Department won the lawsuit, and Hepburn says La Verne now has a “Triple A” rated Fire Department. He says with the implementation of new Fire Chief Christopher Nigg came the additions of Station 3, ambulance operator programs, a risk reduction specialist, a deputy fire chief, a fire marshal and even a signed mutual aid agreement with the County of Los Angeles. “Our chief has done an amazing job,” says Hepburn. 

Not only are employee groups important to Hepburn, but he also acknowledges the importance of city tradition. “It’s important to keep our traditions and our history intact,” he says. Take Christmas Day: The Fire Department has handed out candy to each and every child in city limits during the morning hours of Christmas Day for nearly a century. There has been recent debate on whether and how to keep this tradition going. Hepburn assures that, although there will be no candy this year, “We will have Santa, we will have sirens on every single street and area in La Verne, and it’s going to be an absolutely wonderful, wonderful Christmas Day.”

The success of quelling the Fire Department lawsuits and ultimately keeping the city-run Fire Department in place plus the maintenance of its 97-year Christmas tradition will not be Hepburn’s only lasting legacy in La Verne — there are two upcoming projects in particular that have been generating buzz.

The Foothill Gold Line, which will be extending the A Line transportation system through Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Pomona—and ultimately Claremont and Montclair according to the city of La Verne’s website—began in 2017 and is nearing its final stages of completion. “I think it’s wonderful for our community,” says Hepburn. “My biggest concern is the safety on the trains.” He says that there will need to be police on the trains to make sure they are both safe and successful. “And they are working on it,” says Hepburn, who is also on the Gold Line Authority working closely with the plan. As of now, train testing should begin in January 2025. 

Another upcoming project is the 740 Foothill Project, “a 100% affordable, permanent supportive housing development located at 740 E. Foothill Blvd.,” according to the project fact sheet. “It’s in progress. We’ll see what happens in the very near future.”

Hepburn is not necessarily happy with the plan, as he doesn’t feel the proposed location is suitable since there are businesses, daycares and schools close by. “We’ve given them alternate sites to build it on, which would be more suitable,” he says. It used to be a housing plan for the unhoused but will now be housing for senior citizens. 

“I represent everybody. I always say ‘north, south, east or west — La Verne is mine’ to my residents,” Hepburn says. And that’s no easy feat. As of 2023, La Verne has a population of 29,452. “All of La Verne are my residents. Period. And I always maintain that whether it’s old town or mid-town or north town or the business districts, I have relationships with all of those community members, and as a business owner too, it makes a big difference for me.” 

Mayor Hepburn believes that a significant way residents can support the community is by keeping much of their money within La Verne. “Eat, shop and pray in La Verne because we’ve got wonderful businesses. We should try to make them successful.” 

Shopping in La Verne is not the only way that residents can get involved. Another way is through engaging with the La Verne social media pages. Hepburn himself has a frequent segment on his Instagram he calls Minute with the Mayor, where he keeps his followers informed on what’s happening in their city.

“It’s so important for people to be involved in their own government,” Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Lau explains. “So much happens in your own backyard that you have a greater say in, at times, than you would at a national level.” Lau, who sits beside Hepburn at the La Verne City Council meetings, explains that “it’s important to know what happens in your backyard before you start thinking bigger than your backyard” to understand the foundation from which everything works. Lau suggests visiting the city website for those interested in getting involved through groups like the Youth and Family Action committee, which everyone is welcome to join, or the Planning Commission, which requires an appointment process. She also emphasizes the fact that getting involved does not have to mean devoting one’s life to that involvement. “If you came to one community event a quarter, you know, every six months, that’s engagement,” she says. “That’s being part of your community.”

No matter your personal preference on how to get involved, Mayor Tim Hepburn, Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Lau and the rest of the members of the La Verne City Council will always be there for their residents. “We have a very wonderful community,” Hepburn says. “And I want to keep it that way.” 

City of La Verne Council Member Steve F. Johnson, Mayor Tim Hepburn and Mayor Pro Tem Wendy M. Lau react to a presentation during a study session reviewing the city’s social media platforms at La Verne City Hall.

City of La Verne Council Member Steve F. Johnson, Mayor Tim Hepburn and Mayor Pro Tem Wendy M. Lau react to a presentation during a study session reviewing the city’s social media platforms at La Verne City Hall.

District-Based Voting Changes Mayoral Election

Historically, since the 1970s, city of La Verne residents have directly elected their mayor. For example, when Tim Hepburn ran for mayor in 2020, he was voted into office by the public. However, he may be the last mayor elected in this way in La Verne. That’s because, as of 2021, La Verne implemented a new system to choose both its mayor and its city council members.

This new system is a process known as district-based voting, which essentially means that the mayoral position will rotate between the La Verne City Council members, who each represent a different district within the city and are directly elected by the members of the public who reside in their district. Once elected by the public, the La Verne City Council members vote amongst themselves to determine who will hold the positions of Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. “The idea is to ensure that…those underrepresented communities, typically communities of color, have representation in their governance,” Lau says.

Much debate has taken place on whether this particular election system is optimal for the city of La Verne and its residents. For example, Hepburn originally wanted a four-district system with an elected mayor. “I wasn’t happy with it because the voters approved an elected mayor back in ‘71, and so, basically, in essence, the Council made a decision to take the right of the voters away for an elected mayor,” he says.

The possibility of any change back to an at-large directly elected mayor cannot take place on the ballot until 2032. “Overall, I look at it as no matter what, if you were elected at-large or if you were elected via district, we all have the same commitments to the city. We all have to be looking out for the well-being of the city and just trying to make sure that all voices are heard,” Lau says.

La Verne’s current City Council members are Mayor Tim Hepburn, representing District 4; Mayor Pro Tem Wendy M. Lau, representing District 5; Rick Crosby, representing District 2; Meshal “Kash” Kashifalghita, representing District 3; and Steven F. Johnson, representing District 1.

Olivia Modarelli is a senior journalism major at the University of La Verne.

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Abelina J. Nuñez is a senior journalism major and photography minor at the University of La Verne and editor-in-chief of the Winter 2024 La Verne Magazine.