San Joaquin Valley In Memoriam

The San Joaquin Valley lost several notable public officials over the course of the pandemic.

Below is a compilation of individuals whose leadership for the San Joaquin Valley will not be forgotten. This document was also provided in your welcoming package.

David Cardenas
Fowler, Fresno County
Fowler Mayor David Cardenas passed in March of 2022, leaving friends and family reeling from the loss of a pillar of the community. He was 67. He was mayor for about 12 years and on the City Council for 21 years. He was a member of just about every community organization around, from his local Lions Club to the Fresno Council of Governments policy board, which he also chaired for four years. Cardenas was a key player in making Fowler and Fresno County a better place. He promoted a free, virtual pre-school in 2019, walking up to families on the street. He advocated for water storage that would bring more clean water to the cities and farmlands, said Flores in his post. And as an immigrant, he also worked to improve the immigration system.

Phil Cox
Visalia, Tulare County
Former Vice Mayor of the City of Visalia and former long-time Tulare County Supervisor, passed in June 2021. He served as the Chair of the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) for two terms. Cox spent 30 years in the public eye in the south Valley, serving as an advisory committee member for seven years – 1991 through 1998 – before joining the Visalia Planning Commission for a three-year stint. In 2001, Cox was elected to his first term on the Visalia City Council, earning the Vice Mayor role then. In 2004, Cox took a successful plunge for Tulare County Supervisor, serving on the panel for three successive terms before a hotly-contested electoral battle with current Supervisor Amy Shuklian. Following the Supervisorial defeat in 2016, Cox returned to his roots – running for his old seat on the Visalia City Council.

Raymond Lerma
Corcoran, Kings County
Mr. Lerma served seven terms on the Corcoran City Council and passed in January 2022. Lerma was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1953. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Corcoran where he was raised and lived until he left to attend the University of California, Berkeley. Lerma taught many different grade levels from elementary school to high school and ended his 38-year career in education as an English Language Development Coach at Corcoran High School. He ran for his first Corcoran City Council term in 1994, a seat which he won and had continued to hold until his passing. While he was always busy with his work as a council member, along with serving on various committees and boards like Kings Community Action, co-founded the Kings County Latino Roundtable

Vernon Moss
Madera County
Former Madera County Supervisor and Chowchilla Mayor Vernon Moss passed in April 2022. He served as president of the Chowchilla District Chamber of Commerce, president of the Chowchilla Rotary, and president of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Commission. In addition, he sat on various committees, including the First Five Commission of Madera County. During his three terms on the Board of Supervisors, Moss oversaw several projects, including building the First Five offices in Chowchilla, relocating the Amtrak train station, and building the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County. His retirement from the board of supervisors was honored in the United States Congressional Record.

Jerry O’Banion
Merced County
Former Merced County Supervisor and Mayor of Dos Palos Jerry O’Banion passed in February 2021. Mr. O’Banion served seven terms as a Merced County Supervisor. He was elected to the Merced County Board of Supervisors, serving from 1990 until his retirement in 2018. During his 28 years as supervisor, O’Banion never faced an opponent in an election. He became the second longest serving supervisor serving in consecutive years in the State of California. An he was named chairman of the board six times. O’Banion also served on the Merced County Local Agency Formation Commission, starting in 1983. Among the many organizations he supported were the 4-H Youth Program, Merced County Spring Fair Heritage Foundation, Dos Palos High School Athletic Boosters, Dos Palos Y Service Club, and the Dos Palos High School Ag Boosters.

Robert Silva
Mendota, Fresno County
Robert Silva, a longtime mayor of Mendota, passed away in May of 2020. Silva served as a City official since 1978 when he was initially appointed to the Mendota Planning Commission. He was mayor for four terms – 1990-1992, 1995-1998, 2006-2016 and from 2018 to January 2020. He served on Fresno COG’s Board during each of those terms. Over the past few years, Silva worked on several projects for Mendota, including securing a donation for the Mendota Boys and Girls Club that prevented it from closing. Silva worked as a strong advocate for the largely migrant farmworker community of Mendota as it grappled with high unemployment amid numerous droughts gutting the agricultural industry on the west side of Fresno County.

Michael Maciel
Tracy, San Joaquin County
Former Tracy Mayor and former San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) Board member Michael Maciel died March 17, 2022, in a traffic collision near Vernal is. Mr. Maciel was elected to the Tracy City Council in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. He was mayor from 2014 to 2016 and on the SJCOG Board from 2015 to 2016. He was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and a retired Tracy police captain having served 23 years before retiring in 2006. He was born in Fremont, the second of nine children, and moved to the Tracy and Vernalis area when he was 7 along with his parents, grandparents and uncle as they continued their farming operation. He graduated from Paterson High School in 1968 and the following year enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. His six and a half years in active duty included one tour in Vietnam. He was a Lifetime Member of the VFW.

Peter Dirk Verdoorn
San Joaquin COG
Peter Dirk Verdoorn, former executive director of the San Joaquin Council of Governments, died Nov. 15, 2021. He was born on Feb. 23, 1933, in Hoboken, New Jersey. He graduated from Weehawken High School and joined the U.S. Navy toward the end of the Korean War. He served as a machine repairman on the USS Lexington. He stayed in San Diego after being discharged from the military. He received his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in 1961 and later went on to serve as the SJCOG executive director for 24 years.

Barton “Bart” Richards Meays
San Joaquin COG
Barton “Bart” Richards Meays, the San Joaquin Council of Governments executive director from July 1991 to April 1998, died Dec. 1, 2021. He lived in Laguna Niguel at the time of his death. Mr. Meays oversaw San Joaquin County’s Measure K, a half-cent sales tax funding transportation improvements. He helped to shepherd a countywide transit system and a startup passenger commuter rail service. Under Mr. Meays, SJCOG formed a partnership with Caltrans that resulted in the Manteca Bypass being built under budget and ahead of schedule. At the time of his retirement from SJCOG he had spent 40 years working for various planning agencies. He previous­ly worked for the Kern Council of Governments, the Southern California Association of Governments, and the local governments of Los Gatos, Santa Clara County and Sacramento County. He was also a past president of the Cal COG Directors Association. After retiring from SJCOG, he continued his involvement with SJCOG by working on the San Joaquin County Multi-Species Habitat Conservation and Open Space Plan.

Ort J. Lofthus
Stockton, San Joaquin County
Ort J. Lofthus, Stockton business owner, civic leader, and driving force behind getting the Crosstown Freeway completed, died March 7, 2022. Mr. helped to celebrate the State Route 4/Crosstown Freeway Extension project near the Port of Stockton. The Crosstown Freeway, which connects Interstate 5 and State Route 99, is officially named the Ort J. Lofthus Freeway for his tireless pursuit to have the state complete what had become known as a “freeway to nowhere:• A marker with Lofthus’ image on it at the intersection of W. Lafayette and S. Center streets in Stockton dedicated March 16, 1987, reads: “This outstanding civic leader rejected the prospect that Stockton would settle for a ‘freeway to nowhere: He organized the FOCUS (Finish Our Crosstown-Unite Stockton) committee and motivated our state government to complete this vital link between 1-5 and US 99. More than any other individual he worked persistently to make it a ‘Freeway to Somewhere:” He also promoted the widening of Interstate 205 to relieve congestion on that vital route to the San Francisco Bay Area. A daughter, Susan, is a former member of the SJCOG Board of Directors.

Carol Whiteside
Modesto, Stanislaus County
In her 20 years as a leader on growth issues in California – four as the City of Modesto’s mayor, six in the Pete Wilson administration, and 10 as head of the Great Valley Center – Carol Whiteside probably had more influence over the shape of regional planning in California than any other single individual. She served one term each on the school board, the city council and as mayor, but it was in her subsequent roles with the Wilson Administration and the Great Valley Center – an institution that came into being entirely because of the force of her personality – that she left her most lasting impression on the state. She traveled the state constantly, trying to find solutions that would retain local control while at the same time meeting regional needs for both growth management and economic development.