The City of Diamond Bar’s first Latina mayor is in her sixth term on the city council and has served as mayor five times. Carol Herrera was first elected to the city council in November 1995 and has the city’s longest tenure of service.
Prior to being elected to the city council, Ms. Herrera served four terms on the Walnut Valley Unified School Board District. A long-time advocate for local, regional and national transportation solutions, she is on the board of directors and leadership committee of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
Ms. Herrera earned her Associate’s Degree from Mt. San Antonio College and has lived in Diamond Bar since 1966. She and her husband Art, a retired commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have raised three children and have been married 50 years.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on during your years of public service, which one are you most proud of and how did it help you become a better policy maker?
“The first time I served as mayor in 1998 I set up a task force to look into creating a civic center because we didn’t own our city hall. Each council member appointed a community resident to the task force, so there was a lot of community involvement. In 2010, when we started talking about renting additional space because we needed to expand, our city manager said, “It’s a shame we can’t move into one of the nearby office buildings,’ and pointed out there was one across the street with 57-thousand square feet of space, a lot more than we needed, but the [asking price] was $18-million. I told him to offer $9.9-million in cash and they accepted. It was far more space than we needed, but since the local library was in a cramped facility, we now had plenty of space to offer and invited them to move in on the ground floor. The community was thrilled. The lesson I learned from that experience was that sometimes you just have to go for it and take a risk.”
Who was your mentor in public service and what impact did she or he have on your career?
“My friend Gary Neely, who is now deceased, guided me a lot. He was always involved in politics, served on this area’s advisory council long before Diamond Bar became a city. When he ran for city council when the city incorporated in 1989 he didn’t win, but when one of my fellow council members, Bob Huff [former California State Senate Minority Leader] later ran for Assembly he hired Gary to be his transportation deputy for several years. Gary was the person who taught me the importance of collaborating with other cities. Diamond Bar [city officials] would sometimes go on the offense when we were impacted in a negative way by other cities, but Gary was the one who always encouraged me to form alliances and figure out ways to work things out rather than fight over our differences. That excellent advice has stayed with me ever since.”
Is there anything you wish someone had told you before you became an elected official?
“I faced a huge learning curve regarding [bureaucracy] language. There were acronyms and so many different phrases. I wish someone had offered me [a guide] because I had no idea what they were talking about in city council meetings! I finally [admitted that] to the city manager, who was pretty upset that I let so much time go by without saying anything. Part of it was ego. I’d been on the school board for 16 years and I figured I knew everything but that wasn’t true. Like infrastructure. I didn’t know what infrastructure meant. I told [the city manager], ‘I thought if I just listened long enough I’d figure it out, but I’ve been here for quite a while and I still don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I didn’t even know how certain organizations and [city] departments related to one another. So, he started simplifying things for me. Now, when we get a new council member, I always ask staff to explain it in such a way so the new person knows exactly what we’re talking about. I also ask questions on their behalf because when you’re new you don’t even know what questions to ask, so I do it for them.”
What was your most memorable day?
“I have nine grandchildren and when each of them was born that was tremendously memorable. Professionally, when i was elected in 1995 I was down by six votes on election night and there were still provisional votes to be counted, which wouldn’t happen for another week. And by the way, at that point I didn’t even know what provisional votes were! One week later, [my opponent and I were in] a dead tie. I suggested that it be resolved by drawing lots. I wrote my name on a scrap of paper and put in an envelope and [my opponent] wrote his name down and put it in another envelope. The envelopes were placed in a receptacle and the mayor was called back into the room. When she reached in and grabbed an envelope, she dropped it. So, she picked up the other envelope and it was the one with my name inside. There were 200 people in the room and everyone was holding their breath. The lesson there was that every single vote counts.”
If you had to be on one television show, “Survivor,” “The Voice” or “Dancing with The Stars,” which would you choose?
“I’m not very athletic so I don’t think I’d pick ‘Survivor.’ I’m becoming arthritic so I wouldn’t go on ‘Dancing with The Stars,’ and I can’t sing a note so I wouldn’t pick ‘The Voice.’ If I did, people would likely take up a collection to pay me not to sing!”
Interviewed by Bill Britt.