Walter Allen III '75, Urban and Regional Planning
Mayor of the City of Covina
Walter Allen III '75, urban and regional planning, lives by a simple edict. The mayor of Covina and an assistant chief in California's Deparment of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement believes that people are inherently good, and he just wants to make sure they are taken care of.
"The thing that I've always attempted to do throughout my career is serve the people," he says. "When I'm in a position, be it a lieutenant colonel in the civil air patrol, or mayor, or Eucharistic minister, my mission is to serve the people not just look for leadership opportunities."
Leading communities seems like second nature to the 51-year-old councilman. After working on city planning commissions as an urban planning student at Cal Poly Pomona and just after college, Allen realized his job became more about dealing with zoning codes and less about direct involvement with people he was building communities for.
"As student urban planners, we had that concept where we wanted to sit on Mt. Olympus and make the world better by using that paint brush to build all these beautiful communities and make everybody get along, and all those idealistic thoughts and dreams," Allen says.
Although his dreams as a student are still intact, the way he approaches them have changed.
Allen grew up in a poor neighborhood in Oakland, but a track scholarship sent him to Saint Joseph's Boy's High School in Alameda. His boyhood aspirations included a career with the military, however an eyesight medical discharge kept him from attending the Air Force Academy. He became an active participant in the Civil Air Patrol where he became cadet lieutenant colonel.
Instead of the military, Allen chose to pursue higher education. At Cal Poly Pomona, Allen in 1973 became the first black student body president and oversaw a variety of issues.
"When I came to the university, the atmosphere was highly charged," he says. "I remember we had everything from protests to the Vietnam War to streakers running across campus. But I was mainly dealing with getting the university union built and maintaining the best possible student services."
After earning his bachelor's degree, Allen continued with his graduate studies in urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He also took a full-time job with the campus police department, becoming a celebrated figure, perhaps to the chagrin of many drivers because he gave out the most parking tickets.
Allen realized he enjoyed law enforcement better than city planning. He ended his graduate studies and in 1976 took his first full-time law enforcement job with Cal State Fullerton as a patrolman. He then moved to the Chino Police Department where he rose to patrol corporal and served as a SWAT team member and field training officer.
In 1981, Allen made the jump from municipal police departments to the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement working as a special undercover agent. He was originally assigned to crack white-collar crime cases but was soon transferred to the field with a job that entailed selling drugs to both petty criminals and big traffickers alike on the streets of L.A.
An expert in drug enforcement, Allen had been asked in 1996 by Covina's police chief to make a presentation at a city council meeting on a trend starting in L.A. County: the production and distribution of methamphetamine. At that time there were about 8-10 meth labs that had been taken down in the City of Covina, and the police chief wanted to demonstrate how important it was for the police department to have a proactive stance against the criminals in the San Gabriel Valley.
About two months later, Allen was invited to run for the city council. He wasn't entirely sold on the idea, but he ended up being the third top vote getter, and filled the third vacant seat on the council in 1997, becoming Covina's first black councilman. He was elected for a second term in 2001 and has since become mayor.
"I said 'No way,' at first-'I'm a cop, not a politician. I'll consider it, but it ain't going to happen,'" he says. "For the next year, I was approached by people of Covina to run for city council, and at the last minute I filed to run. I was overwhelmed with a great deal of surprise and admiration for the people of Covina in taking a chance with me."
Allen, a self-described "mom and apple pie" kind of guy who is known to sport a different US flag motif tie to work every day, says he bleeds orange and green - Covina's city colors - and is devoted to workable solutions to some pressing city needs. He is fond of the city where he and his family have lived for three decades, enjoys working with the council and feels teamwork will get them through some rough times ahead.
"Every city council I've ever worked with, it's been the good, the bad and the ugly. But this council, it's been 100 percent good," he says. "The financial dilemma that we are in is the biggest challenge and we are going to use the learn-by-doing method to try and work our way through the dilemma."
Teamwork also means getting the community involved in decision-making, and Allen is taking a holistic approach to getting things done for the city.
"I feel that getting the community to become stakeholders by asking them what their feelings are will help us come up with some pretty good solutions with what we need to do," he says. "We have an aging sewer system, we have streets that are in ill repair, and we have a need with 9-11 and some of the other criminal activities to come up with top-notch safety services."
When he was an urban planning student, Allen said he was taught to "adapt, improvise and overcome." Those three actions have helped the mayor and assistant chief take what comes along gracefully.
"Cal Poly Pomona taught me how to get through events and critical areas of concern and have the attitude that no matter how adverse the situation is, you can always figure out a way to deal with it," he says.
What also keeps Allen grounded with all the challenges he faces in his two high-profile jobs are his strong religious beliefs and unwavering support from his wife, Patricia, who is also a Cal Poly Pomona graduate.
"There have been very challenging and difficult times in my life and her life," he says of Patricia, who is two-time cancer survivor. "She has been my partner since day one, and without her mentoring, her assistance, her support, and at extremely difficult times with my job, with my profession and with the city council, I could not have achieved the successes I achieved today."
When Allen is not attending city parades, working out budget crises, or heading up a drug task force, he is at church on Sunday serving as Eucharistic minister alongside his wife, or he is doing a little recreational shooting. As a trapshooting competitor, he returned in August from the World Trapshooting Championships in Ohio although he confesses he didn't place too well this year.
But Allen can always be found ready to work with the public.
"Civil service has enhanced one of my beliefs that there are some fine people who are willing to give up themselves entirely for the benefit of others," Allen says. "I meet people like that everyday."