(Pismo Beach, Ca) Former Simi Valley City Manager and Ventura County Chief Executive Officer Marlin L. “Lin” Koester passed away on July 9 after a three-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Suzi, two children, Jeff Koester and Jennifer Huber, two step-children, Michelle Smith and Aaron Seedorf, and four grandchildren, Maelin, Jordan, Jack and Savannah.
“Lin’s passing gives us pause to remember the accomplishments and contributions of one of the great pioneers of our City who helped make it the beautiful place that it is today”, commented current Simi Valley Mayor and County Supervisor-elect Bob Huber. “Lin was not one who sought accolades, but he deserved many for what he accomplished on our behalf. He will be missed.”
Koester: The Man Behind The Name
By all accounts, in Simi Valley, many names are often shared that refer to the City’s rich history; Strathearn, Robertson, Binns, Wright, Crinklaw, Haigh and Runkle are the names most often cited. Koester is a name worthy of inclusion, due to his decisive leadership and deep commitment to the communities he served during his 28 years in government.
Background to Simi Valley
The City of Simi Valley was incorporated in 1969, after the citizens realized that much of the property taxes collected were not benefiting their section of the county, but rather the more established areas of Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. The City needed more services and infrastructure for a growing community. Over a 9-year period, elections came and went, and the city council and city manager were not making enough progress in moving Simi Valley forward with the needs of a fast-growing community. In 1978, after a recall of two city council members, the new council decided to also look for a new city manager. Koester was hired as Interim City Manager and less than 6 months later, he was hired permanently.
Koester earned a BS in Civil Engineering from Oregon State University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Pepperdine University, both of which contributed to his unique and diverse background.
Koester had huge challenges to overcome. First, Prop 13 passed in 1978. That combined with AB8 (its implementing legislation) simply eliminated the City’s ability to raise taxes for its own needs. The result was that the City’s sanitation system, police department and even their sign ordinance (dealing with an abundance of unsightly signs) had big challenges which needed solutions. In addition, the City’s population had grown substantially since incorporation with no signs of slowing down. Strife within the community about local politics created a demoralized and tense environment that would be a challenge for any leader.
“Lin was a unique administrator for local government in that he had a keen feel for the technical side of what government needed to do yet a deep understanding of the policy decisions that would drive those operations of government,” explained Mike Sedell the former Assistant City Manger who worked with Koester for over 20 years.
Koester dealt with the issues and managed to bring the Simi Valley City Council into a cohesive working relationship which would last throughout his tenure. As a fiscal conservative, he scrutinized spending, which led to a reorganization of departments and reporting as he dissected every detail of the City’s organization and structure.
Former employees described Koester as a boss who “balances a demand for excellence with an acute sense of fairness.”
Council members characterized him as a reliable, fiscally conservative resource who could guide them through even the toughest tasks.
Koester led the City of Simi Valley through a continued period of growth which included the development of Wood Ranch and the needed economic base to serve the residential development that was occurring.
Koester also led the City’s efforts to bring the landmark Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to Simi Valley along with key State service agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the Employment Development Department (EDD). Beyond these milestone accomplishments, Koester was best known for setting the Simi Valley budget on a positive path for the future after the struggles it endured during its infancy. At a time when few people even had ideas as to how the City could fund its needs and thrive as a city, Koester remained focused on problem solving.
“Before we were the safest city in the country and Ventura County, Lin helped us navigate to being the safest,” shares former Simi Valley Mayor and Congressman Elton Gallegly.
“He was so sharp,” said Gallegly. “We were successful in Simi Valley because of Lin Koester. I was elected to Congress because of the great success we had in Simi Valley and that would not have been possible without Lin Koester.”
“Early on we had to deal with the sanitation plant and with the technical process of running a sanitation plant,” shared Mike Sedell the former Assistant City Manager, who worked with Koester for nearly 20 years. “The combination of his engineering background and his education and experience in government administration, you just couldn’t find a problem he couldn’t solve.”
“Lin used his background as an engineer to get into the very technical aspects of this,” explained Gallegly. “The engineers working at that plant could not hoodwink him. When he asked a question, it was because he knew the answer.”
Gallegly went on to describe Koester’s character. “He understood the role of a city manager. He would be very helpful to navigate policy for the City. But he was careful that he was a staff person and not the political person. He never tried to get the credit. Certainly, in my case that was true. I listened to him very early on the technical issues for the city.”
According to City records, between 1960 and 1965, the population in the Simi Valley grew over 500 percent, from around 8,000 residents to 42,000. Seventy percent of the population was under 35 years of age. During the 1970s, the City’s population grew to 67,450 residents, and by 1972, the City had adopted its first General Plan, which indicated that 40 percent of the available land would be set aside for industrial sites in order to provide a more favorable local employment ratio.
Before being incorporated, the City developed in a sort of “hodge podge” manner. Upon incorporation and the implementation of the City’s General Plan, the goal was to provide more structure to help build the community in an orderly fashion. But the plan as written fell short of giving the City the structure it needed in order to grow in all the fundamental ways necessary for a healthy city: businesses, tax base, and higher paying jobs. At the time, traffic was a big issue as most people while living in Simi Valley, left each day for jobs and took much of their spending dollars with them.
Koester’s early work began with a recommendation to amend the City’s General Plan. The recommendation includes placing the industrial park into the west end, and to develop an auto and retail center that still remains to this day. He also proposed moving the auto industry into one area between Los Angeles Avenue and Cochran and 1st street.
The amended General Plan overhauled the police department and created a method to accommodate for the population growth while reducing the flow of traffic, which came through improving intersections and signals.
“They didn’t call it a police department back then. It was called a community safety agency,” explains Gallegly. “Cars were white, and police wore powder blue uniforms. Lin’s idea was to transition to black and white units and traditional uniforms.” The community began to see their law enforcement differently as the agency’s reputation became known as tough on issues such as DUI’s, and community safety improved tremendously.
By 1980, the City’s efforts to bring in higher paying jobs began to pay off. Tandon Industries, a computer equipment manufacturer, chose to relocate its facilities to Madera Road, bringing with it 400 jobs. They were soon followed by Farmers Insurance Group and Fairchild-Xincom, a memory test system manufacturer.
“This was about leadership. The image of Simi Valley changed because of this over the years and this was because of Lin Koester,” explains Gallegly.
“What was so unique about Lin, he had a very unique blend. He was a trained educated engineer. He was an officer in the Navy on a nuclear submarine,” shared Gallegly. “You don’t get that with just arithmetic or just as an engineer. He had a unique balance between technical things and political savvy.”
In 1995, after great success in Simi Valley, Koester was hired as the CEO of Ventura after former CEO Richard Wittenberg left to take a similar position in Santa Clara County. Koester is remembered as a “no nonsense” manager who had also served the County as an Agency Director prior to his service in Simi Valley. Amongst his many successes as CEO, Koester was able to close a $39 million structural budget gap by reducing hiring and lowering ongoing expenses, was instrumental in getting needed support for upgrading the County’s hospital, and greatly improving relationships with the County’s cities.
Koester also had a long-term association with Bob Huber. Huber’s son, Todd, married Koester’s daughter, Jennifer, twenty-six years ago while Koester was City Manager and Huber was on the City Council.
“I remember when my dad was running for office,” shares Todd Huber. “I was 16 years old and we were there at City Hall waiting for the results to come in from the County. It was kind of stressful on us as kids because you are helping family in a campaign and you are sitting there wondering if they win. Lin got the call from the County and I was looking at him and he saw me watching and he winked at me as if to say, ‘Your dad won’ and I was so relieved and happy. He then walked over and told everyone my dad won. But just that small moment of realizing I needed to know and him winking at me and telling me before he told anyone else was a special moment. That was the first time I met him and that memory of him just sticks with me.”
The younger Huber shared his deep respect for his father-in-law. “He was the type of person that could solve any problem. He always had the answer and it was always the right answer – for anything! Whether you were driving on a road trip or building something. He was the best problem solver.”
“I was reading the article written about him written back in 1993. In the article, they wrote, ‘He has no patience for long meetings, whiners and shallow thinkers.’ That was just so him. He didn’t just talk about things or complain about things. He got things done. I feel like they just don’t make people like him anymore.”
Retirement & Hobbies
Koester had a passion for cars and he helped ignite that love in others, including his son-in-law.
“He was excited with just about any kind of project. He would never tell you ‘No, that’s a waste of money or too risky.’ He would just be excited for you and help you make it happen,” said Todd.
Koester’s retirement began in 1999 after 28 years. According to family, Koester’s retirement came at an age younger than most because of the extreme amounts of time he spent in his jobs.
“He was extremely committed to doing a good job for the City which meant that he didn’t always have the time to spend with family that he wanted,” shares son-in-law Todd. “He couldn’t be the dad that got to go to the beach with his kids during the week. That just wasn’t in the cards. He was a great dad, but he didn’t have a lot of leisure time with his job.”
Upon retirement, Koester “doubled down” on time with his grandkids. One grandson, Jordan, even moved in with him. “He got to do everything he wanted to do with his kids through his grandkids.”
Koester and wife Suzi retired to their home in Pismo Beach and remained there for almost 19 years. Koester purchased the home in the early 1990’s and began restoring it with his son, Jeff.
Only an immediate family service is planned at this time. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers any donations in memory of Lin be sent to a favorite local Boy’s and Girl’s Club. Click Here to donate now.