In the beginning there was but one. The meek beginnings of the Transportation Department, currently consisting of 400 employees as we know it today, grew from the single position of County Surveyor. The County Surveyor was one of the Constitutional Officers elected on May 2, 1893, the date the voters approved the formation of Riverside County. George M. Pearson was elected to the first Office of Surveyor.
Prior to formation, the area we know as Riverside County was partially located in San Bernardino County (west) and San Diego County (east). In 1889, the city of Riverside was young and fast growing. The city of San Bernardino was by contrast a much older and established city with more conservative views. The San Bernardino residents had low expectations of commercial success for the settlers in the city of Riverside. However, Riverside settlers were able to develop a water supply and the Riverside Washington Navel oranges made their venture a success.
Differences, small but rankling, grew over time. Many felt the city of San Bernardino was favored in the political scenes over Riverside. Where to spend road money - whose area is favored and whose neglected - has ever been a matter in which political favor can outweigh fairness. It was especially so in that era.
Then, in 1889, came an issue arousing moral and economic outrage - the fight over the location and cost and method of financing a courthouse. The people of Riverside believed their efforts were being thwarted by the political
powers from San Bernardino. When a petition was submitted to the supervisors seeking a vote on the courthouse issue, the petition was ruled invalid. Rejection of the petition shifted the movement and motivated the activists to pursue the formation of a new county. Formation of Riverside County finally occurred on May 2, 1893. The County Courthouse was later constructed and opened in 1904.
George M. Pearson went on to serve as County Surveyor for twenty one years from the date of incorporation until he left in May of 1914.
Alexander Chope Fulmor was appointed County Surveyor by the Board of Supervisors on May 1, 1914, replacing George Pearson. On September 27, 1918, he was appointed Superintendent of Roads as an additional responsibility. He retired at the conclusion of his eighth term as Surveyor on December 31, 1944. Lake Fulmor in the San Jacinto Mountains was named in his honor.
William S. Conner, was appointed Superintendent of County Highways in May 1923. This appointment separated the position of County Surveyor and the position of Superintendent of County Highways. Mr. Conner served until May of 1926. Road construction in this period was still accomplished with horse drawn scrapers.
Three Superintendents of County Highways were appointed over the next 21 years from May 1926 to October 1947. The appointments included:
Oscar Ford: May 1926 to May 1929
Roderick Lemuel McKenzie: May 1929 to Dec 1938
Clarence Buchanan Cravens: DEC 1938 to Oct 1947
R. L. McKenzie is the Grandfather of former Highway Operations Superintendent
Gary McKenzie. The McKenzie family has poured over 150 years of
public service into the transportation facilities of Riverside County.
Adna Clinton Keith was appointed to fill the unexpired term of A.C. Fulmor
when he retired from the position of County Surveyor in 1945. Mr. Keith was elected to continue as Surveyor in 1946. The next year the State of California implemented the Collier-Burns Highway Act of 1947. An act to provide for a system of public streets and highways in the State of California and for the financial support thereof. The Act was profound in its impact on the management of roadways by local jurisdictions. Implementation of the Act required substantive changes by the County. Some significant particulars include:
- Local jurisdictions were mandated to create a system of primary roads. Each jurisdiction was required to select the roads on the basis of greatest general importance and it was specified that the mileage of primary roads could not exceed fifty percent of the total mileage of all roads. The Act further required that taxes collected under the Act could only be spent on roads identified in the primary road system.
- The Act also required the appointment of a single "Road Commissioner" for all road districts and raised management of the roads to a county level. Prior to the Act, there were literally five road departments - or one run by each county supervisor. Each member got his slice of road money each year and operated his own department and equipment as he saw fit from a need as well as a political viewpoint.
In compliance with the Act, the Board of Supervisors gave Mr. Keith the newly created position of Road Commissioner in October 1947, effectively combining the management of survey and roads once again. And in 1948, the County adopted a resolution establishing a 491.59-mile primary road system. The original primary road system has grown through the years to what is now the 2186-mile County Maintained Road System.
In 1962, the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance establishing the Surveyor's position as an appointive position. The Board was concerned that if the Road Commissioner position was appointive and the County Surveyor was elective, they may be forced to have two separate individuals. By making the County Surveyor appointive the Board was able to assure that a single individual held both positions. Mr. Keith continued to hold both positions until his retirement at the end of 1971. "Clinton Keith Road" was named after Mr. Keith in honor of his many years of service.
Following Mr. Keith, the position of Road Commissioner/Surveyor was held by three individuals during the period from April 1972 to December 1989.
In 1990, the Road Department changed its name to the Transportation Department and Franklin E. Sherkow was appointed Director of Transportation by the Board. In November
of 1991, the Supervisors created the County Transportation and Land
Management Agency and appointed Mr.Sherkow as Director of the new
agency, encompassing the Department of Transportation, County Planning
Department, and Building and Safety Department. Mr. Sherkow served
in a dual capacity as the Director of the Agency and Director of
Transportation until August 1993 when David
E. Barnhart was hired into the position of Director of Transportation.
Mr. Barnhart retired in August 2002 and then Deputy Director George
A. Johnson was appointed to the position. The current Director is Mr. Juan C. Perez, who also heads the Transportation & Land Management Agency.