[Source: The Press Enterprise] Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit died Monday night, Dec. 26 at age 64, his office announced.
Benoit, who had been battling pancreatic cancer, “passed away peacefully this evening at his home in Bermuda Dunes,” according to a county news release. His death came one day shy of his 65th birthday, said Michelle DeArmond, Benoit’s chief of staff.
In November 2016, Benoit announced he would be scaling back his workload as supervisor after a CT scan uncovered a growth on his pancreas and spots on his liver and lungs. He later was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Benoit’s current term expires at the end of 2018. By law, Gov. Jerry Brown has the sole authority to appoint Benoit’s successor.
Benoit represented the Fourth District on the county Board of Supervisors. The district of more than 400,000 residents stretches from the Coachella Valley to Blythe and is geographically the largest supervisorial district – almost 5,000 square miles — in Riverside County.
A sizable portion of the district’s population is Latino, making Benoit’s ability to communicate in Spanish an asset. He learned Spanish through immersion programs in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Benoit graduated from Notre Dame High School in Riverside as well as Riverside City College. He also earned a bachelor of science degree in public safety from Cal State Los Angeles and a master’s in public administration from Cal State San Bernardino. He also attended the FBI National Academy.
Before embarking on a political career, Benoit spent 31 years in law enforcement, starting with the Corona Police Department before working for the California Highway Patrol.
He worked patrols in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Bakersfield before settling in the Coachella Valley in 1988 after being promoted to commander of the CHP’s Indio Station. Benoit retired from the CHP in 2001.
Benoit’s first elected office was as a board member of the Desert Sands Unified School District. In 2002, he ran for state Assembly as a Republican and served three terms in that chamber before being elected to the state Senate in 2008.
While in Sacramento, Benoit was able to get 40 bills signed into law, according to the biography on his supervisorial website. Among them is “Aryanna’s Law,” which requires childcare centers to disclose health and safety violations.
Unlike other state lawmakers, he skipped the routine of flying commercially, instead piloting his own private plane. At one point, Benoit was one of just two licensed pilots in the Legislature. Benoit, who earned his pilot’s license through flying lessons at Rubidoux’s Flabob Airport in the 1970s, often gave rides to other lawmakers.
He received legislator of the year honors from the California School Boards Association, the School Transportation Coalition, the California Narcotics Officers’ Association and the Chief Probation Officers of California.
In 2009, then-Supervisor Roy Wilson stepped down unexpectedly, citing his declining health. Before he passed away that August, Wilson asked his fellow supervisors to endorse Benoit as his replacement.
In November 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Benoit to serve the remainder of Wilson’s term. “As an experienced elected official and former public safety officer, John J. Benoit has a proven history of dedicated public service and is absolutely the best person to fill this important position,” Schwarzenegger said at the time.
Benoit was interested in becoming supervisor because he felt he could accomplish more at the local level. “It is just a fascinating position,” he said in 2011.
He won a full four-year term in 2010 by beating former Palm Springs Police Chief Gary Jeandron and was re-elected in 2014 with 57 percent in defeating then-Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez.
As supervisor, Benoit spearheaded a requirement that candidate for county elected office file their reports electronically, a move aimed at boosting transparency.
Benoit invited the national immigration debate into the board chambers in February 2013, when he co-sponsored a resolution with Supervisor Marion Ashley endorsing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Benoit also pushed for the county to abandon plans to build a jail in Whitewater after residents in his district objected. And he helped secure state money for new housing for residents who lived in a dilapidated mobile home park in the desert.
The board approved the resolution following often-emotional testimony from members of the public on both sides of the issue.
At one point, Benoit spoke in Spanish, prompting an anti-illegal immigration activist to demand he speak in English.
One of the most controversial issues to arise during Benoit’s tenure was Liberty Quarry, an open-pit mine proposed for the hills above Temecula. Supervisors initially rejected the quarry in 2012, but Benoit, a quarry supporter, managed to resurrect the project and put it on a planning fast-track.
That angered then-Supervisor Jeff Stone, who represent the district where the quarry would be built. Stone, a quarry foe, accused Benoit of meddling in his district and started intervening in land-use projects in Benoit’s district.
A land deal with the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians scrapped the quarry, and Benoit and Stone later settled their differences.
Benoit also was a strong advocate for pet adoptions. He and his wife paid the adoption fees on the first 50 pets adopted out of the county’s desert animal shelter during the “Benoit50” adoption event in September 2016. The couple also adopted two dogs and a cat.
Benoit also made it a point not to take a strictly partisan view on matters. In October 2016, he defended his endorsement of state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, despite a county GOP policy that barred elected Republicans from endorsing Democrats.
“I think our goal should be to broaden our approach, not draw lines in the sand,” Benoit said at the time. “I’ve lived my life believing in free enterprise and the value of an economy based on competition. … There are times when good people rise and share the same values even though there’s a ‘D’ in front of their name.”
As supervisor, Benoit also served on the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which is responsible for smog control in all or parts of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Benoit’s other community service included stints as president of the United Way of the Desert and the Indio Rotary chapter. He also served as a volunteer fire captain with the Sunset-Whitney Fire Department.
Benoit is survived by wife Sheryl, whom he married in 1978, two children, Sarah and Ben, two grandchildren, and two brothers. Ben Benoit is a Wildomar councilman.
Plans for funeral services will be forthcoming, according to Benoit’s office.
Source: The Press Enterprise
December 26, 2016