Updated: Governor Newsom Announces Key Water, Economic Development and Education Appointments


SACRAMENTO — Governor Gavin Newsom announced several key appointments to help tackle some of the most urgent challenges facing California, as outlined in his State of the State Address earlier today — meeting California’s diverse water needs, boosting economic development across the state and bolstering the education system.

Meeting California’s Water Needs

“We have a big state with diverse water needs. Cities that need clean water to drink, farms that need irrigation to keep feeding the world, fragile ecosystems that must be protected,” said Governor Newsom in his State of the State address. “We need a portfolio approach to building water infrastructure and meeting long-term demand. To help bring this balance, I’m appointing a new chair of the California water board, Joaquin Esquivel.”

Joaquin Esquivel, 36, of Sacramento, has been designated Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, where he has served since 2017. Esquivel was assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency from 2015 to 2017. He served in the Office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer from 2007 to 2015 as a research assistant, legislative aide, and legislative assistant for water and agriculture issues, and as director of information and technology.  Prior to that, he was a center youth manager at Gay Associated Youth from 2002 to 2004. Esquivel was confirmed by the California State Senate to the State Water Resources Control Board in 2018 and the compensation is $158,572. Esquivel is a Democrat.

Laurel Firestone, 40, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board. Firestone has been co-founder and co-director of the Community Water Center since 2006. She previously served as the director of the Rural Poverty Water Project at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment from 2004 to 2006. She served on the Tulare County Water Commission from 2007 to 2012, and co‐chaired the Governor’s Drinking Water Stakeholder Group from 2012 to 2014. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $153,689. Firestone is a Democrat.

William Lyons, 68, of Modesto, has been appointed Agriculture Liaison in the Office of the Governor. Lyons has been chief executive officer of Lyons Investments Management, LLC since 1976. He previously served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1999 to 2004. Lyons was selected as the western regional finalist for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation 2010 Conservationist of the Year Award and received the United States Department of Agriculture National Environmentalist Award. He has an extensive background in agriculture and water policy. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $175,008. Lyons is a Democrat.

Economic Development

“We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High-Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy,” said Governor Newsom. “My pick for the next chair of the High-Speed Rail Authority, Lenny Mendonca, my Economic Development Director. Because, at the end of the day, transportation and economic development must go hand in hand.”

Lenny Mendonca, 57, of Half Moon Bay, has been appointed Chief Economic and Business Advisor and Director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). Mendonca is co-owner of Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., and previously was co-chair at California Forward from 2012 to 2018. He was a partner at McKinsey & Co. from 1992 to 2014. Mendonca earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is a $48,000 stipend. Mendonca has also been appointed to the High-Speed Rail Authority. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Mendonca is a Democrat.


“The measure of a school system’s excellence is more than the sum of its budgets. We need clear and achievable standards of transparency, more information sharing, and accountability for all public schools — traditional and charter,” said Governor Newsom. “We need a new President for the State Board of Education, to lead the way and work alongside State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, and to lift up all of our students. And my pick for that position is nationally recognized education expert Linda Darling-Hammond.”

Linda Darling-Hammond, 67, of Stanford, has been appointed to the State Board of Education. Darling-Hammond has been Charles E. Ducommun professor emeritus at the Stanford University, Graduate School of Education since 2017, where she was a professor from 1998 to 2017. She has been president of the Learning Policy Institute since 2015. Darling-Hammond was founder and co-director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education from 2008 to 2017, and faculty sponsor for the Stanford Teacher Education Program from 1998 to 2005. She served as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future from 1994 to 2001. Darling-Hammond held an endowed professorship at Teachers College, Columbia University from 1989 to 1998 and was director of the RAND Corporation’s education program from 1979 to 1989. She is a member of the American Association of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Education. Darling-Hammond earned a Doctor of Education degree is urban education from Temple University. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Darling-Hammond is a Democrat.