Kathleen Lee’s Mission
By Jennifer Moulaison | Photos by Randy Tunnell
Engagement on a civic level is something of a family legacy for Kathleen Lee, who describes herself as being taught from a young age to survey her surroundings and see what can be done to better the community. It’s this ethic that has helped Lee build an impressive political resumé while serving her community in Monterey and along the Central Coast.
Lee’s father worked as a city and redevelopment manager, and her mother worked as a social worker, so it was little surprise to those who knew Lee when she chose to pursue a degree in political science. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fresno, she had the opportunity to work for Senator Feinstein in her San Francisco office. She then worked for 17 years for the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, earning her master’s degree in public administration along the way. In 2017, she joined the office of Congressman Jimmy Panetta, working as district director. “This offered a really great understanding of how government works on different levels,” says Lee. She had to deal with many issues as soon as she started, including the devastating winter storms. “What was most obvious to me was the breadth of what Representative Panetta does in the community, from Santa Cruz, all the way down to the San Luis Obispo County . . . There are funding challenges and land use issues as well as visitor impacts—everything is connected. You can’t pull a string one place without having something unravel somewhere else. But when you do eventually discover an ideal solution, it can be so gratifying,”
Lee is currently the longest-serving board member representing the 4th Ward of Monterey Peninsula’s Regional Park District. The area includes the City of Pacific Grove, the northern portion of the City of Monterey, the Presidio of Monterey, and the northern half of unincorporated Pebble Beach. “I’m especially proud of the work we’ve done to ensure the financial stability of the district as well as our ability to ensure voter trust,” says Lee. Although she enjoys her work with the Park District, Lee doesn’t see her position as a lifetime service. “It’s too important to bring fresh perspectives and new approaches,” she explains.
Most recently, Lee joined the Point Lobos Foundation as executive director, just in time to grapple with new circumstances due to the global pandemic. “The shelter-in-place order had just begun, and sadly, we lost our board member Joe Vargo to complications from COVID-19. He was a bright and engaging person, and we strive to honor his life through our work. If nothing else, this pandemic has taught us the importance of being outdoors,” says Lee. The Point Lobos region, according to Lee, has more than ever become a place of refuge and solace during these times. And that underscores the necessity to preserve its extraordinary natural beauty. “We have more than 250 docents who come here with different passions,” says Lee. “Respecting those passions and inspiring people to love Point Lobos is at the core of our work. These parks belong to everyone.”