SCLPC Policymaker Profiles

Policymaker Profile: Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa_Delgado_adjustedCouncilmember Vanessa Delgado has served the city of Montebello since November 2015. A native of East Los Angeles, Councilmember Delgado attended Stanford University, earning a Political Science degree with honors, and then obtained a Master’s of Public Administration at USC as a Dean’s Fellow. She then worked in local government focusing on economic development in the cities of Pico Rivera, Anaheim and Downey. She has participated on a number of boards and Commissions. She serves as a board member on the City of Montebello Oversight Board and is Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ appointee to the Small Craft Harbor Commission (Marina Del Rey). She is licensed as a Green Associate and holds a Real Estate Broker’s License. Councilmember Delgado is currently managing partner for Azure Development, which focuses on public-private partnerships, community outreach campaigns and development agreements.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

My biggest surprise was simply how frustrating compromising can get around projects. I assumed it would be a lot more straightforward to get things done. Even if it’s the best project for a city, it’s a lot slower than I thought—and I had worked in government before. I know things can take a long time. Yet I certainly don’t want that to detract anyone from being excited about being in office, and I’ve only been here for five months. I’m trying to keep my spirits up knowing that every battle I fight and what I accomplish that day will help push things forward substantially. I am not defined by it.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?

I had to make a very big compromise and decided not to maintain a fulltime job. As a single mom and also newly elected, it simply wasn’t possible for me to do it all. I also had to start my own company [Azure Development] while in office, which helped me to strengthen my time-management skills and also allowed me more flexibility. I have to actively spend an hour every day to plan for the weeks ahead. I have a color-coded system to keep all the balls in the air. I think as women we feel like we have to be perfect in all of these roles, and I try to talk about this false sense of perfection. I believe in doing the best I can in all of those roles. Some days it means spending more time at home and others, it’s more time at the office. I am very patient with myself about what gets done and what doesn’t. I don’t try to make a home-cooked meal every night, let’s just say that. 

Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? Name the person—your campaign manager, your spouse, parent, another political candidate, campaign manager. What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you? What did they teach you?

My campaign manager, Tony Torres. Campaigns are hard, and I don’t know that I could have gone through it and been successful without Tony. He was instrumental with the minutiae of campaigns, fundraising and moral support—he gets the psychology of the negative effect it can have when they do hit pieces on you. He kept me in balance and was instrumental to my success. I’m so thankful. 

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful (what did it do for residents or students) and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

I’m very proud of completing a project that had been in process for 10 years. With support of staff and my colleagues we achieved a development agreement on our main corridor. Given that my priority is public-private partnerships and this was a city-owned property, as soon as I came onboard I wanted to find out where the agreement was and what needed to be done, but be sensitive to people who had been working on it for so long. I tried to find out the intentions and goals and, given my experience of having done it for 17 years, to find a compromise to help everyone achieve them. We got it approved in the first 3 to 4 months I was in office.
 I think I was able to propel this forward because I understand both sides. My career in economic development and now, as a city councilmember, helped me to understand everyone’s needs. We built some good will, too. My colleagues were excited about working together, and I will continue to make sure we’ll have a good relationship. It was a pleasant victory. I want to do it over and over so it’s not a one-off thing.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Vanessa w daughterHaving my daughter, Isabella. I was 25 years old and it was something I didn’t know I wanted. It wasn’t really planned, but my life changed the moment I saw her. It changed the way I looked at life and is the most rewarding thing that has ever happened to me. One reason I am in elected office is so that she sees female role models. When I saw her it made me aware of making the world a better place. I want to give back to my community by helping to transform the community with policy. 

If you had to be on one television show, which show would you choose and why?

Not The Voice because I wouldn’t want to force anyone to hear me sing, but I like dancing and I live my life to challenge myself, so I’d say Dancing With the Stars. It’s about how far you can push yourself and what you can accomplish. I like that concept. And dancing sounds fun! 

Who will be the next President of the U.S? Who should be the next President?

They’re both the same person—Hillary Clinton. She has the most experience and can truly make the most progress for our country. I would love to have a female president and for every little girl to know she can be president. At the same time, this election has shown us how difficult it is for women in politics—how we look in pictures, what we wear, what we look like, what our perceived likability is rather than our skill set. As a female politician you’re surrounded by men. Normally if you’re strong and powerful and filled with ideas, no one would have negative stereotypes, like they call me. But I’ve learned to be kind and softer now—the old me wasn’t very soft, but unfortunately I have to tailor myself to appear softer, so I won’t be perceived as scary. I could probably get more done if I were more forceful and direct but because of my cultural background and as a woman, I can’t function that way. Yet you can view that as a positive or a detriment, and I choose to view it as an opportunity to set a new standard.

This interview was conducted by freelance writer Mary Ann Marshall.

Policymaker Profile: John Vargas

John Vargas Photo 1John Vargas has been Trustee of the El Camino Community College Board of Trustees since 2013. He served on the Board of Trustees for the Hawthorne School District from 2009 to 2013. He has served many leadership positions in business and finance for educational systems, most recently as Executive Director of The New City School in Long Beach from 2014 to 2015. He currently is an Independent Consultant for charter schools. Vargas has relied heavily on his twin background in business and finance as well as familial ties for his rising success. Here, he shares how he used his financial acumen to double his fiscal outcome.

What was the one thing no one told you about being an elected official that you wish you’d known before you were elected?

How much you need to have staff on your side, or you can get nothing done. I thought it was focused on me, the elected official, but you have to get everyone else on board—not just the five people on your board. You need to get staff to buy-in, as well as the community. If you don’t they will not execute your policy because they’re there every day, day-in and day-out. It’s about everyone together. Otherwise it’s like a president without a congress — nothing gets done.

As an elected official you must balance your job, your duties as an elected official and family obligations, not to mention trying to find personal time for yourself. How do you balance all these duties and obligations? Is there a secret to doing this well you can share?

You have to accept that you can’t be everywhere at once. I’ve seen colleagues who try to be all things, especially the younger ones, who then realize they can’t. You have to prioritize where you need to be and be strategic. Having a flexible career is helpful. My work and official duties are both flexible. As for a personal life, it’s good to find someone who understands what you do. Otherwise, your relationships can be strained and you might have trouble in your elected duties as well.

Who was your political mentor—someone who guided and supported you and prepared you for public service? Name the person—your campaign manager, your spouse, parent, another political candidate. What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you? What did they teach you?

John Vargas Photo with AlexMy brother, Alex Vargas, who is currently the Mayor of Hawthorne. We both started our political careers at the same time in 2009. I go to him for the hard issues and he advises me, guides me and backs me up. He’s the oldest in my family and I’m the youngest; I always looked up to him. He began inviting me to campaign events and we eventually started a community association together. That catapulted us to running for office. Over time it has become a mutual mentorship, in which we advise each other and share perspectives. Just having a friend you can fully trust is so important in politics.

Describe a project you spearheaded or supported that you’re proud of. Why was it successful and what did you learn from it that helped you be a better policymaker?

When I was on the school board in Hawthorne, we had a project to build a gymnasium that costed $5 million. The staff did a presentation for the board showing all its bells and whistles. Instead of accepting the recommendations, I started asking fiscal questions, like are we paying the right amount for this? Where can we save on the cost? This started an investigation and research that prompted renegotiations. We decided to scale back and were ultimately able to build two gymnasiums for the price of one. The gyms are on two of the three middle school campuses today. How that helped me to become a better policymaker is that I learned how to challenge and to ask questions: Can we do better? Have we looked at all the angles? Is this the best price we can get? It’s about knowing how to read the room and running with it. It doesn’t always come easy—I’m not a challenger, and I do it more subtly. Growing up we didn’t go against the grain, but my father would have a lot of discussions around the dinner table where we would always ask questions, so I grew up with that dynamic.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

The day my nephew was born four months ago. My sister struggled to have the baby and he’s the first grandbaby in the family. It’s another stage in our lives. Before him, there were no kids and it was all about us. Now, we have someone else to look after. I have been in public service for many years and thought about my school as my kids, but now it’s closer to home. When I first saw him I said, “OK, I’m going to figure out what preschool to send him to, what school after that.” It reinvigorated me. With each policy I now ask, “How will this affect him?”

If you had to be on one television show, which show would you choose and why? Survivor / Dancing With the Stars / The Voice

Are those the only options I have? This is politics, you know. Let’s see, Survivor—I like camping, but no. The Voice? I can’t sing. It would be Dancing with the Stars. I want to become a better dancer and it would be a fun challenge to learn the mambo and salsa. My write-in vote? The Walking Dead. It’s my favorite show. The zombie apocalypse!

Who will be the next President of the U.S.? Who should be the next President?

The democratic nominee will be the next president, which seems to be Hillary Clinton unless something drastic changes. As far as who it should be, there aren’t any Republicans I’m excited about. The Republicans have had too many candidates, have attacked each other too much, and are too far right. Plus Trump has even lower favorability numbers than Hillary. Toward Latinos, some of his language is too damaging. It’s problematic. Even if he can turn it around and do a 360 on some of his language—it’s still hard to vote for him after that. I’m not saying I’ll vote for Hillary either, although I’ll certainly vote. I really don’t know what I will do.

John Vargas was a trustee for the Hawthorne school district from 2009 to 2014. He is past executive director of the New City school in Long Beach and is currently an education consultant in Hawthorne.

This interview was conducted by freelance writer Mary Ann Marshall.

Policymaker Profile: Sonia Lopez – Compton Community College District

Sonia Lopez 2Sonia Lopez is on the Compton Community College District (CCCD) Board of Trustees and a legislative staff member for California State Senator Holly Mitchell of the 30th District. She previously worked as an office manager for Mitchell when she represented the 54th Assembly District in Los Angeles. Lopez earned a bachelor’s degree in Chicano studies/political science from the University of California, Riverside.


What are some of the specific challenges facing the CCCD today?

I’ve been on the board for the past two years and the community is still concerned that we’re not yet fully accredited. We’ve submitted our application but it’s a slow process. [The state took control of CCCD in 2004 as a result of fiscal mismanagement, which led to the loss of its accreditation. An agreement with El Camino College, a partner district, was formed to provide accredited coursework to Compton Community College students.] Having said that, one of the important challenges we share [with other community colleges] is creating partnerships that provide better access for our students. A lot of students across California go to community colleges and end up having to take remedial classes [because their high school courses didn’t meet the prerequisites required for college]. To help avoid that, we’ve partnered some of our Unified School Districts with the college district so students can take accredited, high school classes that are transferable to a college or university.

What are the most effective ways you use to connect with your community?

imgresI live in a city [South Gate] that’s represented by three different community colleges, so I want to make sure my community knows about their local resources. I represent Seat 3, which includes half of the city of Lynwood and portions of Paramount, South Gate and Downey. I’ve been bridging the gap between those school boards and city council members by bringing them to the campus and having them see the resources that are available to both students and adults looking to go back to school.

Did you have a mentor and exactly what did they offer you?

imgres-1Aside from my parents, I’d have to say Dolores Huerta was my mentor. Of course, she doesn’t know that she was a mentor but she was certainly a role model. The fact that she balanced advocacy work with her family life made a huge impression on me when I was younger. It seemed like she was everywhere. Today, I regard Senator Mitchell as a mentor. She encourages me to be great staffer, a great trustee and she’s someone I look up to. They both remind me to remember where I’m from and remember my campaign platform when I was running for office.

SONIA LOPEZWhat does being a Latina policymaker mean to you?

It means I have a voice for my community and for the students here. I get to advocate on their behalf.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

This is a tied event. [Winning] my first election and being sworn into office by Senator Mitchell.

If you had to be on a television show, would you choose Survivor, Dancing With The Stars or The Voice?

The Voice! In my utopian world I have an Adele-like voice and I would be [on] Team Adam.

If you had a pair of front row seats, who would you be going to see and why?

Selena. I love her music and was never able to see her in concert when she was alive. An artist who died at too young of an age.

In your ideal world, whom do you think should be President of The United States?

In my ideal world, a progressive woman with a firm commitment to immigration reform and eliminating poverty.

Interviewed by Bill Britt

Policymaker Profile: Miguel Canales – City of Artesia

Canales, MiguelMiguel Canales received a BA in American Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Masters in Education and U.S. history from Claremont Graduate University. He was a member and chair of the Artesia Planning Commission prior to his election to the city council in 2011. He is a member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, NALEO, a member of the League of California Cities, a board member of the Local Government Commission and a delegate for his state political party. Mayor Canales has been a high school teacher for the last seventeen years, teaching government and economics at ABC Unified School District.

Interviewed by Bill Britt

What are some of the specific challenges facing your community today?

The biggest challenge is providing services in the city of Artesia, even though we’ve done so many great things in the last four years with very little. We have a small budget of $9 million and a population of 16,000 speaking 47 different languages. We rely almost entirely on grants and revenue from retail. But in the last four years we’ve increased our general budget 52% because our city reserves improved as the U.S. economy improved. It’s helping us transform our main downtown boulevard into a walk-able, livable community.

We also negotiated several contracts that increased our reserves. The challenge is keeping our merchants happy and our residents happy while working with a small budget.

What are the most effective ways you use to connect with your community?

The easiest way for me is one-on-one. I’m very accessible. I use social media and I work with our city manager to help us update our website presence. We also have a local TV station that we use to spread the word about special events and festivals.

casual Canales

“Our voice is minimal so we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. We have to be ethical and responsible. We have to be!”


Did you have a mentor in life, or in your early career, and exactly what did they offer you?

My first mentors were my parents. My father was a labor organizer and very involved in the political arena. He didn’t encourage me to go into politics, but he was extremely political and certainly influenced me. And then there were several people [I regarded as mentors] in the years before I joined the council, like [Senator] Tony Mendoza and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. I observed how they talked to people and how they answered questions. Larry Nelson, who passed away [May 1, 2010] was a former mayor and city council member of Artesia. He told me, people might not respect colleagues but they need to respect the position. He wanted to make sure that despite personal feelings people have about each other that they stay professional and respect each other in public.

What does being a Latino policymaker mean to you?

It means we walk on eggshells. There’s very few of us. Our voice is minimal so we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. We have to be ethical and responsible. We have to be! We can’t sit on the sidelines. We have to voice our opinions, but how we voice our concerns can quickly [result in being] judged as being sexist or, as we call it in the Latino culture, machista. Being assertive can be considered being rude, which is something women of color face more than men. So, at the end of the day we have to be able to look in the mirror and say we are choosing the right paths and voicing the right concerns for our community. Delivery is key. Being Latino, you just have to be cautious of how you say things sometimes, but other times you just have to be raw and just say it when it has to be heard.

What was the most memorable day of your life? 

Experiencing my son’s birth. He is a beautiful, spirited young soul.

If you were required to appear on one of these television shows, which one would you choose? Survivor, Dancing with the Stars or The Voice?

I have very few artistic talents that anyone would want to witness! In fact, even my stick figures [that I draw] are ugly. Performing in public would eliminate The Voice. I do enjoy dancing, so Dancing with the Stars is doable. Clearly with the understanding that I would simply want to have fun.

If you had a pair of front row seats who would you be going to see?

I enjoy most genres of music. But I do want to see Mana live before I die.

Policymaker Profile: Maria Machuca – Board President, Coachella Valley Unified School District

Machuca-3School Board Trustee Maria Machuca received a BA degree in social science and an MPA from California State University, San Bernadino. In 2004, she was appointed by the board of supervisors to chair the Mecca Community Council. In 2008, she ran for the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees and was elected with 78 percent of the votes. In 2012, Machuca ran unopposed and will serve another four years. She currently serves her community at the Mecca Family & Farmworker’s Department of Public Social Services.

What are some of the specific challenges facing your community today?

First, you have to keep in mind that our district is very rural and very large. It includes two counties, four cities and five unincorporated communities with lots of families living in mobile home parks, so widespread public transportation is pretty much a key issue at the center of everything. One of the main challenges for our school district is recruiting teachers, and there’s not much of a pool to select from because our district is so rural and spread out, which makes it difficult to get many teachers to stay here. Some will do two years and get recruited by another district and leave. Which brings up yet another big issue for new teachers and other professionals moving here: housing. It’s very limited and it can be very expensive, especially in Palm Springs. A lot of our teachers come from nearby cities like Indio and Palm Desert. Our superintendent drives in from Rancho Cucamonga, which is a crazy commute.

Did you have a mentor in life, or in your early career, and exactly what did they offer you?

Well, certainly my parents were mentors, especially my father who came to the U.S. when he was 14. He wanted to go to school but couldn’t, so he made sure we did. He motivated me and encouraged me. He’s still my mentor. He’s a farmworker and he keeps me grounded. But I have to admit, when I was in high school, I was always the quiet, shy student focused on her studies. That changed when I joined M.E.Ch.A. and became its president. [ Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan is a national student organization that promotes political involvement and leadership.] The club mentor at that time, Raymond Huerta, was always pushing me to get out of my shell. He ended up having a huge impact on my career several years after I graduated when I was trying to decide whether to run [for the Board of Trustees position] and he flat out challenged me. He said, “You’re too comfortable right now. You need to do more, and do something for your community. This is the role you’ve been preparing for.” He gave me confidence at a time when I had lots of doubt.

What are the most effective ways you use to connect with your community, especially parents?

A huge segment of the Coachella Valley Unified population isn’t connected online, let alone active on social media. That’s one thing in our community that isn’t utilized much by our parents, compared to our kids. But I grew up in Mecca. I know how word gets around. Believe it or not, radio is very powerful here, particularly a Spanish station the community listens to and trusts. And that’s why we have a 5 to 8-minute segment on that station every Wednesday morning featuring a district representative discussing a variety of topics that are specifically relevant to our community. Yes, we’re in a high-tech age, but radio is a very effective tool in our community.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

I have had several throughout my life but if I must choose one it would have to be my undergrad and Masters graduations. Both these graduations where on Father’s Day and on both occasions I gave my diplomas to my Father. He was 14yrs old when he was brought to the U.S. by my grandfather with the Bracero Program. He was unable to go to school because he had to help my grandfather work and save money to bring my grandmother and six siblings. I was able to obtain my education because of his and my mother’s sacrifices. I wanted them to know that my success was all due to their hard work. Another moment that I can think of was running for school board in 2008 and having my name along with the first African-American candidate, Barack Obama. My parents became citizens that year and the first time that they voted was that presidential election with my name on the ballot.

What does being a Latina policymaker mean to you?

Machuca-headshotWell, one important thing it means is that our young girls look at us and think that despite our perceived disadvantages, they’re hopefully saying to themselves, “She made it! She’s making something happen for her community and I can do it too.” This wasn’t something I aspired to be when I was young. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me that lead me to believe this was a possible career. I see that in some of my friends and their children when they look at me. If anything the reward for me is seeing myself inspiring someone.

Interview by Bill Britt


PROFILE: Michele Martinez – Santa Ana City Council Member

michele 2    “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

It should come as no surprise that Latinas Represent, an organization that wants to bring more Latinas into the world of politics, asked Santa Ana city council member Michele Martinez to take part in an online webinar. After all, she’s a certified rarity: An elected Latina. Which is why she has both personal and political reasons for being on so many regional boards. Personally, she hates gender inequality. “A lot of these boards were exclusive clubs for the good ol’ boys.”

Politically, she’s doing something about it. “I serve on as many boards as I can to help make sure we have a voice on anything that impacts our community.” A belief summed up in her ten oft-repeated words: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Elected to the Santa Ana City Council in 2006 with a reputation for pushing for more government accountability, Martinez not only stated a familiar campaign promise to “Restore trust,” she actually delivered on it. That’s not to say every single resident is now in love with City Hall. But Martinez , who is also a SoCA Latino Policy Center Board Member, insists the results convinced her that any political office looking for an infusion of trust can find it in three basic steps:

  1. Open your doors. A city’s front door is its official website. Visit the City of Santa Ana online and there’s a welcome mat in the form of a hard-to-miss tab labeled “Open Government,” a guide to public access.
  2. Listen closely to those who aren’t happy. That’s a gentle way of putting it, as far as members of the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development (SACReD) were once concerned. “When we first met, they didn’t trust us at all,” Martinez explains. “They were very angry when we explained certain things they wanted in an affordable housing plan were up to the developer, not us.” Several months later, there was an opportunity to take Step 3.
  3. Invite them to partner with you to find solutions. “We reached out again and said, ‘Trust us enough to help develop a sunshine ordinance,’ which makes transparency the law of the land and a permanent change for the better. We’re now required to give specific budget updates several times a year, from first drafts to budget projections. Residents aren’t shy about offering input. They’re participating. That’s never happened before.”