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A Policymaker’s Guide to Social Media

By Ana Beatriz Cholo

For an elected official, reaching out and engaging with constituents is one of the most important aspects of the job and social media can be an almost perfect tool. But with all the various platforms that exist and with new ones cropping periodically, it can get overwhelming.

What is the best way to go about it?

The first step is to think about who your target audience is, says Liliana Monge, a social media expert and co-founder of Sabio.LA, which works to increase the number of women and people of color in tech. It’s best to pick one or two social media channels and focus on making them a success.

Generally speaking, Facebook is a great way to reach out to constituents, but if you want to reach journalists or thought leaders, head to Twitter, Monge says. Women typically flock to Pinterest and Instagram and Snapchat is where you can find the younger crowd. YouTube is still ever popular and posting occasional videos should be a part of any social media plan for an elected official. Linkedin, on the other hand, is not the best way to reach constituents. Rather, it’s effective for partnering with business stakeholders and academic institutions. Monge says people often fail to see its potential, however, and don’t use it as much as they should.

“Linkedin a great way to develop your professional brand, talk about major initiatives and find support for your legislative agenda,” Monge said. “There are a lot of LinkedIn groups that you could connect with – small businesses, commerce, regional groups, chambers of commerce, educational partners like community colleges, universities.”

Facebook Live is the “cooler and funner” of what now exists in the social media world and is a way to engage with audiences in real time. It also casts a larger net than traditional Facebook posts. She suggests elected officials use Facebook Live prior to a public meeting as a method of previewing the event and to drive engagement. After the meeting, officials can use it to give updates and even answer questions. After all, not everyone can get to a physical location and this method is especially handy because the video is stored. Constituents can add comments even after the live feed has concluded, which gives the elected an opportunity to gather feedback.

“Social media is extremely important in running an election campaign and in engaging with one’s constituents,” says Laura Casas, President of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. ” The Internet is the first place people look to obtain information about a candidate’s work experience.”

Casas, who has served as a college trustee since 2005, says social media is an essential part of a policymaker’s outreach toolkit. She relies on it to provide updates regarding “topical community issues.”

Downey Mayor Fernando Vasquez uses Facebook Live at a variety of events in Downey. He plays “reporter” and asks his constituents questions about their city while recording the interaction. In a city where the average age is 32, he knew he had to think outside the box and engage the community in a more productive way. For that, he hired a social media person so he could get more “millennial street cred,” he said laughing.

“I only had Facebook, but then I was criticized that I wasn’t “millennial enough” so I got Instagram, too.“

His social media hire, a recent college grad, does analytics that shows how their social media channels are performing. Vasquez is also presented with the latest hash tags each month. He said social media is also overtaking traditional advertising. In the past, his communications department would spend $2,000 for an ad in the weekly newspaper, but with that same amount of money he can receive 200,000 impressions from his two social media channels, Facebook and Instagram. He says he has a Twitter and Snapchat account, but doesn’t use them.

“I could barely keep up with Facebook and Instagram,” he said. “God bless anyone who’s doing all four of them.”

His pro tip for social media outings? Bring an extra charger or battery for your cell phone.

Monge says the younger demographic loves Snapchat, but that particular medium, in which photos stay up for 24 hours, can seem more daunting to elected officials. She advises they work with an intern familiar with Snapchat or look up demo videos on YouTube. “If you want to reach out and engage with a younger demographic you have to meet them where they are at.” One suggestion is to post a series of photos showing a day in the life of an elected official.

The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words proves why Instagram is a fantastic tool for communicating with the community. A quality photo of a job or street fair or some type of dedication ceremony with descriptive hashtags can capture the feeling of an event. For instance, posing with the owner of your town’s newest wine shop can capture a town’s business and civic pride.

Los Angeles councilmember Gil Cedillo has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, along with his own website. He regularly uses e-blasts to communicate general information to his constituents. For breaking news and daily information, he mostly uses Facebook and Twitter.

Cedillo values social media and says that it provides individuals instant information, and “allows us to remain relevant.” As a fulltime policymaker, he also has the resources to hire a social media manager.

It’s useful to keep social media accounts current, he said. Information changes quickly, and if one waits to post something, it might become old news. As a councilmember, Cedillo said constituents expect him to make statements when tragedies happen and expect him have an opinion on current events.

“The rate at which information changes is also a pitfall,” Cedillo said. “This requires constant updating of information and a certain degree of fact checking. Stories are often catapulted into the spotlight, without thorough vetting of information. It requires investigative journalism.”

Monge says it’s important to be mindful of what you post. Post and tweet as if your grandmother and 15-year-old are paying attention.

“No alcohol, smoking, reckless activities,” she said. “Be cognizant of details that may be perceived negatively. Keep it PC.”

Riverside Community College District trustee Mary Figueroa learned this firsthand when she witnessed a fellow board member losing his reelection bid last fall for his indiscretion.

He sent out a tweet of a hooded hangman with the phrase “I’m Ready for Hillary.” He had been on the board for four years, but his ill-informed tweet ended up harming him politically.

“His tweet lost him the election,” she said. “Otherwise, he would still be sitting on the board.”


Ana Beatriz Cholo is a freelance journalist, photographer and activist based in Los Angeles.

Cities and Schools as Sanctuaries

By Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.

Since the presidential election, immigration policy has once again become the focus of volatile debate. One side of that policy equation continues to raise the stakes with increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, while the other side desperately tries to hold only hard-won gains, only dimming the chance of comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.

News of ICE raids and the harsh language from the White House defending this tactic has also heightened the anxiety in immigrant communities across the country, particularly in this region.

Increasingly cities and other local jurisdictions have responded by embracing “sanctuary,” a once dubious policy strategy that has not only gained traction but may also offer some respite to immigrant communities. This strategy is also setting up the inevitable showdown between locals and the federal government that could very well end up in the Supreme Court.

By common definition, a sanctuary city (ciudad santuario) is a municipality that limits cooperation with to enforce certain immigration laws. The aim is to reduce the fear of deportation and family break-up and encourage people to be more willing to report crime, use healthcare and social services, and enroll their children in school.

During the campaign, President Trump railed against sanctuary cities, promising to end them by blocking their federal funding. In his first month as president, he signed an executive order directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and Attorney General to defund sanctuary jurisdictions that refuse to comply with federal immigration law.

Recently, Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan slammed sanctuary cities, telling Fox News, “I’ve been doing this job almost 34 years and sanctuary cities, in my opinion, are un-American.”

Municipal policies adopted by sanctuary cities include prohibiting police or city employees from questioning people about their immigration status and refusing requests by federal immigration authorities to detain people jailed for breaking local laws beyond their release date.

In California, according to the National Immigration Law Center, about a dozen cities have some formal sanctuary policy, and none of the 58 California Counties complies with detainer requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A month before the President was inaugurated, the City Council of Santa Ana unanimously established itself as a “sanctuary city.” The city council also recently directed staff to set aside $65,000 of taxpayer money to create a fund to hire lawyers for undocumented immigrants who face deportation.

The city’s Mayor Pro-Tem Michele Martinez declared the city’s commitment not only protect but to create a sustainable, long-term resource for immigrant communities. “We must not simply support a sanctuary resolution for symbolic purposes and have no impact, stated Martinez. “We must be bold and take it a step forward and push for sound polices that will support our communities during these uncertain times.”

In 2015 Cudahy declared itself a sanctuary city to encourage immigrants without legal status to cooperate with police. LA County’s second smallest city, Cudahy is one of the most densely populated, where some 24,000 people – 96% Latinos – live in tiny apartments, trailer parks and small single-family homes in a 1.2-square-mile area. Since then, the city has not only been targeted by the federal government, but by people who live outside the city who regularly disrupt city council meetings.

Cristian Markovich, who has served in Cudahy’s city council since 2013 and voted in favor of the ordinance, continues not only to stand by the city’s decision but is adamant about standing up to sanctuary city opponents, including the federal government.

“As far as federal government is concerned, for Republicans, whose stance has been historically to allow for state and individual rights, telling them how to govern, is ironic,” said Markovich. “I’ve said in past, those tax dollars are rightfully ours, Cudahy pays taxes, residents pay taxes, we are using them in tangible projects. Why would they want to strip them from us?”

Of comfort to Markovich and other city leaders is the support given to them by other elected officials who represent Cuday. “We’ve had great leadership, from people like State Senator Ricardo Lara, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, and Congressmember Lucille Roybal-Allard. They are not willing to let us fight this alone.”

In May 2017, the Pasadena City Council unanimously passed an official resolution which declared that the city “will not enforce federal immigration laws and the city manager will ensure that all city policies are consistent with this declaration.”

Though the resolution did not use the term “sanctuary city,” the city council assured the packed chamber that the resolution was a gesture of good faith. “It’s important for the council to make its voice known,” stated Councilmember Victor Gordo to the Pasadena Star News. “The Council has taken a clear position on this issue.”

Phillip C. Castruita and his organization, Foundation for Economic and Social Justice, participated in Pasadena’s efforts to become a sanctuary city. Called in initially to provide guidance for setting up defense committees to protect the rights of immigrants, the group’s efforts and experiences has led to the development of informal guidelines to help other cities to understand sanctuary cities and how to make it work in their communities.

“It’s crucial for local politicians to understand what the community wants. We started by meeting with day laborers, who were most impacted by the crackdown by ICE and others,” says the organization’s director / secretary. “The next step is to work with organizations that are already at the forefront of working with effected communities, like the National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON), the Central American Resource Center (CARACEN) and Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA).

Constituents identified by the organizations packed meetings in February 2017, when ICE began workplace raids in the area. Castruita and his group planned marches and they identified other elected officials who were friendly to the cause. When the question was called in Pasadena, more than 300 proponents filled city hall, which served to give voice to their support for the sanctuary city measure, but also to dampen opposition.

The Foundation has since been assisting officials in the city of Los Angeles and South Pasadena move forward on sanctuary city policies and is set to move beyond, to South and Southeast Los Angeles.

Castruita’s advise to elected officials committed to protecting the immigrant constituents? “Don’t underestimate the power of the community. Outreach is important, from the start. You can’t leave the people affected by immigration policies out of the plan. The hard part is to get beyond fear.”

And while support from Congressional representatives can give the effort legitimacy, it’s not as important as having a community base of support. “In an issue as complex and controversial as sanctuary cities, nobody knows the needs of your constituents better than you.”

Abelardo de la Peña, Jr. documents, analyzes and provides insights on U.S. Latino issues and culture.


Searching for Possibilities in the Southeast

By Nadine Ono

Summit of Possibilities – October 27, 2016, Downey.

The 710 Corridor, otherwise known as South East Los Angeles (SELA), is an area of Los Angeles County that represents an opportunity for regional cooperation that could positively impact the lives of its three-quarters of a million residents according to the findings the study, “The Central 710 Corridor: An Asset Based Analysis.”

It was presented at the October 2016 “Summit of Possibilities,” which brought together state and local elected officials from the SELA as well as community leaders to discuss how to use the data to better the lives of its residents.

Eight months have passed since the summit and the release of the report. The landscape remains the same and civic leaders are hopeful that the data will encourage local elected officials to work together to create policies that affect many issues facing the region including access to public transportation, economic development, housing density, environmental concerns among others.

CCF Public Policy VP Efrain Escobedo (left), with Dr. Juan Benitez on his left, posing with other Summit panelists including Speaker Anthony Redon (center).

“We believe that the region has a lot of assets and opportunities and so much of the focus and so much of whatever the data has been available has been from a deficit perspective and our intent with this study is to change the conversation and pivot the perspective,” said Efrain Escobedo, California Community Foundation’s vice president of Civic Engagement and Public Policy.

The report and summit were produced through a partnership between the California Community Foundation and the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs.

South Gate City Council Member Alphonso Rios agreed, “There are efforts to mitigate some of the history and change the narrative for those communities in the region.”

Dr. Juan Benitez, executive director of the Center for Community Engagement at California State University-Long Beach said it will take work and cooperation from local leaders.

“The expectation can’t be that elected officials inherently will be working together. There needs to be some effort placed in that as well, because you have different coverage geographically and politically for the area being represented.”

The study area covers 11 different cities and four unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. It is also represented by five different state assembly members.

According to Benitez, there are three pillars to the research that will lead to effective change.

  • First there must be community engagement with key stakeholders.
  • Second, local leaders must participate in capacity building to understand how the data can influence policy and the implications of those policies as well as engage constituents and stakeholders.
  • The third pillar is the data itself.
South Gate City Mgr. Mike Flad – a Policy Center panelist in 2015.


“Good governance requires data driven decisions, reports like this provide the data that municipal government needs to make quality decisions,” said South Gate City Manager Mike Flad.

“Data’s great, but the data has to be implemented, so what this provides is a tool and a data set that councils and local administrators can use to make policies.”

The data is already helping some of the smaller cities, according to Lynwood City Manager Alma Martinez, “The benefits of assessments like this are innumerable. Cities like Lynwood do not have the financial capacity to undertake such an exhaustive regional study due to limited financing and staff.”

“Some of the data included is utilized by the City,” said Bell Mayor Fidencio Gallardo. “It is utilized as part of our General Plan update.” He added that the data from this report is included in a market study for economic development purposes and added that Bell conducts its own studies.

Martinez pointed out the most important message in the report, “Lynwood can utilize the data presented at the Summit of Possibilities to build coalitions amongst the cities in the region to address issues like education, employment and transportation. At the regional level we can work to develop overarching goals and delineate objectives that can then be fostered into implementation.” She added that Lynwood can’t address these issues alone, but must work with the other municipalities to create regional objectives and strategies that improve the community.

Raquel Beltran addresses a SoCa Latino Policy Center forum.

“There is a SELA civic engagement collaborative that will be doing a lot of work around the summit,” said Raquel Beltran, associate director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs. “With emphasis on creating a platform for non-profits and residents to understand more about the research, it’s an effort to allow that research to be used to help shape data driven policy positions that they may want to pursue in their local community.”

Added Benitez, “Where there is a will, I think that is a huge opportunity and we do have electeds that take those things into consideration. I just think that we just don’t have a regional policy agenda and/or systematic ways to uphold those three pillars.”

Beltran is more optimistic, “There’s energy for it, there’s positive energy. If there’s anything that could be helpful, it is to demonstrate that there is positive energy and that’s significant.”


Nadine Ono is a freelance writer from Los Angeles who has written for outlets including CA Fwd, Pasadena Magazine and local television news programs.


Candidates for City Seats Campaign for their Communities In the Tumultuous Trump Era

By Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.

Even though some would rather forget what happened the last time we had an election, in less than one week voters across Los Angeles County will head to the polls to vote on key seats. On March 6, the Consolidated Municipal and Special Elections take place, the results determining who will sit on city councils and take mayoral seats, or who will have to campaign in a runoff if nobody receives the majority of votes. This is democracy at work.

But since we’re living in Trump’s America now, has the tumult and disruption of national politics filtered down to the municipal level? Are candidates changing tactics or messaging due to the meanness and acrimony we are being subjected to on an almost daily basis? What kind of citizens are putting themselves on the line, convincing voters that they have what it takes to lead?

We reached out to several candidates, all who have never held office before, to give us insight on why they are running, what kind of policy-makers they hope to be, how the most recent election impacted their own campaigns, and how that election has affected the community they are fighting to represent.

Emma Ramirez, San Dimas CC Candidate

Emma Ramirez is a candidate for San Dimas City Council, running for one of two open seats. It’s the retired LAPD sergeant’s first run for office, one she attributes directly to the last election. “I think the November election was a big eye opener. It showed that one person can make a difference; one person’s quest to do it against all odds. That gave me the courage to run,” she says.



Al Rios, South Gate CC Candidate

For South Gate City Council candidate Alfonso Rios, presently an administrator at East LA City College, the trigger for his campaign was the fact that no one ran for a seat in the South Gate’s municipal election in 2015. “With a city of almost 100,000, that’s just not right,” he says. Now, he’s one of nine candidates running for two seats.


Monica Rodriguez, LA CC Dist. 7 Candidate

Monica Rodriguez, council candidate for the City of L.A.’s District 7, located in Northeast San Fernando Valley, ran for that same seat in 2007. Her reasoning for running again is direct: “I’ve lived in the district my entire life. I was raised here, went to all the schools. I’ve worked here. And I am best prepared to lead the community.”

Susana Lopez, Bell CC Candidate



An also-ran in last year’s Presidential election inspired Susana Lopez to run for one of two city council seats in Bell. Says the immigration advocate, “I’m running after witnessing Bernie Sanders’ progressive movement. It was my biggest motivation.”


Jorge Nuño, LA CC Dist. 9 Candidate

Jorge Nuño’s blunt assessment for his decision to represent L.A. City Council District 9, which stretches from downtown to just north of Watts, is personal: “I cannot allow my two young boys to live under the same conditions of crime, neglect, and poverty like I have for the past 40 years.”



As to what style of policymakers they envision themselves to be, there’s almost complete unanimity: They aim to ensure that their constituents have a voice. Nuño plans on creating a body of committees, asserting, “I want those committees to incubate their ideas of the vision for south L.A. and I will be there to lead them.” Lopez, too, envisions constant contact with the people in her community: “I want to have an open door policy. I want to be known as a team player that bring results.” And Rodriguez, who previously worked in L.A. City Councilmember Mike Hernandez’s staff, agrees, “We need to go back to being accessible, to be on-the-street local leaders.”

The elephant in the room in all these campaigns, of course is the shocking presidential election that resulted in near constant tumult since Inauguration Day. San Dimas City Council candidate Ramirez senses the strong message sent by millions of disaffected citizens: “People want change; they’re tired of the status quo. Voters want to take a chance on candidates who are willing to take a chance.” South Gate Council Candidate Rios also senses the frustration, but aims to ease the tension. “So much divides us in our society. We’re not listening to each other. We need to break through that. We need to bridge differences,” he says.

If anything, Trump’s election gave these candidates more of a reason to run. Says Rodriguez, the candidate for L.A.’s 7th District seat, “My decision to run came long in advance of that outcome, but I’ll tell you, it’s amazing to me to see how people are willing to consider people who have no concept of how government runs. Look at last 31 days! It feels that we are going backwards.”

The executive orders, tweets, and policy proposals put forth since January have had a palpable effect on the residents of the communities these candidates hope to serve. Says Rodriguez, “People are fearful. There is anxiety of families being split up. It’s important to reassure people on a local level, to make sure we provide the security of local government.” “Trump’s Executive Order has brought a lot of fear, and nobody knows where we are going. That’s why I hope my message of bridging differences is resonating,” says Rios. Adds Nuño, “There’s definitely uncertainty within families of voters that include undocumented immigrants. If anything, it has shown the younger generation that elections do matter.”

A key takeaway from the last election, and possibly for races moving forward, is that politics isn’t for the faint of heart, but the one sure way to affect change.

“Some people are talking about hit pieces. I say, let’s stay focused. The key is that what I say I am going to do, I’ve been doing all along,” says Rios of South Gate. Adds Ramirez of San Dimas, “I mentally prepared myself that not everybody is going be glad that I am running. I am like an ant in the world of politics, but like Emiliano Zapata said, ‘It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.’”

Find out more about these candidates at:

Emma Ramirez

Alfonso Rios

Monica Rodriguez

Susana Lopez, Council Candidate, city of Bell

Jorge Nuño

Abelardo de la Peña, Jr. documents, analyzes and provides insights on U.S. Latino issues and culture.


Voting Rights Challenges Target California Cities and School Districts

By Adriana Maestas
Latino Policy Connection

dsc_6955MALDEF, the national Latino civil rights organization, has once again begun targeting California cities and school districts threatening legal action unless they change the way they conduct their elections. This strategy has been used effectively in the past by MALDEF and other civil rights organizations, to challenge mostly white policy bodies in ethnically diverse cities and districts.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, commonly known as MALDEF, maintains those cities and school districts are using at-large voting to weaken the electoral influence of Latinos.

This new challenge was revealed through demand letters delivered to the cities of Placentia, Eastvale, Rialto, Redlands, La Mirada, Chino Hills and Monrovia, in addition to a handful of school districts including Lawndale Elementary and Victor Valley Unified High School Districts.


  • The City of Santa Monica is being sued by local activists also for alleged voting rights violations
  • Fullerton is undergoing voting procedure changes because of a similar legal challenge
  • Anaheim was sued by the ACLU and settled that suit by creating districts – one of which is sure to produce a Latino council member.

The MALDEF letters demand changes by these entities from at-large voting to district voting or face a legal challenge. The letters have already spurred some cities into action to change their voting procedures while some have indicated they will put the decision before their voters.


Although the numbers of Latino elected officials in this state has grown considerably since the passage of the CRVA, Latinos are still woefully under-represented in several parts of California. Last June, citing a survey by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and the Leadership California Institute, The Latino Policy Connection published a report that revealed the lack of political representation as the biggest threat to California Latino prosperity.

The Latino Policy Connection reached out to MALDEF as well as several local Latino policymakers to discuss the revival of this strategy and ask policymakers if they believed the strategy is effective. Although once praised by Latino civil rights activists, this threat of legal action to enforce voting rights apparently no longer enjoys widespread support.


In 2014 in Whittier voters approved a measure changing the way council members were elected moving from at-large to district elections. Although Latinos make up nearly two-thirds of Whittier’s population, a Latino hadn’t been elected to the council since 1989.

“Up until April 2016, our council was all Anglo. In this last election, I was able to run a campaign that focused on my side of town,” said Josue Alvarado, who was elected to represent District One in Whittier last April.josue-alvarado

“Normally, it was the more affluent and conservative part of the city that would dominate the elections. For me, I’m a strong supporter of the district system, and I think that the City of Whittier is a good model for rolling it out. In the next election, we could even elect a Latina.”

It was a lawsuit by the Whittier Latino Coalition that lead to the change.

But not all Latino elected officials support district elections. Gloria Garcia, who is the first Latina mayor of Victorville, provided us with her perspective.gloria-garcia

“Our city is very intermingled so I’m not sure that voting districts will make sense for Victorville. Right now we don’t have districts; we elect people to the city council at-large. I’m not sure that I’m going to be happy with a district system in my city because I don’t think that you can say that one particular area is strictly this ethnic group or that.”

Currently, there are two Latinos on the city council in Victorville. Earlier this year an attorney in Victorville sent a letter to the city saying that the at-large system dilutes the influence of African-American voters. As of the 2010 census, Victorville’s population is 48.5% white, 48.7% Latino, 16.8% African-American, 4% Asian, and 1.4% Native American.

negrete-e-pose-4Victorville Council Member Eric Negrete agrees with Mayor Garcia their city doesn’t need to change their voting process but he says if a study underway reveals the current voting system leaves some communities out – he’d support the change.

“Things have changed, and we are in the process of adjusting to those changes. Our community is mixed very well, and I have reached out to the African-American community. I am concerned about having our communities of color being represented. So if the study recommends at-large districts, and we have to create those, I would get behind it.”

Even in cities where Latinos dominate the city council such as El Monte, Mayor Pro Tem Victoria Martinez offered her thoughts on at-large versus district elections.

victoria-martinez“It’s critical that those who have fought to be represented have an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded leaders to have their voices heard, and if they need to change the system to have that representation on boards, then yes, voting districts should be considered,” Martinez said.

In El Monte, Latinos constitute 69% of the population, and the next largest ethnic group is Asian at 25.1% as of the 2010 census.

Compton Community College District Trustee Sonia Lopez believes this issue is more than just about voting rights.

“I think the larger issue here is how we are engaging and motivating our communities to be involved in the electoral process. We have some of the lowest voter turnouts in history.  We have elected officials in communities of color being elected by a couple hundred votes.  We must do more.  Our strategies must change. We need to think of the future and how we can utilize technologies that will interest our young voters, or millennials that are our future. ”

Since 2004 attorneys from MALDEF as well as from several private firms, have filed about 30 lawsuits and have sent dozens of demand letters to attempt to set in motion the creation of voting districts. Approximately 210 jurisdictions that include community college boards, city councils and other local boards, have voluntarily changed voting systems, lost or settled in court, or put the issue before voters in a referendum.thomas-saenz

“The best thing for any city to do is not to litigate these issues or if they are faced with litigation, to resolve it quickly,” Thomas Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel told the Latino Policy Connection.

“MALDEF was one of the original sponsors of the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act), which applies where there is racially-polarized voting, meaning that after election after election, generally the Latino community has different views than the non-Latino community. This means that the Latino community is usually supporting different candidates and has their own preference for initiatives. In the context of racially polarized voting, an at-large system puts the Latino community or another minority group at a disadvantage because they cannot advance their preferred candidates,”

medina-head-shotMaribel Medina, an attorney who works on issues related to voting rights, said, “I think it is vital that we ensure Latinos are properly represented at all levels of government, particularly at the local level where policy has such an impact on the day-to-day lives of Latino families.”

Medina added, “but it’s just as important – and often overlooked – to make sure there are Latinos in positions of authority as administrators, managers, and lawyers. These people actually create and enforce the policies that our elected officials will vote on.”

Once voting districts are created in places where racially polarized voting was identified, Latinos need to continue to fight for representation beyond councils and on appointed boards and at the staff level to make sure that policies are enforced. The success that cities and other jurisdictions in California have in creating more opportunities will be a model in places like Texas and Arizona where there have been efforts to limit Latino civic participation.

Adriana 0814


Adriana Maestas is a Southern California-based writer and educator.

What Does it Take to be an Effective Public Executive?

By Amber Nelson

South Gate City Mgr. Mike Flad addresses 2015 Latino Policy Forum panel.

Whether as school district superintendents, city managers or administrators, or college presidents; executives in public service have a unique set of responsibilities and challenges that merge many of the demands of executives in the private sector with those of public servants.

Like an executive in a corporate setting, those in public service are often responsible for managing the major business functions of an organization such as human resources, finances and long-range planning. They lead staff in implementing strategic processes and keep their key stakeholders informed. But, unlike those in private life, every decision, appointment, and discussion a public executive has is exposed to public oversight.

Coachella Valley Unified SD Superintendent Dr. Darryl Adams, (center), speaks at 2015 Latino Policy Forum.

Not all those with excellent executive skills will thrive amid the special circumstances of a public position. Several Southern California leaders contacted by the Latino Policy Connection weighed in with their insights on what makes a great public executive.

As both a retired city manager and former president of the International City/County Management Association, Dave Mora has first-hand experience in the role of a public executive. Transparency is paramount for success as a public executive, he says.

Dave Mora Headshot

All managers have to have ethical standards consistent with their responsibilities.

Dave Mora


“Ninety-nine percent of the business conducted by a city manager is done in public,” he explains. This impacts the pace of business and sometimes frustrates those with a more corporate mindset. Motivation can also be a major factor in success as a public executive. According to Mora, it has to come from a place of wanting to serve. “You’ve got to have a feel for the quality of life and the needs of the community,” he says.

El Monte City Councilmember Victoria Martinez emphasizes character when it comes to excellent public executives.

Victoria Martinez Headshot Two“I know a great executive is someone who wants to be a great servant for the community,” she says. That dedication to service is elemental in identifying exemplary public executives. She points to the numerous audiences an executive must serve.

In El Monte, there is a five-member council, each with his or her own personalities and special areas of interest. Add to that the staff an executive must lead and their accountability to their community and you end up with a lot of hats to wear and a lot of agendas to navigate.

Councilmember Martinez believes “a chameleon ability to adjust to each individual personality,” will contribute to a public executive’s success. The commitment and dedication required of a great public executive necessitates a great deal of stamina. Public service is “like running a marathon” she says. “You’ve got to keep going until you hit that finish line.”

Maria Ott SpeakingFor Maria Ott, an executive in residence at USC Rossier School of Education who leads The Urban Superintendent Academy, the key components of a great public executive include outstanding communication, a clear vision and an ability to deal with and recover from adversity. Communication skills contribute to an “ability to collaborate and build consensus” and support navigating “a complex environment,” she explains. Optimism and commitment go a long way toward implementing a strong vision and dealing with delays, disappointments and difficulties so often a part of work in pubic life.

As the Mayor Pro Tem in Downey, Fernando Vasquez has had ample experience working with public executives such as city managers. He believes a big part of the job is developing a strong staff that understands their mission is to implement the policies of the elected officials. “You’re only as good as your team,” he says. Building a winning team means staff diversity. 2015 Fernando Vasquez headshot color“It’s just the right thing to do,” he explains, pointing to the impact varying life experiences and perspectives can bring to a staff.

Mayor Vasquez also underscores the importance of realistically managing expectations. Whether a public executive is delivering updates on staffing to the elected officials or engaging with residents, taking a strategic approach to communication can set up appropriate expectations and pave a smooth path forward. No elected official wants to “be reading about something for the first time on the front page of the paper,” he says.

Maintaining an open mind to the opinions and expertise of others and continually learning are two of the most important attributes of a public executive according to Yolanda Rodriguez-Peña, President of the Azusa Unified School District Board. IMG_7831

“Really look to and trust those who are experts in their fields,” she suggests. Public executives need to “stay in touch with those they serve” while reaching out to get the insights and opinions of others. Rodriguez-Pena also stresses the importance of humility when serving in a public capacity.

“You need to be humble, you need to remember where you came from,” she says.



California School Board Association (CSBA)
Key Points to Superintendent Evaluation
Sample Superintendent Evaluation Form

League of CA Cities
Next Generation Manager: What Every City Council Member Should Know
City Manager Evaluation (Template)

Institute for Local Government (ILG)
Maximizing the Success of Board/Chief Executive Relations


Amber lowres 1

Amber Nelson is a writer and strategic communications expert. As the president of Lingo Consulting, Inc., she works with individuals and organizations to clarify the complex and create meaning that makes a difference.
(818) 653-0401


Maywood’s Gamble

It was either a brilliant move or a decision made in desperation, but a council majority of the City of Maywood recently hired a new city administrator with no previous local government experience.  The decision was quickly criticized and resulted in less-than positive news coverage.

But when we sat down to talk with Reuben Martinez, a former aerospace executive, we discovered something we do not often encounter in ranks of municipal executives: boundless enthusiasm. Despite the challenges of a state audit and other fiscal problems in Maywood, Martinez remains optimistic he can help guide the city through dark times.

We believe Maywood’s decision offers a unique opportunity to explore this month’s focus in the Latino Policy Connection:

What makes an effective public executive?

Affordable Housing: Coming to Grips with a Crisis

By: Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.

C3X_7295Housing – single-family homes, apartments, condos, and townhouses – is where individuals and families spend the most of their time. Yet, for many, the challenge of acquiring, maintaining and keeping a home of their own is becoming more and more precarious. While home ownership is not a constitutional right, it is an economic, social and cultural imperative that is fast becoming unaffordable, and hence, inaccessible, to too many Southern California residents.

The causes of this fast-growing predicament are many, but can be summed up in a slogan made famous by NYC mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan: “The rent is too damn high!” Additional factors include:

  • The lack of housing inventory – both rentals and for sale, due in no small part to the 2008 recession and high rate of foreclosures
  • Tighter financing for home purchasing
  • Wages insufficient to pay for adequate housing
  • Gentrification driving up rents and home prices

What happens when housing is not longer affordable?

C3X_7257In Southern California, we are seeing families being displaced from their traditional neighborhoods; multigenerational families living in the same household; a dramatic increase in families moving out of state, or at least away from this region; and worst, increased homelessness. Businesses, too, are leaving because the lack of affordable housing has affected their employees. That leads to a loss of revenue for city coffers which then impacts their ability to provide services for the residents that remain. The housing crisis hurts almost everyone.

Alan Greenlee, executive director for Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing (SCANPH)  is on the front lines of the housing affordability crisis. SCANPH regularly conducts surveys, calculating the average rent of specific counties, along with the income needed to afford the monthly payment, based on the presumption that a household should pay no more that 30% of their household income on housing.

“The average rent in the city of Los Angeles is $2,100 a month. A household needs to make $86,000 a year to afford that. Everybody that makes less than that is living unaffordably.” – Alan Greenlee

AlanGreenleeSCANPH-2“Half million households in Los Angeles County,” says Greenlee, “are making less than that, greater than every man, woman and child in San Francisco.”

Other areas in the state are being impacted, as well. In San Bernardino County for example, where the cost of living is only slightly lower than LA County, one minimum wage worker supporting a family would have to work 96 hours per week to afford the average 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom rent, according to SCANPH. Less income is left for food, transportation, health expenses, and other needs.

“Your rent eats first,” proclaims Shamus Roller, executive director of Housing California, a nonprofit organization representing a coalition of advocates for affordable housing and homeless issues.  “With more people paying more than half their income on rent, it’s not a good outlook.”Shamus_Roller

Adding to the affordable housing woes is the simple fact that there is not enough housing to meet the needs of growing communities.

Long-time realtor, housing advocate and former Cudahy Council Member Josué Barrios states that to maintain an adequate housing market, 100,000 new dwellings must be built annually. “Here in California, we are only building half of that,” he says. “That alone drives up the price of property.”

“To me, affordable housing and the state of housing in California is one of our top social problems.” – Vanessa Delgado

Vanessa_Delgado_adjustedDelgado, a councilmember for the City of Montebello and a commercial developer, says “how can we create affordable housing if we don’t have the resources? The solution is not clear-cut.”

Indeed, the 2012 dismantling of redevelopment agencies, a powerful resource which local governments used to leverage property tax money to partner with developers to encourage development, was a major blow to municipalities big and small.

Of late, lawmakers have been making major moves to impact affordable housing and the issues surrounding it:

  • At the state level, Governor Jerry Brown set-aside $400 million for affordable homes (the By-Right housing proposal), which is contingent on state legislators reaching a deal on fixing the building approval process.
  • The state budget also authorized No Place Like Home, a $2 billion bond to construct permanent supportive housing for people who are chronically homeless and have a mental illness.
  • LA’s city council recently voted to add an ordinance — the Build Better LA initiative — to the November 2016 ballot that would increase the number of affordable units in future housing development projects.

But what can local municipalities that don’t have the resources the City of LA has do to help their residents deal with this crisis?

SCANPH’s Greenlee says one way city policymakers can generate more affordable housing is to create more space for housing.

“There are ways for local jurisdictions to create sensible land use policies, such as creating affordable housing near transit.” He also advocates for developers and lawmakers to work together. “Ask for zoning change, for example, to build more apartments, make land more valuable,” he says.

Roller, of Housing California, insists that policy makers at the local level have lots of tools to make it easier to build housing that is affordable in their community, such as waiving or lowering local construction fees and creating housing trust funds.

Higher wages for employees also makes housing more affordable, says Roller. “Lots of business groups are realizing that the housing situation is starting to be bad for business. They are paying higher wages, so that they could afford housing.”

Josue BarriorsRealtor Barrios, who does a robust business in Southeast Los Angeles, explains that municipal bureaucracies often keep people from getting into housing. “Lawmakers need to consider relaxing presale and height restrictions. Most cities have a two-story limit (on new or remodeling construction). I’m an advocate for building up. But it has to be a win-win, for residents, homeowners and developers.”

For lawmakers like Delgado, dealing with reduced budgets and immediate needs, local situations demand multi-pronged solutions. In Montebello, two properties purchased long ago by the city’s transit system, but no longer needed, are being turned into housing. Habitat for Humanity is also building affordable housing in Montebello through a partnership with the city.

Council Member and developer Vanessa Delgado says the key to combating the housing crisis is “creativity and collaboration.”

“In my experiences as a developer, there are lots of funding options, including public-private partnerships. As important, I encourage electeds to utilize the resources of organizations like Southern California Association of Governments, (SCAG), Gateway Cities Council of Governments, and of course, the Southern California Latino Policy Center.

Talk to other electeds and come up with solutions. If one city can do it, another city could do it for their constituents, too.”


Abelardo de la Peña is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He recently wrote “The Children of Prop 187” for the Latino Policy Connection.

The Politics of Prosperity

New Report Reveals Latino’s Access to the American Dream is at Risk

By: Lucia Navarro and Victor Abalos

The Polanco family living the American Dream in Hollister, CA.

The lack of representation at all levels of government is one of the greatest threats to Latino prosperity in California.

While the state’s Latino population continues to grow, the number of Latino elected officials in local, state and federal offices has not kept pace creating a “representation gap” that has become a significant obstacle for Latino families to achieve the middle-class American Dream.

These are some of the conclusions from a recent report by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and the Leadership California Institute regarding poverty and political representation of Latinos. The report’s bottom line:  Although more and more Latinos are getting elected at the local level, they are not yet reflecting the number of Latinos who reside throughout the state and, perhaps more significantly, not enough of them are reaching positions of influence in more powerful statewide and congressional offices.

The report cites a connection between political representation and Latino voter population. According to a study made in 2015 by the Public Policy Institute in California: “Whites make up only 43 percent of California’s adult population but 60 percent of the state’s likely voters. In contrast, Latinos comprise 34 percent of the adult population but just 18 percent of likely voters”.

4VD_9088The study reports that from 1980 to 2010 the Latino population in California increased by 200%.

But it emphasizes, “this significant boost in population has seen very little translation to civic engagement or elected representation. While Latinos have seen progress in both the level of representation and their capacity to secure leadership positions, Latinos still lag significantly in representation at all levels of California government, especially the local level.”

While both the current Senate President and the new Assembly Speaker are Latinos – a historic first – the total number of Latinos elected to the state legislature since 2000 is only 63. Only 20 have been elected to the state senate. Currently out of the 120 members in the California Legislatures only 23 are Latino.

Mike Madrid, an expert on Latino voting trends and one of the study’s authors, says, “the heart of the problem is that those who represent us have not done enough to create policies to benefit Latinos or to increase the number of middle class Latinos.”

According to Madrid, those who represent Latinos in the California Legislature and even at federal level, “are not engaged with what Latinos need but with their own interests. They need to take more concrete actions to promote education, reduce school dropouts with the vision of reducing the poverty rate in the state.”

A foreclosed home is shown in Stockton, California May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
A foreclosed home is shown in Stockton, California May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Latino families have endured considerable economic challenges recently. First, the collapse of the housing market starting in 2007 shut down the dream of home ownership for thousands. Home ownership has always been a critical entry to the middle-class. And there is mounting evidence Latinos have not benefitted from the state’s economic recovery. Latinos are disproportionately represented in under and unemployment statistics.

And this isn’t just a Latino issue. Many, including the founders of this organization, strongly believe Latino entry into the middle class is critical to this state’s economic vitality.

Survey highlights include:

Percentage of Elected Offices Held by Latinos in California:

  • US Senate: 0
  • Congressional: 18.9 percent
  • State Constitutional Office: 12.5 percent
  • State Senate: 12.5 percent
  • State Assembly: 23.8 percent
  • County Supervisors: 10.1 percent
  • City Council: 14.7 percent
  • School Board: 13.5 percent

View Survey Highlights Infographic

Download the Survey Report

lucia-navarro-headshotLucia Navarro is an award-winning  journalist who specializes in covering Latino issues in the U.S. as well as political and social issues in Latin American. She is a former network news anchor and served as Managing Editor/Anchor for KVEA-52 Telemundo in Los Angeles from 2001-07. She was born in Monterrey, Mexico and is based in Atlanta.

The Children of Proposition 187

1994 state initiative targeting undocumented immigrants sparked a generation of young Latino leaders

By: Abelardo de la Peña, Jr.

prop187 protest-1994
Prop 187 protest – Downtown LA – 1994

“They keep coming: Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won’t stop them at the border, yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.”

noel garcia
Noel Garcia

Then-UCLA senior Noel Tapia vividly remembers the words and grainy images of people running across the Mexican border into the U.S. in a commercial airing repeatedly on TV during Spring 1994. The series of ads served a dual purpose — the re-election of California governor Pete Wilson and the campaign for Proposition 187, the ballot initiative aiming to deny undocumented immigrants and their children public services.

And it angered him.

“The ads were designed to alarm. It was not a fair portrayal of the community I knew, nor family members and friends who were undocumented,” says Tapia.

University of California, Riverside student V. Manuel “Manny” Pérez also felt a strong gut reaction. “Growing up in the barrios of Coachella, seeing the challenges and injustice, and then going to UCR, allowed me to understand that this was very racist initiative against the Latino community. We organized, marched, and occupied the UCR administrative building … we just wanted to shout out, to let people know this is unacceptable.”

Luis Ayala

That same Spring, Luis Ayala was in his second year at Santa Clara University, already active in MEChA and the Multicultural Center. To him, Proposition 187 was the political manifestation of what he was learning in class: The pervasive discrimination of people of Mexican descent in the Southwest.

“Many students, including myself, knew Proposition 187 was unacceptable,” says Ayala. “We marched on campus, had informational hearings, bussed to join students at different colleges. We focused on protesting, but also helping people to register to vote.”

maria machuca
Maria Machuca

Maria Guadalupe Machuca, a junior at Coachella Valley High School in 1994, was a MEChA leader and daughter of a United Farm Worker. Although she grew up accompanying her father to meetings, marches and picket lines, when a group of students walked out of school to protest the proposition, she had reservations. What held her back was the potential disapproval of her dad, who valued education above all.

“It was a struggle, but as I saw others go, I decided to join them to make the long walk to Indio High School. That’s how strong I felt about [Proposition 187]. And then we walked out a second day.”

Despite the passionate actions of young people like Tapia, Perez, Ayala and Machuca — becoming politically aware and involved, organizing, and actively voicing their opposition to the governor and the initiative — Wilson won with 55% of the vote, with Proposition 187 passing with nearly 60%.

Shortly after, two subsequent statewide initiatives aimed at Latinos and other minorities also passed: Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action programs, and Proposition 227, limiting bilingual education in state schools.

Yet, the stage was set for something most likely unforeseen by the initiative’s supporters: The political awakening of an educated, diverse and motivated group of young Latinos.

“The fight against Proposition 187 woke up a lot of young kids. It gave us a voice and a mission and set the tone for a direction that we wanted to take. That’s why a lot of us wanted to go to college, come back, make a difference. It put us on that path.” – Maria Machuca

For many, that path led to politics
manuel perez
V. Manuel Perez

Pérez was on that path early on: “I knew I was going to get into la politica because of what I saw in the barrios of Coachella, realizing that the social economic political systems at the time did not include folks like me. That’s why I began to engage.” He first became a schoolteacher, than ran for the school board. In 2008, he was elected as Assemblymember for the 56th District, where he served for six years before being termed out. He now sits on the Coachella city council.

Ayala came to that crossroads at Harvard, while pursuing his Masters: “Was I going to get a doctorate degree and do research and write papers, or do something that would have an immediate impact on the community?” With all that went on with 187, Ayala decided to join the decision makers, first as a staff member for office holders like U.S Congressman Xavier Becerra to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, eventually running for Alhambra’s city council, where he currently sits. Ayala is also Board President of the SoCa Latino Policy Center.

Machuca-2Machuca took her time to enter the fray. Although fiercely loyal to her community, when first approached to run for the Coachella Valley Unified School District board of trustees, she declined. “I only had my BA. I felt I needed to bring something more to the table, so I got my Masters.” She is currently finishing her second term as Board President.

Although Tapia did not enter the political arena, his practice includes municipal law, government relations, legislative advocacy and election law as a partner at Alvarez-Glassman & Coleman. “I work with younger attorneys guiding them to combat pitfalls and improve their skill set so that race will can never be an issue that will legitimately chip away at their credibility,” says Tapia. “My platform is to combat that negative policy-driven roadblocks place for people of color and other marginalized groups.”

And what of Proposition 187?

The initiative was quickly challenged, with most provisions found unconstitutional and never taking effect. In 2014 Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 396, repealing its unenforceable provisions.

brown signsThe irony: The author, endorsers and supporters of the law that shoveled the last dirt on the grave of Proposition 187 were primarily Latino legislators, the same men and women who marched, organized, outreached and learned from their battle against Prop 187 in 1994. The bill’s author: Sen. Kevin de León, got his start organizing against Proposition 187. He is now the first Latino to serve as the President Pro Tem of the California Senate since Reginaldo Francisco del Valle served in 1882.

The rapid increase in the Latino participation in California political participation due to the Republican Party’s embrace of Proposition 187 is seen as a principal cause of the subsequent failure of the party to win statewide elections, turning the state into a bright blue.

For instance, in 1994, although Latinos represented 26% of the state population, only 13.75% of the Assembly and 7.5% of State Senators were Latino. But by 2015, Latinos have grown to make up 39% of the state’s population. In the Legislature, 23.8% of the Assembly and 12.5% of the state Senate are Latino.

“I feel Proposition 187 backfired. It hurt the Republican party. I don’t think they foresaw all that. Back in the day, they talked about the sleeping brown giant awakening some day. Well, it definitely woke up.” — V. Manuel “Manny” Perez

Protesters outside the California GOP convention in Burlingame, April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Noah Berger

Cut to present day: Signs, banners and flags are once again flying, young people shouting and chanting under the hot sun, this time decrying a U.S. presidential contender who is directing his and his supporters ire toward immigrants.

Ayala sees the present activism of youth as an evolution of the struggle against efforts like Proposition 187. “It’s an awakening in a political sense, but not just to make sure Donald Trump doesn’t get elected. It’s also creating an incentive for more political activism in the Latino community, using social media tools that are internet-based,” he says.

“And maybe, on some high school or college campus, it’s already sparked the birth of yet another generation of activists, young people who will one day be the leaders and policymakers who will follow in our footsteps.”

unnamedAbelardo de la Peña, Jr. documents, analyzes and provides insights on U.S. Latino issues and culture.