Policymaker Profile: Denise Menchaca – San Gabriel City Council

Denise Menchaca was elected to the San Gabriel City Council in March, 2017. She was raised in Alhambra, California where she attended local public schools. She attended the University of Southern California, having earned a Bachelor degree in Accounting. She has over 30 years of working in both the public and private industries.

She was named the Congressional Woman of Distinction for San Gabriel by Congresswoman Judy Chu, the Golden Apple by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and Volunteer Rookie of the Year by the American Cancer Society. Menchaca has been married to John Menchaca for 30 years, raising their four children, Vanessa, Michelle, Roxanne and Michael Menchaca.

Who was your political mentor – someone who guided and supported you – someone who prepared you for public service.  What kind of advice did they give you that was the most important/useful to you?

My political mentor was Lee Freeman, 14 year School Boardmember and past President of the San Gabriel Unified School District. During his tenure, Lee was the quarterback in a Bond drive that took us from a dream to a reality….the reality of becoming a Unified School District with upgraded School facilities including the building of our very own 4 year High School. Lee provided me with sound advice: To be a person of action and not just words. He reminded me that there’s no substitute for the power of door knocking and hard work. Lastly, there was no amount of old guard endorsements or money that will help get you elected unless you personally got out there to meet the voters. These are lessons I still remember after years of being politically engaged.

From left: George Carney, Menchaca, Florencio Briones,and Erik Sanchez.

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

Being able to serve one’s community in a very meaningful way is a fulfilling experience like no other.  If you think your elected officials should go in a different direction, this is your chance to discontinue sitting on the sidelines and make an impact. Too many times individuals get discouraged by those small groups who are disagreeable about contentious issues. Overall, I have learned that most people are open and willing to listen and work toward a mutually agreeable solution. Let’s not forget that this is our Community. We must all do our part to influence the course of action that will benefit, in some cases, generations of families.

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?

The San Gabriel City Council is responsible for hiring two individuals: the City Manager and the City Attorney. As the newly elected City Council member, I learned at my second meeting that this Council will be hiring both a City Manager and City Attorney in less than 6 months. My priority now is to move ahead swiftly and effectively in the search process to fill these two key city positions. We will be retaining an executive-recruitment firm to help fill the vacancies. There will be additional meetings and much preparation including advertising, recruitment brochure and both community and staff surveys. This is just the beginning of the challenges and successes that lie ahead during my four year tenure.

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? 

I engage people I trust in achieving work-family life balance. I have regular discussions with my husband and children about their observations, opinions and complaints regarding my career commitments and civic involvement. I reach out to friends who give me sound advice and are encouraging. Most importantly, I realized that the perfect balance between work and family may not take place at all times—and that’s normal.

What was the most memorable day of your life?

Aside from the birth of my 4 children, one of the most memorable days of my life was getting elected to the San Gabriel Unified School Board in 2005. There were 3 incumbents seeking re-election and I was the lone challenger. On Election Day, I was the top vote-getter with the second being my political mentor Lee Freeman, who was so genuinely elated with the results. To-date, I have yet to witness a political leader demonstrate such a sincere and selfless reaction when their names have also been on the ballot.

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