We’re excited to announce the addition of former California State Assembly Member, Cindy Montañez as the new CEO of TreePeople. She will be working alongside our Founder and President, Andy Lipkis to meet the unique climate and environmental challenges our region faces.
Cindy is an Angeleno through and through, bringing extensive policy experience and deep community roots to our organization.
She was raised in the City of San Fernando, along with her five siblings, by parents who immigrated from Mexico. After attending UCLA, she was elected to the San Fernando City Council, later becoming Mayor. Cindy then went on to serve the community at the State level when she won a seat in the California State Assembly. She made history as the youngest woman ever elected to the California State Legislature, as well as becoming the first Latina, and the first Democratic woman to chair the Assembly Rules Committee. As a State Assembly member, she was a champion for environmental and social justice to create healthy communities. She also served as a State and City of Los Angeles Commissioner. Most recently, she served as Assistant General Manager to our partners at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In addition, Cindy currently serves as a Board Member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and a Legislator In-Residence at the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
As we look forward to this next season in TreePeople’s growth, we are honored to introduce you to this incredible new member of our team!
What appeals to you most about working at TreePeople now?
The ability to change the world by making Los Angeles more climate-resilient is one of TreePeople’s many attractions. My life has been about social justice and improving communities, which is at the core of TreePeople’s mission. California is facing serious threats, like global emissions increases that have lead to a rise in air and water temperatures, creating the worst drought in our state’s history. Heat waves threaten lives, wildfires destroy homes, floods create havoc and severely disadvantaged communities lack access to safe, clean drinking water.
With the leadership of Andy Lipkis and TreePeople, the City of Los Angeles can become the greenest metropolis in America, and a world leader in climate-resiliency. As a grassroots-based and policy influencing organization, TreePeople provides a great opportunity to implement social and environmental justice for all Angelenos and beyond.
What does being a homegrown Angeleno mean to you?
I love the City of Angels.
Although I grew up in an area that suffered many environmental injustices, I fell in love with LA when my parents exposed us to our beautiful local mountains, our cherished beaches, our local parks and the diversity of great LA neighborhoods. LA welcomed my immigrant parents and has provided our family the opportunity to achieve the American Dream–El Sueno Americano– of attending college, owning homes, serving our country and having a higher quality of life.
Now I have the gift to give back to the diverse communities that make up our great City by leading an organization whose mission is to inspire, engage and support people to make LA a model for urban sustainability and environmental justice.
How has time in nature, especially among trees, influenced you personally?
Trees are part of who I am. They are the core of my commitment to environmental issues, my inspiration for urban planning decisions and my deep connection to my family history. My fondest memories center around trees–hiking the Santa Monica Mountains, traveling California’s Golden Coast and eating from my mother’s fruit trees.
Trees are part of my family’s story, too. My mom grew up in a village of less than 400 people in a beautiful, remote mountainous region in Veracruz. My dad had great pride for his “forest” made up of the one mesquite tree, located on the side of the adobe house where he was raised in the dry border state of Chihuahua.
Personally, I consider the growth of hundreds of trees planted over a decade ago when I was a young mayor, to be one of my greatest professional accomplishments. Trees ground me and they energize me. They make me happier, healthier and complete.
What makes TreePeople different than other organizations you’ve led?
TreePeople is the realization of a 15-year-old Andy Lipkis’ dream come to life. It is a working and ever-evolving journey to embrace LA’s opportunities, to adapt to our realities and to thrive on being a change agent for the world’s most pressing environmental issue–climate change.
We have become a village of thousands of volunteers and dreamers that are positioning our great City to become a leader on urban sustainability.
We change LA.
How do you see your unique background, working both with agencies and in the policy world influencing your vision for TreePeople?
My professional career has been devoted to improving the Angelenos’ quality of life–especially for disadvantaged communities like in the Northeast San Fernando Valley where I grew up and served as a young mayor, councilmember and state assembly member. My position as a City of Los Angeles Planning Commissioner and Assistant General Manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power allowed me to delve deep into water and sustainability issues.
Becoming the CEO of TreePeople is the ideal place to put both my passion for social and environmental justice and my professional experience into helping solve the world’s most pressing environmental challenge.
What is your main focus for the next year?
We will take TreePeople to the next stage by continuing to call upon the community and public agency partners to make our city a model for sustainability. Given the historic drought, rising water and air temperatures, increased threats of wildfires and flooding, there is no more critical time to ensure the successful implementation of TreePeople’s mission.
Who are your biggest influences in your life?
Without a doubt, my family. My mother Margarita and father Manuel, along with my five siblings, nine nieces and nephews and one grandniece inspire me to work towards social and environmental justice. They keep me grounded and motivated.
Do you have a phrase or motto you try to live by?
My Spanish-speaking parents would always say,“Ayudenle a otros para que nuestro mundo esté mejor.” Which means,“Help others so our world can be better off.”
I believe we all hold a responsibility to give of ourselves to repair the world!
What does a typical Saturday look like for you?
I would like to say that a typical winter Saturday would include a quick ski- trip with family or friends. However, due to the drought, that dream is just not working out!
I love seeing my family as much as I can, and to spend time outdoors. You will often find me hiking the Santa Monica Mountains, the mountains behind Sunland-Tujunga or the trails at TreePeople’s Coldwater Canyon Park. I also love road trips to the wonderful small towns and parks that make California the beautiful state that it is. Otherwise, you can catch me in the community supporting wonderful causes in support of our great City.
What do you think makes TreePeople an essential part of Los Angeles?
I fear the negative impact climate change will have on our city if we do not implement TreePeople’s mission to make Los Angeles climate-resilient.
Our coasts are at risk from sea level rise. Our hillsides are susceptible to erosion, threatening collapse. Our most vulnerable people are dying from excessive heat. Our water security is threatened.
At least 4 million people in our City alone will be threatened by the impacts of climate change. These impacts are even worse for almost 1 million Angelenos that currently live below the federal poverty line. We cannot, in good conscience, let inaction make this a reality.
TreePeople is playing a leading role in activating Angelenos to join together in our neighborhoods to make our City healthier, resilient and sustainable. We are training and empowering thousands of environmental champions throughout our neighborhoods and schools. The great City of Angels will become a world leader in sustainability and a model for justice if our elected officials, public agencies, civic and business leaders and communities partner to reclaim and recreate Los Angeles!