How to Empower Communities as an Outsider – with Cecilia Estolano

by | Dec 16, 2019 | Podcast | 0 comments

For this episode I am joined by Cecilia Estolano, Founder and CEO of Estolano Advisers, who is championing the needs of communities by focusing on urban planning and public policy. Cecilia shares with us how poor urban planning decisions impacted her early life in Los Angeles and how she achieves the difficult task of working with communities in a respectful, impactful, and empowering way, despite operating from the outside.

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Episode Transcript

John Bwarie:  …for my high school once, and then I started working for elected officials in LA City and spent more than a decade doing that, but your story starts a little differently.

Cecilia Estolano:    Mm-hmm (affirmative). Hawthorne High.

John Bwarie:    Hawthorne High.

Cecilia Estolano:    I’m from LA. Well, the LA area. So I grew up in an aerospace community near LAX, near the 405 Freeway, railroads and the construction of the 105 Century Freeway. So formative spatially for me.

John Bwarie:    So you knew that part of town before the 105 existed?

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah. Yeah. In fact, it had … it was under construction and they wiped out half of our community.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Cecilia Estolano:    And then there were just empty houses, and then after a while they demoed those houses and it was just empty fields.

John Bwarie:    How old were you?

Cecilia Estolano:    That started to happen when I was three or four and they kept demoing and demoing and then there was a lawsuit, actually interesting brought by Mary Nichols. Again, Mary Nichols who brought on the first civil rights, clean air lawsuits in history. I think it might’ve been the first.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Cecilia Estolano:    They were able to stop construction of the freeway for many years. And so it only finished construction when I think I was in college.

John Bwarie:    Wow.

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah.

John Bwarie:    So you grew up with this project?

Cecilia Estolano:    Oh, Yeah, just like terrible project.

John Bwarie:    Literally.

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah. Yeah.

John Bwarie:    And now, I mean, fast forward, I know you work in spaces around neighborhoods impacted by freeways-

Cecilia Estolano:    Oh, absolutely.

John Bwarie:    … and around transportation planning and what is good transportation-

Cecilia Estolano:    I work on air quality.

John Bwarie:    … air quality-

Cecilia Estolano:    Environmental justice, yeah.

John Bwarie:    Do you think, I mean, I see the connection. Do you see that, an over connection?

Cecilia Estolano:    Absolutely.

John Bwarie:    You’ve worked, it looks like, for local elected officials, two presidents, you know, if you worked for Clinton and Obama indirectly. You’ve worked for at least two … three agencies, you’ve been an appointee, at the coastal commission. I’m sure there’s other commissions in there that you’ve been appointed to and in currently. So today in this day and age you are running a business.

Cecilia Estolano:    Two businesses.

John Bwarie:    Two businesses, running two businesses. You have clients that you’re serving directly, you run … I know that you run The West Side Cities COG, so you’ve had varied experience, but when it comes down to, it sounds like so much of it is both influenced by past experience, but really that formative growing up in Los Angeles. What was it like in terms of the people around you, were you coming from … Was your community, your family? I know a lot of folks, mine included, family was where you started and then you had your school friends and then you had your other friends and maybe a neighborhood friend or were you part of a, of a geographic community as you … as in these formative years at any point?

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah, I think the way you described that is about right. We had our family. We were one of the few Latinos in that community. It was a working class aerospace community. My dad started as a tool and die maker for an aerospace company and worked his way up. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until I was about seven or eight and then she went back to school to UCLA to finish her degree and then she became a Spanish instructor at community colleges for many, many years. But when I was growing up in the late sixties early seventies … Oh man, that sounds like so long ago. I guess it was. There weren’t a lot of brown kids around. It was primarily Anglo. We had a strong sense of our identity as Mexican Americans and I had friends at school obviously, and I had my next door neighbor who was my best friend.

Things changed a lot in high school. 1978 prop 13 passed my freshman year. I was 1979 our four high school district went bankrupt. Two of the four high schools closed overnight and all went into the two remaining schools; Hawthorne and Leuzinger. So there was a lot of racial tension outright in the first week of school, like fights between Latinos and African Americans. All kinds of KKK and Nazi swastika graffiti appeared all over the school that year and for a couple of years afterwards. So I felt quite keenly suddenly this identity of these white friends I’d gone to school with all through grade school. Now we’re in high school and there’s like, “Hey, we never really thought of you as a Mexican before.” Like, “Dudes, what do you think I am?You’re looking at one right now.” “But you don’t act like that.” Yeah. Okay. We just grew up together, but we were … so that part about trying to translate and be a bridge builder between different groups.

I mean I ran cross-country with African American girls and I went to school in the honors classes with mostly white kids and then there were a bunch of Latinos. And anyway, it’s interesting. So for me, I think those years of being a person amongst these different worlds were super important to me. I also came out in high school and this was not a great time to come out. So that sense of being a person who faces multiple stereotypes, it stuck with me. And so it’s always been really important to me to elevate the voices of folks who don’t feel like they can have a voice. That’s important to me as a little Latino lesbian growing up from Hawthorne. Right?

John Bwarie:    So-

Cecilia Estolano:    It’s been a few years.

John Bwarie:    So you’ve turned that into something, right?

Cecilia Estolano:    I don’t know. I am who I am.

John Bwarie:    So give me some examples of the way that you’ve, you’ve bridged those gaps or built-

Cecilia Estolano:    Worlds.

John Bwarie:    … those bridges.

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah, I mean, professionally what we try to do … We founded this company because we wanted to bridge issues around transportation, urban planning, housing, economic development, sustainability … In my world and in all of my different professional positions, I just don’t see divisions like in those topics. To me they’re all together. I mean, how could you not? My community got destroyed by a freeway, which had huge air quality impacts. We didn’t have a lot of parks, we didn’t have a lot of nature. All of that stuff comes together in one environment. You don’t separate out economic development from transportation planning and air quality. It’s all together for a community, right? So we wanted to have a company that was conversant in all of those issues and could bring to bear perspective of community empowerment, progressive values, a solid commitment to sustainability, and this notion that we grow together when we share the benefits of our society, right?

So economic development’s always been a huge driver for me, but to me it’s not been a choice between economic development and the environment. They go together. We only grow when we have a healthy environment and we all share in the benefits of the society. So that idea of bridging topics, bridging communities, helping communities understand each other and see each other and hear each other, that animates our work. And if you were to walk around our office, John, you would know, you’d see a workforce that looks a lot like Los Angeles. We’re super diverse and we’re proud of that. People who have come from a variety of different perspectives and bring that to their work every single day, unabashedly, we value that and I think that makes us a super strong firm. It means that when we speak we have credibility and authority and we are always speaking the truth like that’s an important ethic for us.

John Bwarie:    Are you targeting your work to serve those, as you mentioned, that don’t have a seat at the table or are you trying to give them voices or you try to be their voice?

Cecilia Estolano:    We’re not going to be their voice. We want to create a society and a structure and governance structures where people are able to elevate their own voice. So we create the space to do that. Our work, we are primarily urban planners and policy folks, right? And then The Better World Group, we’re doing a lot of environmental and sustainable advocacy. So we are primarily a community engagement firm et al. But we know that you … best way to get to good policy is by listening to the voices of folks, right?

John Bwarie:    How do you get those voices? Because you’re talking about topics that are very wonky, if I can use the technical term and not really … you got to dig in to really get to understand how air quality, transportation, economic development and open space fit together.

It’s not … You don’t just pick it up when you turn on the TV. You’re not talking about it on the news. How do you get those people interested enough to come to the space you’ve created for them?

Cecilia Estolano:    So I think one thing is to be very clear about the impacts of the decisions we’re talking about, clarity in messaging and also just breaking it down, not using a lot of jargon. We can talk about communications, but I think you’re talking about a methodology, right?

John Bwarie:    Yeah.

Cecilia Estolano:    And for us, the methodology is when we work on an issue for an agency or a client and they want to have community engagement in air quotes, right? What we say is like, look, the way to get folks to communicate about what they want to see in their vision and what their concerns are is to have folks that they trust engage them.

So we don’t have offices in all 212 communities in Los Angeles. We don’t. But what we do have are relationships with community based organizations that work day in and day out in some of these communities. And so our approach to community engagement is we want to contract with those with those CBOs who have credibility to community. And we will advise our clients, look the way to do this is to create enough resources for folks to not just hold a community meeting, but actually co-design a program, design the policy with them, design the engagement strategy. Don’t just say, Hey, here’s 500 bucks. Go host three community meetings. I mean, that’s very exploitive and actually pretty colonialist.

So instead we would say, “Hey, let’s contract at $100 an hour because people’s time really matters.” So at $100 an hour, we’re going to ask you to do the following scope or you pick the scope. You design the scope. Tell us how best to engage this community and we’ll help you and we’ll coordinate with you and we’ll actually be the middle man with the agency so you’re not dealing with all that paperwork. And that’s how we’re going to get the best voices. That’s how we’re going to get the best ideas.

John Bwarie:    Why do you think it takes such work?

Cecilia Estolano:    Because it’s really hard. Because people … Because one, you have to explain, as you said, complex concepts. Two, you have to somehow get people to engage with you when they’re super busy, right? So you have to make it something that’s relevant to them. And three, people are skeptical, so you have to get folks to believe that their voice counts, that they’re not just going through some rote exercise.

John Bwarie:    To check a box?

Cecilia Estolano:    To check a box. And people know when it’s happening like that. You know that.

John Bwarie:    Totally.

Cecilia Estolano:    We do this really well.

John Bwarie:    And when we do this work, we always, like you, are trying to convince the client or the agency or the person in power that it is about honest, authentic relationships and true dialogue and not just checking a box. Why do you think, because you sit in a place of power in some cases, in other places you’re sitting creating a space for those without a voice to have a voice. Why do you think sometimes those folks in power don’t understand the value of community? Why is it that they on the surface level, Well yeah, involve the community, but then they don’t want to, don’t always want to put the work in or perhaps don’t know how to put the work in in a way that’s meaningful. Where’s that disconnect when people ascend to presidents of boards, heads of agencies, elected officials? Why is it sometimes that in your opinion, this is, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but in your opinion, why is it that nobody gets it and the value of community in this way that you’ve described it?

Cecilia Estolano:    I think there’s a few reasons. One is, it depends on who you’re talking about, right?

John Bwarie:    And a broad brush, right.

Cecilia Estolano:    If you’re talking about somebody who’s sitting at an agency or a department and they have to get this thing done and they’ve got a deliverable that they have to check off the box and they have only so many resources and they only have so much time and they’re under pressure and they have to deliver this. So they think they have a pretty good idea about what needs to happen and they’re directive. They just want to get it done. Yes, okay. We’ll talk to the community, but they have a fairly good idea in their mind what they think needs to be done. If you have an authentic engagement strategy, it might derail your preconceived notion of what the answer is. It also could take time and it’s going to take resources. Actually going to take resources.

It’s not just having a hearing at six o’clock, or whatever, 12 o’clock in the afternoon. So one thing is they’re under pressure and they just want to get it done and they think they know what has to happen. Two, if you’re talking about somebody who’s an agency head or heads up a commission or something, a lot of times those folks are somewhat disconnected from the communities we’re talking about, right? They’re folks who have been successful professionally and have been successful for some time. Maybe they never were in one of the communities that we’re talking about. Maybe they didn’t grow up next to a freeway. They didn’t grow up not having a park nearby. They didn’t grow up facing a lot of the adversity that some of these … multiple adversities that some of these communities are facing so they don’t understand.

They fundamentally don’t know what the pressures are for a family living in some communities. They don’t understand the stresses communities are under in terms of just making a living, working multiple jobs, managing childcare. They don’t have childcare, picking up the kids, maybe not having a car or having a broken down car. just the multiple stresses of raising a family when you’re not affluent. It’s a lot in Los Angeles. And I think sometimes policymakers don’t appreciate it. They think that their world, which is pretty comfortable, they’re under their own stresses. They think that most people live that way. And their perception of what most people live in, with the level of affluence that people have in Los Angeles, is completely out of whack. Like they really don’t understand the financial pressures that folks are under. So you asked, so why don’t they get it? Because they don’t get it. Because they see themselves and their neighbors and say, Oh this is how I would engage.

John Bwarie:    So how do you help them? Because you’re sitting there. You’ve, you’ve made the moves, you’ve been in the right place, serendipity that puts you in a position where you’re peers with these folks. How do you help them in a peer setting without calling them out perhaps, or some of them, you have to call them out?

Cecilia Estolano:    I mean it always depends on the issue. And so you always want to relate the topic to what is the goal of the policy or the program, the bond measure or whatever it is. What is the stated goal and who are we trying to benefit? Then let me tell you about the people we’re trying to benefit. People learn from stories, right? You could give folks all the statistics you want about per capita income and educational attainment and how many hours week people … It doesn’t mean anything until you tell them a story about someone’s actual experience and then it can connect for them, right? So they have to have … find it relatable. So I think that’s one way that you can get that across. You know who’s really good at this? Your buddy Seleta, she’s so good at this.

John Bwarie:    Seleta Reynolds the head of-

Cecilia Estolano:    Seleta Reynolds-

John Bwarie:    … The head of LA Department of Transportation?

Cecilia Estolano:    … is so good at this. She’s so good at telling stories. Especially when you hear her talk about mothers, right? Moms trying to like get across town, trying to manage the work of moving their kids around and getting to work. Because that’s real, right?

John Bwarie:    Right.

Cecilia Estolano:    So you’d have to tell a story of people. Anyway.

John Bwarie:    When did you learn that? I mean when did it hit you that you had to be a storyteller to get work done? Was it back in school or was it just by being in the neighborhood-

Cecilia Estolano:    I don’t know, I think-

John Bwarie:    like that diversity in high school?

Cecilia Estolano:    … Well, my mom’s a really good storyteller, but I think working in government and sitting in many, many public meetings and public hearings and people will come up and they’ll testify for their one minute or two minutes. What are the things that move people? When somebody tells a story that … You watch that again and again and again.

Particularly environmentalists believe that if they just go up there with lots of data, like everything will come to pass. Like it’s the right thing to do, right? This is the right policy. Let me show you the data. No, you actually have to tell the story of the kid who has asthma. You have to tell the story of the worker who’s making a difference. So anyway … I just … It’s just been experience. I’ve seen that and I see like people connect with each other. Humans, we always just want to feel connected. And that’s what’s going wrong with this comp …with this country right now is that we’re putting up these barriers to each other and we have to be able to connect on a human level.

John Bwarie:    So that’s a great point because I want to know how do you balance the politics with working in community and making sure that the community comes first because there’s politics, right?

Now, you haven’t said it yet, but politics, when you’re talking about the agency head that needs to get something done, it’s usually under pressure of the politics of the situation; delivering a project before the next election, delivering a project in a certain budget environment to show fiscal constraint or restraint rather. So how do you make sure that the community doesn’t become a pawn in that political game?Because it’s easy and I say community, even communities that are not suffering the environmental injustice that are some of the areas you’re working with, just communities generally. People who are not formally engaged in the process. They just might be a husband and wife who both work, two kids going to public school in Burbank and they don’t have time to go to all the meetings.

Cecilia Estolano:    I mean I’ll tell you. So we work in all kinds of communities. We don’t only work in environmental justice or environmentally disadvantaged. We are policy folks, right? And planners. So we work across the spectrum. And you mentioned, we’re an executive director for the West Side Cities Council of Government. So those are pretty nice areas.

John Bwarie:    Beverly Hills, Santa Monica-

Cecilia Estolano:    Monica-

John Bwarie:    … Culver city, West LA-

Cecilia Estolano:    … West LA-

John Bwarie:    … West Hollywood.

Cecilia Estolano:    Yeah. So how do you make sure that regular people don’t become pawns of politics? I think it’s by providing the space for people to authentically tell their stories and their truth. That’s how you do that. Because that does cut through things. And when you create the openings for people to organize and for people to tell their stories it makes a difference. So in my view, we like partnering with organizations that do organizing. Those are often our clients too. We do work with folks like LAANE, Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy, or The Partnership for Working Families.

Because at heart we have a profound respect for organizers. We think that we’re going to become our best selves as a country if we’re all organized. If we’re all able to articulate our needs, our wants, our desires, our vision and that happens with organizing. So we strongly believe from a policy standpoint that the best policy happens when there’s an inside-outside strategy. When you have folks in the inside working really, really hard to make sure that the policy is framed up and the structures are created, that create the openings; and on the outside you have folks organizing to cross communities to give communities a chance to connect and feel their power and see their role in reshaping their communities and they both have to happen. Otherwise you won’t have enduring structural change. You have to have an inside-outside strategy to make real change happen.

John Bwarie:    Do you think that folks at a local level, state level, or even some folks at the federal level are actually working for structural change? Do you think that our system right now allows, as a big question, allows for structural change to work with term limits with the-

Cecilia Estolano:    That’s a really good question.

John Bwarie:    … partisanship, with the limited resources? Even though we’re, you know California is one of the wealthiest states in the country in terms of resources, but we still have limited resources, right? They’re still finite. Are people working, have they been elected and are they appointed and are they self-selecting to make a big structural change? Or are we seeing people really looking for the short term win? Because that’s all we can get to right now.

Cecilia Estolano:    I think you’re seeing a shift happen in both the electorate and their elected officials that you are now seeing some folks who are coming in because they do want to make structural change and this is as a result of 40 years of essentially turning on its head, the New Deal, right? So we have had 40 years of taking from the poor and giving to the wealthy in a structural way. And we could go into all of the reasons and how that’s happened and it’s all been well documented, but the point is it’s now at a tipping point. People realize that we cannot go on much longer. We have more wage inequality than we had in the Gilded Age.

John Bwarie:    Right.

Cecilia Estolano:    Okay? And people feel it. It’s in the zeitgeist. It is why you have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at the top of the heap for the Democratic primary. It’s why Donald Trump was elected. People have this fundamental feeling that the system doesn’t work for them. So yeah, typically, no. People get elected and they kind of are incrementalists at best, they’re around the edges. But what I think we’re seeing happen now is that people want to see something fundamentally shift in this country. We are better than this. We know that we are best in this country when we care about each other. And when regular working people actually see their level of income and their level of sustainability increasing with each generation. And that has ended and something is fundamentally wrong with that. That is not what we built this country’s myth on, right?

So whether you think it’s myth or real, it doesn’t feel right to be America and have your kids likely to have fewer prospects than you did. That’s just … seems anti-American. And so when that happens, we’ve got to have structural change. So that’s what you’re feeling out there. Now is it going to happen? Actually I do think it’s going to happen. I think things have bubbled up a lot and there will be some sort of structural change. We’re ready to jump into that. Like our team is all about trying to come up with progressive solutions that elevate the circumstances, the voices, the life aspirations of regular working people from all across every ethnic and racial group. That’s the best of America. That’s the best of California, right? And we think a lot about that. We think a lot about the policies that will create that outcome, that vision of a beautiful place that is healthy with trees and clean air and clean water for everyone, right?

Where people can be educated, can realize their dreams, where kids can be what they want to be. We think a lot about that where regular working people can have the security of knowing they’re not going to be evicted from their place. Their kids can stay in the same school and their kids can get a good education and go off to college, or if they don’t want to go off to college, get a career pathway. We think about that all the time because that’s the world we want to aim towards and if you don’t have a vision of what the future should be, you’re not going to get there. You’ll get to the dystopia that we’re headed to now. Sorry, I just went off on a tangent, but-

John Bwarie:    No, no, no. That’s fine.

Cecilia Estolano:    But that’s where we are headed.

John Bwarie:    I’m feeling the passion that you have on this topic. I know that’s why you do this work. Why do you do this work? Why do you do this to yourself, right? You … I know you have a family. You mentioned your family, you’ve got two businesses you’re running, you’re appointed to a very demanding commission, or a board at the state and you’re working to support future changemakers. I know that you’re working with young people and trying to give them the confidence tools and capacity to be the change for the future as well. You’re doing all this. How do you do it? Why do you do … What drives you?

Cecilia Estolano:    What’s the point? I mean, why else are we here? I was given so much in my life, right? I got to go to a great university as an undergraduate. I got to go to a great university for masters and for my law degree, I’ve been given so many advantages and opportunities. Why? Why, I asked, was I given that? To make the world a better place. Like isn’t that obvious? Right? I’m sitting in this beautiful place called California. I am a woman. I’m a Latina. I’m a lesbian. I am perfectly safe. I’m not in a civil war. I’m not in a war-torn country. I don’t worry about my personal safety every minute of the day. I’m safe. I get to be who I am. I want that for every single person, right? I want that for every single person. And we have an existential threat right now with climate change.

I want that for my kids. I want that for all kids and all grandkids out there. So why else would we do this work, right? I think we’ll make money, but that’s so boring. I love practicing law. It was great, but like did it animate me this way? Heck no. But then I look at my team; they’re so smart. They are so smart. They’re so much smarter than I am and they are passionate about the work. I want them to go off and make that structural change that I may not see, but they will.

John Bwarie:    Let me ask you this last question and then we’ll go into it. When you want to understand a new community, how do you do it? I know you know LA because you’ve been here long enough to know generally LA, but let’s say somebody asks you to go to a place that you hadn’t really spent much time.

Cecilia Estolano:    Portland. We’re doing a bunch of work in Portland right now.

John Bwarie:    I know and it’s a very … It’s still people. It’s still-

Cecilia Estolano:    Oh, it’s different.

John Bwarie:    … but it’s different.

Cecilia Estolano:    Really different.

John Bwarie:    How do you start there? How do you dig in to say, all right, I’ve got to find what makes this place, this place?

Cecilia Estolano:    I mean for me it depends on the work. Again, we happen to be doing work around construction careers and now, right now I’m advising the redevelopment agency for Portland on a community benefits agreement they’re doing for big redevelopment in Portland. So for me it’s about understanding who are the groups that represent key constituencies, what do they do, and meeting those individuals. I went out to drinks and dinner with somebody leading one of these coalitions and really spent time with her understanding why she did what she did, where she came from, who was in her coalition, what was the experience of working with them, how long she’d been working with them. I went out and I met with folks who run the pre-apprenticeship programs and try to understand how do those pre-apprenticeship programs work. Who’s in them, who are their clients, what are their experiences like?

You just have to go and talk to people and listen. I mean, I’ve met elected officials there and I certainly met with a number of union leaders. I’ve met with contractors and business leaders. You have to just, let’s meet and listen. Listen, ask questions and don’t make assumptions, but really listen to what people’s experiences are and what their aspirations are. Where did they come from? Why are they there in that town? What do they think the town can be and just like process that, right? You can’t come to a new city. Hey go to a new city and just bring all of your LA biases, right? You have to really listen.

And the culture is different everywhere. Like they’re exceedingly nice in Portland, exceedingly nice. So when I’m advising this agency about these negotiations, sometimes I will say, “Gosh, if you were in LA you would just say this, this and this.” But since you’re not, you have to have your Pacific Northwest politeness on and also appreciate the differences. So, I don’t know, I just think anytime you go somewhere, you just got to listen and you got to pay attention to the different communities that make up the tapestry of that city. And that’s what make makes every city so amazing.

John Bwarie:    I agree.

Cecilia Estolano:    And if it’s you, John, you go and eat everywhere-

John Bwarie:    And we do eat it.

Cecilia Estolano:    … and all the delicious ethnic places.

John Bwarie:    Oh my gosh. Absolutely.

Cecilia Estolano:    Oh yeah.

John Bwarie:    I know you, I’ve spent time with you. We’ve talked before privately, we’ve talked at, you know we’ve been on commissions and panels together.

Cecilia Estolano:    We flashed signals to each other-

John Bwarie:    We have. We have.

Cecilia Estolano:    … and significant looks across the room.

John Bwarie:    Across the room. Yes.

Cecilia Estolano:    Yes.

John Bwarie:    My Goodness. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard you so animated as today. I’ve heard you on a lot of panels. I’ve heard you in meetings, I’ve heard you give interviews and speeches, but I heard from you today a passion about what drives you to make this change and it’s not even for your kids. It’s for what, maybe you even say like the old neighborhood, that experience that you had growing up in Hawthorne, in that industry town, if you will, the aerospace industry town of Hawthorne and what that brings to you today. And correct me if I’m wrong, but if you didn’t have that experience growing up in what was essentially a suburb of LA at the time, you may not be here today in LA working the way you are. And what I heard from you is that it’s that experience and the experiences since, be them positive experiences or challenges, that have brought you to today. And what makes me so excited and hearing you talk is about what you’re going to do for the future of the city and for the state and hopefully beyond in this work.

And I’m not here to give you a validation or endorsement, but I’m sitting here more inspired than I thought I would be in our conversation so I want to thank you for that. So, okay, it’s time for our lightning round. I love to do this with all of our guests. Some of these are specific and some of them are more general, but you just give me an answer that is succinct. First thing that comes to mind. No, explanation really needed unless you really want to.

Cecilia Estolano:    Okay.

John Bwarie:    So who is a leader who has influenced you in your work?

Cecilia Estolano:    Mary Nichols.

John Bwarie:    What book has changed the way you think about the role of community in your work?

Cecilia Estolano:    This is interesting. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s a book about Chinatown in San Francisco and about the leaders in that community and we had a book club here. We still do have a book club in our company and I learned so much about the history of that particular Chinatown and the individuals and it just … It changed my view of … I don’t know, I just … It was very, very interesting because at the end of the day it’s a really small community, right? And a few people make a huge difference.

John Bwarie:    Excellent. What agency, government agency, gets it right in working with community in your view as you look across who gets it?

Cecilia Estolano:    I think Oregon Metro does.

John Bwarie:    What’s the first place you turn to for information when working with a new community? First place?

Cecilia Estolano:    The first place?

John Bwarie:    Yeah.

Cecilia Estolano:    My client, right? Because I’m always hired by somebody, my client. I will ask them about community based organizations and union leaders.

John Bwarie:    If you could run any nonprofit, real or imagined, what would it be?

Cecilia Estolano:    It would be the nonprofit that integrates economic development, sustainability and workforce development for the entire Western United States.

John Bwarie:    What advice would you give 25 year old Cecilia?

Cecilia Estolano:    25 year old. Believe in yourself.

John Bwarie:    What was the best career decision you ever made?

Cecilia Estolano:    Leaving Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher to run the redevelopment agency.

John Bwarie:    And so far what has been your proudest professional moment?

Cecilia Estolano:    Settling the largest Clean Water Act lawsuit in the history of the city of Los Angeles, The Baykeeper Lawsuit. That is my proudest, certainly professional, moment as a lawyer.

John Bwarie:    Great. Thank you Cecilia for sharing so much with us and the listeners today.

Cecilia Estolano:    Thank you John Bwarie for interviewing me. It was a delight.

John Bwarie:    Absolutely. Thanks for listening to community intelligence. And for more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at At Stratiscope we provide community intelligence services to businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. Let us know how we can help you.