For Cindy Montañez, the seeds of her drive to battle for her group have been planted earlier than she was even born.

Her grandfather, a miner within the Mexican state of Zacatecas, died earlier than she might meet him — an early demise attributable to his line of labor. Her immigrant mother and father settled within the northeastern San Fernando Valley, the place factories spewed chemical compounds and firms dumped waste with little take care of the Latinos who lived close by.

“My dad advised us, ‘No matter you do, you’ve gotta battle in opposition to the individuals who oppress our folks and the exploitation of the land, as a result of the 2 go collectively,’” Montañez stated in an interview earlier this 12 months.

She took that recommendation to coronary heart by blazing trails in each politics and environmental activism. After serving within the California Meeting, Montañez used her connections and iron will to convey a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} to the San Fernando Valley and different underserved communities to wash up polluted areas and beautify neighborhoods.

The San Fernando Metropolis Council member died Saturday morning after an extended battle with most cancers, in line with a household spokesperson. She was 49.

At UCLA in 1993, Montañez and a teenage sister have been amongst those that went on a 14-day starvation strike that helped to determine a Chicano Research division. She grew to become the youngest San Fernando council member at 25, then the youngest girl elected to the California State Meeting at 28.

After leaving Sacramento, Montañez grew to become an assistant normal supervisor on the Los Angeles Division of Water and Energy, taking part in an important position in pushing the company to make use of cleaner vitality and create higher water-capture strategies. Shy by nature however comfortable in any crowd, she grew to become CEO of TreePeople in 2016, making her one of many few Latinas in cost of a giant, U.S.-based environmental nonprofit.

Mark Gold, director of water shortage options for the Pure Sources Protection Council, first met Montañez whereas she was within the Meeting. He credit her for “marrying environmental justice with conservation” by getting politicians and rich funders to care about environmental justice in interior cities and getting working-class folks into the open areas that Montañez so liked to discover.

“The work she did was nothing in need of extraordinary,” stated Gold, who helped Montañez get appointed to the UCLA Institute of the Atmosphere and Sustainability’s board of advisors.

“Cindy had a number of braveness, and she or he demonstrated that braveness many times,” stated United Farm Staff co-founder Dolores Huerta, who first met Montañez on the UCLA starvation strike, which sparked a private {and professional} friendship that lasted many years. “Folks adopted her. She was by no means about selling herself. She was about doing the work.”

Richard Alarcon, a former L.A. councilmember and San Fernando Valley-area state Meeting member and senator, first met Montañez after he examine how she and a sister chained themselves to a tree in an try to put it aside from being minimize down. Quickly after, he employed her as an intern.

“She contributed to girls’s empowerment, she contributed to the environmental motion, and she or he by no means wavered to her dedication to grassroots mobilization,” Alarcon stated. “She and I had many discussions about making an attempt to create a bridge between the higher environmental motion to acknowledge the challenges that poor and minority communities had in taking up environmental points. And he or she constructed it.”

Cindy Montañez

Cindy Montañez in 2014 in Panorama Metropolis

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Occasions)

In a written assertion, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass referred to as Montañez “a relentless trailblazer who led with conviction and a imaginative and prescient of a greater Los Angeles for all.”

“I noticed her tenacity up shut many instances,” Bass wrote. “She was by my aspect after we fought collectively in Sacramento, making tough choices to assist our state, and she or he suggested me once I served in Congress on a spread of points impacting our metropolis. All through all of it, one factor was all the time clear — Assemblywoman Montañez’s coronary heart and soul have been all the time devoted to the folks of Los Angeles.”

The fourth of six kids, Montañez grew up in a family the place wholesome dwelling was emphasised as method to survive the robust, poisonous setting they lived in. For years, the household would stand up each morning at 5 a.m. to run collectively. Additionally they would drive to the Central Valley on weekends to choose crops, then promote them again residence. At 12, Montañez started to spend her summers volunteering wherever and in every single place: road and park cleanups, Particular Olympics, in juvenile corridor, at hospitals, even to assist with Pope John Paul II’s 1987 go to to Los Angeles.

She entered UCLA as a arithmetic main and rapidly joined the varsity’s vibrant Chicano activist scene.

“Training is vital to me,” she advised the Related Press 9 days into the starvation strike. “That’s why I’m ravenous myself for it.”

The connections she made throughout that point propelled her towards politics. She started working for Alarcon, the primary Latino to characterize the San Fernando Valley in Sacramento. His mentorship helped Montañez win a seat on the San Fernando metropolis council in 1999, then obtain her Meeting milestone three years later.

“This victory is a victory for our group, not for me,” Montañez advised a jubilant crowd at a major night time election celebration in 2002, on her method to successful the Meeting seat. “The northeast Valley goes to proceed to be an attractive place to stay and work as a result of we’re going to proceed to work collectively. Se los digo de todo corazon (I inform you this from the guts).”

Within the Meeting, Montañez made nationwide headlines for authoring the so-called Automotive Patrons Invoice of Rights, a client safety invoice that was among the many first of its form within the nation. However within the environmental motion she had lengthy embraced, there have been few individuals who seemed like her or cared for locations like her hometown.

“The L.A. River was getting all the eye,” Montañez advised The Occasions earlier this 12 months. “So I [said], ‘Hey, right here I’m in Sacramento, voting [to protect] preserves in Santa Monica. We gotta do one thing for our [San Fernando Valley] communities.”

“She developed the idea that the seaside begins in Pacoima,” stated Steve Veres, a former UCLA classmate who labored for her as an Meeting staffer and is now a trustee on the Los Angeles Neighborhood School District board. “She used all of the relationships that she had made in her life to make issues occur for not simply her group, however others.”

Cindy Montañez

Then-San Fernando mayor Cindy Montañez, in a 2002 photograph

(Myung Chun/Los Angeles Occasions)

Montañez made certain that state funds have been allotted to construct parks in working class neighborhoods. And he or she deliberate to perform extra — she advised the media that she needed to run for the L.A. Metropolis Council and finally Congress. However two different rising San Fernando Valley politicians truncated her political profession.

In 2006, Montañez misplaced to Alex Padilla within the Democratic major for the state senate seat as soon as held by her mentor, Alarcon. Seven years later, Montañez gained the first race for an L.A. Metropolis Council seat representing the San Fernando Valley earlier than shedding within the normal election to Nury Martinez, then shedding once more to her in 2015.

Padilla would go on to turn out to be California’s first Latino secretary of state and U.S. senator. Martinez grew to become the primary Latina to function council president earlier than resigning in shame final fall after uttering racist remarks in a secretly recorded dialog.

In an interview a number of months earlier than her demise, Montañez stated she had no regrets concerning the abrupt finish to her political rise.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t inform you how glad I’m,” she stated. “How proud I’m of the group we put collectively to really transfer folks and educate of us and have enjoyable. In politics, it’s all preventing.”

She used her Rolodex as TreePeople CEO to persuade the Meeting final 12 months to go a $150-million invoice to assist faculties fight local weather change with extra timber, shade buildings and gardens. Her cheerful presence at group tree-planting occasions grew to become a daily a part of Valley life.

“Each tree that we plant,” she advised The Occasions, “I take into consideration the tree that will assist any person.”

Within the weeks main as much as her demise, former colleagues and political heirs publicly honored her. The California Legislature declared her birthday, Jan. 19, to be Cindy Montañez Day. The San Fernando and L.A. metropolis councils renamed as Cindy Montañez Pure Park the realm across the Pacoima Wash, which Montañez had lengthy advocated remaking as a inexperienced house. Final week, the Los Angeles Unified Faculty District voted to rename Gridley Road Elementary in San Fernando in honor of Montañez.

Assemblymember Luz Rivas didn’t meet Montañez till after getting elected to Montañez’s former seat, however was already acquainted with her legacy.

“She impressed folks to run or serve of their group, as a result of she was like a number of us are,” Rivas stated. “She was standing up as an environmentalist and proudly owning that id at instances when younger Latinos didn’t see themselves as environmentalists. She pushed what that definition is.”

The 2 started to talk extra frequently when Montañez rejoined the San Fernando Metropolis Council in 2020. Rivas stated she would proceed to look to her as an inspiration.

“[She] and I are the very same age,” Rivas stated. “So it hits me: Am I doing what I need to do? Am I doing sufficient?”

Montañez is survived by her mother and father, Margarita and Manuel Montañez, together with siblings Ezequiel, Maribel, Miguel, Robert and Norma.

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