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Representation on the California Transportation Commission Is Shifting

3:37 PM PDT on August 18, 2020

Michele Martinez, far left, taking a selfie with students at the 2015 Bike to School Day in Santa Ana. Photo Courtesy of Michelle Martinez.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Several recent changes among appointees to the California Transportation Commission have delighted advocates for more diverse representation and active transportation.

The governor announced late on Friday that he has appointed Michele Martinez to the commission, replacing real estate developer Lucy Dunn, whose term expired in February. Also last week, the commissioners elected Hilary Norton as chair.

Both have strong support from active transportation and environmental advocates throughout the state.

Martinez has been active for many years in Orange County, helping build community capacity as the lead of several nonprofit organizations, as a Santa Ana city councilmember, and as president of the Southern California Association of Governments. Advocates credit her with being instrumental in the launch of Go Human, SCAG's ongoing safety, engagement, and encouragement campaign. She also served as the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Orange County, where she supported the development of the Active Transportation Leadership Program, which trained Santa Ana residents to identify issues and advocate for a better community.

Full disclosure: Martinez also managed a grant which made it possible for Streetsblog to cover the ATLP, with reporting from Kristopher Fortin.

Among her other accomplishments, Martinez has also served as community and strategic planning development director at Primestor Development, a real estate firm whose focus is on providing communities with developments that meet their needs and offer local entrepreneurs opportunities to benefit.

Outgoing commissioner Lucy Dunn was from the Orange County area, and had a primary interest in real estate development, particularly sprawl or, as she put it, "edge development," which she took every opportunity to point out was important to California. Martinez will be well positioned to represent current residents of Orange County who have not had as much of a voice at the commission level.

Gloria Ohland of Move L.A. told Streetsblog that Martinez "was instrumental in convincing members of both [SCAG and the Santa Ana City Council] that active transportation is essential to transit ridership and a healthy transportation system." On top of that, she "helped secure millions of dollars to make Santa Ana a city where people can safely walk and bike, and has also been an advocate for public health and safety, the need for open space, and the need to shelter and house people who are homeless."

Safe Routes to School National Partnership had suggested potential candidates for transportation commissioner who could represent a wider swath of the population than some of the current commissioners, and are also pleased with Martinez's appointment. "Ms. Martinez has incredibly deep experience in planning issues, combined with a long track record of service in elected office," the group's California senior policy manager, Jonathan Matz, told Streetsblog. "She has been a champion of mobility justice, and as a city councilmember in Santa Ana was one of the key figures in that city's emergence as a leader in active transportation. As President of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, she knows intimately the critical role transportation systems play in the health of marginalized communities."

"We're thrilled that Governor Newsom saw the same qualities in Ms. Martinez," he added. "We look forward to working with her on centering equity and environmental justice in California's transportation funding and policy-making."

To ice the cake, last week current California Transportation Commission members elected Hilary Norton as their chair. She has been on the commission for almost a year and was just recently confirmed by the Senate. Norton has been filling in as chair since the departure of Paul Van Konynenberg, who was not re-appointed to the commission when his term expired.

Norton is known as someone who can work across the board with diverse groups, including community advocates and business organizations. She also understands and promotes the benefits of transit and active transportation. Streetsblog L.A. editor Joe Linton says she is "a consensus-builder who works with parties that are commonly on opposite sides of the aisles."

Streetsblog L.A.'s Damien Newton interviewed Norton back in 2009 about the formation of her nonprofit organization Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic. FAST focused on building support for solutions to L.A. traffic -- including improved transit and better active transportation infrastructure - among community groups, business groups, and others concerned about traffic issues.

Said Linton: "Norton and her organization FAST have been instrumental in working to support funding and building L.A. transit."

Advocates have been working for a long time to achieve more diverse representation on the CTC, which controls transportation funding in California and makes major decisions about state funding priorities. Until recently, the commission has been dominated by real estate and labor interests, which have prioritized highways at the expense of other transportation modes. Along with Caltrans' new willingness to acknowledge that even people who don't drive cars need safe ways to get around, a positive shift towards more equitable and sustainable transportation may happen.

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