SGV Connect #100 Interview – Chris Greenspon Interviews Ricardo Martinez

CG: Ricardo, thanks for coming on SGV Connect. Why don’t you tell me about some of your family history here in La Puente? Why do you care enough about this place to want to run for city council?

RM: Yeah, so, I grew up here in La Puente, my grandparents, paternal grandparents moved here in the 1980s. And they came from downtown LA when they migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles. And they found La Puente, then in the 1980s, you know, housing here was extremely affordable. And they moved here, had their family, three kids, three boys. And one of them was my dad. My dad grew up here in La Puente, eventually found my mom from Mexico. They married, had me and my sister but unfortunately, my dad passed away of cancer when I was just one in 1996. And, essentially, my life, you know, completely changed from then. I moved to Mexico with my mom’s family for some time and then came back to the States. Specifically here in La Puente where my grandparents were still at, and grew up with my grandparents. I started elementary school here, middle school, at Sierra Vista Middle School, Workman Elementary, and then La Puente High School. And La Puente essentially is my home, right? I love this community. I grew up here. I have friends here. And it’s always been a shelter of sorts for me whenever I go somewhere, or when I left college, for example, I went to UC Davis, back in 2013. When I graduated La Puente high school, I went to UC Davis up north near Sacramento. Very different. first generation student out there, didn’t know a lot of things didn’t know what was happening in the world. So my mind really expanded and then, but every time I would come back home, it was a moment of like, tranquility or it was just home to me, you know, when you go back to your community or your home. That’s what La Puente always has been. And yeah, I decided to run for city council a couple months ago, because I believe that our community has been abandoned by our elected officials for a very long time. I studied political science and philosophy at UC Davis. I’ve always been interested in public government and service. And ever since I left and would come back La Puente always stayed the same, right? It never changed for the benefit of everybody here, especially working class communities, communities, like my grandparents who only speak Spanish, who worked in warehouse jobs, factory jobs, union jobs. We need a government that is working for those people. We need a government that is working for us, not just, you know, folks that are well connected and that have the finances to you know, essentially  move around very easily.

CG: Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about your career.

RM: Yeah. So my career I went to UC Davis, like I said, graduated in 2018. My focus or really my career trajectory was to learn more about the root causes of migration. So I was always interested as to why people like my grandparents, people, like, you know, like us Latinos, have to essentially leave their homeland, their ancestry, where they came from, for a better future for their kids and for themselves. And that took me to US foreign policy and learning more about what is happening in Latin America and what is happening to you know, these governments that are oftentimes influenced by foreign powers, especially the United States, at least in the Western Hemisphere, and also all over the world, many governments right. But that took me to studying Latin America to studying US foreign policy to Latin America… what that looks like. What can we do to better governments in Latin America so we have transparent and good governments in Mexico and Central America countries and all over South America? And that was really my trajectory. I went to Brazil and studied abroad there for one year so I did a one year abroad program in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro and studied Portuguese and wanted to become a Foreign Service Officer and work for the State Department. But this was during the Trump presidency, and I felt that I couldn’t serve a president like that, somebody who dehumanized immigrant communities, somebody who is hateful at every turn. And so for me, I couldn’t do that. But I was still interested in that right. And what I did was come back home to La Puente and try to find a job that was still somewhat related to Latin America and foreign policy, but it was very hard to find something. And I didn’t find really anything I would apply to jobs and nothing. I started studying for the LSAT, the entry level exam to go to law school, but that didn’t really hash out. So I started working at warehouses. I would work at warehouses, loading trucks. I started working part time at BestBuy because I needed money to pay my bills. And thankfully, my grandparents again gave me a room and they cared for me again when I was having difficulty finding what to do with my life, how to find a job. And eventually a friend from high school connected me to the local branch of Bank of America here at City of Industry and I was able to get this teller job, part time job, and that gave me health benefits. And it paid me a decent wage that allowed me to secure or rather look for other opportunities right. And I got very lucky in that this internship opportunity opened up with Congresswoman Napolitano’s office in Washington, DC. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano represents our district La Puente, the thirty-second district. And luckily in 2019, I was able to go to DC because they were paying interns for the first time congressional interns were getting paid a minimum decent wage, and because of that opportunity, I was able to go to Washington DC and intern at Congresswoman Napolitano’s office. I did that in the summer of 2019. And from there I was fortunate to get a position in the US Congress to work for the House Foreign Affairs Committee under the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. So this is the committee that conducts oversight over US foreign policy from the House of Representatives side. So the US Congress is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. And so I worked for essentially you know, a really powerful commission or rather committee that conducted oversight over US foreign policy in Latin America. So this was you know, the bread and butter of what I wanted to do. It was a perfect opportunity, perfect role to learn and and you know, get a really neat experience for what I wanted to do in the future. And my role consisted of essentially organizing congressional hearings for the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, working with the staff director and the professional staff member to other key staffers, to conduct hearings, invite witnesses, conduct research on US programs that are funded in Latin America. How can we better them? How do we conduct oversight at the time when Trump was president to make sure that key programs in Central America and other parts in Latin America are funded and people receive the help they need and the assistance that they need? Right. So that’s a little bit about my experience and where I come from. I always was interested in the appropriations process or learning how the US Congress appropriates money to different programs in Latin America. And that was my key passion. And from there, I stayed there for two years and a couple months, and in December of 2021, I left that position to join the tech sector. And I now work as a risk analyst to make sure that online spaces are safe and protected from malicious content online.

CG: Why don’t you describe to me in a general sense — I’m going to run through it a little bit more point by point — what your platform is.

RM: Yeah. So my platform is, you know, I always want it to be concise and to the point. So the number one issue that I’m focusing on is a people government and budget transparency. And this is because a lot of the time, residents and just the general population in the US in the state of California are disillusioned and don’t have confidence in their government and in their elected officials. So how do we renew that faith? How do we renew our faith and in our government and in our elected leaders? Well, first, it’s about putting the people’s interest in government, and policymaking. So that is my number one priority in La Puente, to really go down every street in La Puente and learn about the concerns of the residents. What is it that they care most about? What are the priorities that appoint the city council, you know, should be listening and should be spearheading? And to add to that the budget is really paramount to the programs that La Puente has. We need to have a budget that is well balanced. A budget that focuses on long term sustainability, and that focuses on our students, on housing, on health care, because these issues are key to keeping our community safe and well right. So that is my number one priority. I want to bring town halls to the city before the city passes its budget or introduces its budget, I want to talk to community and bring La Puente City Council physically out of the City Chamber, out of city hall and to the community. Maybe we can do a meeting at the park or elsewhere. But we need people to tell us, tell city council how the budget should look like because right now it’s very lopsided and over 60% of the budget goes to the sheriff’s department and public safety. I think public safety is extremely important, right and we have to keep our community safe. But at the same time, we have to really reexamine every line item in the city’s budget to make sure that we are saving money and that we are allocating the money that taxpayers pay to the programs that benefit everybody. That is my number one priority. Secondly, I’m focusing on housing. Housing has become extremely expensive throughout LA County, especially here in La Puente. A lot of the homes here in La Puente are older homes that were built in the 70s and the 80s. When I go door knock and meet with seniors and folks that have been here for decades, the number one complaint that I get from them is that they don’t have enough money to you know, fix their homes because they just receive a limited paycheck either from Social Security or their pension. And they’re struggling to remodel their home because they don’t have the money. And their homes are really in need of remodeling of you know, either fixing their windows or we need to make sure that they’re safe in their own homes. And how do we do that? Well, we want to establish a program in the city of La Puente that is geared towards those populations. And housing — to the point that I was making earlier — is that it’s become… a lot of homes now in La Puente are overcrowded. So you have not just one family but 2, 3, 4 families in one household. And that is not sustainable, right that you want to have a home for one family, right? That’s how everybody lives comfortably like if you go to other neighborhoods, people have that. Neighborhoods that are wealthier. Why can’t we have that? Why can’t our lower income communities have something like that? We shouldn’t be living  a different pedestal, right? So that is my second priority to make sure how to bring affordable housing to La Puente… And to expand how we bring affordable housing units or make sure that housing, the housing costs in the city don’t doesn’t go up? That is my number one priority.

CG: Okay, so what about how you intend to secure funds for health care in La Puente?

RM: Healthcare yeah, I’m really passionate about health care because of my own health issues that I’ve had in the past, especially last fall. I had a really bad health scare and was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Thankfully, I recovered and I’m good, but I really had a lived experience of going to the ER and waiting there for hours before I got seen by a doctor and they knew what was happening to me. And for us here in La Puente, healthcare should be a fundamental issue that the city cares about and is looking at really closely, right? We have the La Puente health center managed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and they are 26 health centers throughout LA County. And one of them is in La Puente literally across the city hall, next to the La Puente library… and this facility in my opinion has been underutilized and has not been funded and off so that we can have multiple doctors and nurses or provide, you know offsite needs to the community, their vaccines, or right now, the issue of monkey pox vaccines, they are not available. Why can’t we have a van that goes throughout the community and offers one… or you know, outside grocery stores like we did with COVID. We should be able to have that. So what I want to do, a key main thing of my healthcare platform is to really work closely with the Supervisor’s office to make sure that they use or to ramp up rather resources at this clinic because it’s right here in our city. And we need to take care and and take advantage rather of this public physical infrastructure space that is meant to cater to the health needs of our populations.

CG: So some people call Old Town up when they ghost town. What would you do to change that? We have probably about half of the storefronts in old town are never open for anything ever. What’s your vision on what to do with this?

RM: Yeah, it makes me really sad you say that and agitated and mad and just so many emotions because you’re 1,000% right when I you know, move back to the states and I moved I grew up with my grandparents in La Puente it’s been literally the same since I left to college and came back from working in the US Congress. Not a lot of anything has changed and Old Town La Puente and the downtown area and what we need is a concrete business plan for downtown. How do we revitalize our local economy in our downtown area by either providing grants to small businesses or you know putting up more trees in the downtown area? Figuring out how we can bring people and potentially put like a boardwalk in the street on Main, like other cities have done. Why can’t we do the same and revitalize our downtown area like Whittier downtown? Other cities have done it. Why can’t we put the money and the funds necessary to do something like that? I think it’s doable. How do we do that? Well, we need to figure out who owns what business in the downtown area. Talk to them. Have a conversation between the city council and those business owners and work with them and also the community because the community is also part of downtown. We want to have a conversation about what our downtown should be like because I think I really do think that we can revitalize it. We can bring new businesses. We can provide — I just saw you know, a couple months ago, the Brew House coffee shop opened up and it’s just an amazing thing to see because you don’t see folks like them. They’re invested in the community. They want the community to have something that they can come back to and we need more of that. We need to help those folks with grants with other resources so that they could come to downtown more easily and so that our residents can now return to the downtown area and spend valuable time with their kids or their loved ones. I think we can do that. It’s going to take time and effort, but it’s not impossible.

CG: Well, Ricardo, you sound pretty invested in this. If this race doesn’t go your way. Are you going to be back and try again?

RM: Now Chris, this is you know, it’s not going to be easy. The folks that are incumbents have the money and the power and the political connections necessary to build a really strong race and have a strong base, but I think that this race is winnable and what I’m going to do is outwork the competition and go door to door in La Puente and door knock and tell people about my platform and what I want to do and why we need strong and bold leadership, because we need to have people that are invested in the long term sustainability of our town, and that are invested in everybody, especially the poor and the working class. And I have a persuasive argument to make right? The contrast that I make and tell people is that the folks that have been running this city have been doing it for a very long time with minimal results. This park you know, why didn’t we have something like this 5, 10 years ago? Why just now? The folks that pushed for this park had been there for years. Why is it that we’re just getting the park now, right? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’ve had a very long time for minimal results. And I think that now is the time for new leadership and creativity and to make sure that everybody including the poor and the working class in La Puente are being cared for.

CG: Ricardo Martinez. Thank you so much for coming on. sGv Connect.

RM: Thank you, Chris. Appreciate this.