SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom made history recently for signing a $54 billion climate package aimed at solving the growing climate crisis.
The governor's Senior Climate Adviser Lauren Sanchez was behind a lot of the conversations that took place to make the state's bold plan a reality.
The Oakland Latina has a personal connection to the impacts of climate change as her family experienced the problems caused by dangerous heat waves and poor air quality. Sanchez's father grew up in Los Angeles, where the smog got so bad he was unable to go outside for recess.
"My dad and my tíos and my tías lived next to two highways that were spewing pollution next to oil wells," said Sanchez, 33. "Really just kind of the poster child neighborhood in Boyle Heights of environmental justice."
She wants to be a voice for the Latino community that has struggled to get recognition in the past.
"Government historically hasn't done a great job of embedding equity and the most vulnerable into all of its priorities, and its programs, and its funding. And California is really at the tip of the spear on that," Sanchez said.
A piece of legislation Sanchez says she is proud to have helped get passed and signed into law is state Senator Lena Gonzalez's bill that will create a 3,200-foot buffer zone between homes, daycares, schools and new oil wells.
"Early in this role I was able to fly down to Wilmington, California, a port side, Latino community that has had a long history of oil production in the community," she notes. "I met with community leaders who've been fighting for generations to shut down oil production in their neighborhood — quite literally next to daycares, YMCAs, hospitals."
Sanchez is excited to go back to Wilmington to deliver the good news in person.
Before becoming the governor's go-to person for all things climate, Sanchez worked for the federal government in various climate-related roles. She was a climate adviser for the Biden-Harris Administration, as well as a member of President Barack Obama's climate negotiations team during the 2016 Paris Agreement.
"When President Trump was elected, I think we all remember that fateful night, I realized I no longer had a role in the federal government working on climate change," Sanchez said. "So I left D.C. and really spent time reflecting in the mountains in the Sierra around where I wanted to go next and what was home, and what I wanted to work on."
After spending time reflecting, Sanchez decided to work in California to help the communities like the ones she grew up in.
"Coming to California, I felt true belonging and also we are actually a representative democracy. The state is 40% Latino, so many of the different environmental and climate champions in the legislature and in the state capitol have been from my own community," Sanchez said.
Sanchez has also worked for the California Air Resources Board and then later on moved to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the highlights of Sanchez's career has been meeting and working closely with different Hispanic leaders, such as civil rights icon Dolores Huerta and members of the Latino Legislative Caucus.
"I actually have these moments of walking into the room and having to pinch myself that I get to partner with such inspirational leaders that are so focused on Latino communities across our state. It's really an honor and a privilege and I can't wait to see what's next," Sanchez said.
While Sanchez is proud of recent legislation that has passed, she is fully aware of the work that needs to continue to get done to help the next generations.
"Honestly what keeps me up at night is how much more we have to continue doing to protect Californians," Sanchez said.