CORRECTION: This story has been updated to indicate that ex-San Fernando councilwoman Cindy Montañez died at the age of 49. An earlier version of this article from City News Service reported that Montañez died at the age of 50.
SAN FERNANDO, Calif. (CNS) — Cindy Montañez, the trailblazing San Fernando politician and environmental advocate who had a local elementary school named in her honor Tuesday, died Saturday at the age of 49, city officials announced.
"It is with inconsolable grief and deep sadness that we announce the passing of Councilmember Cindy Montañez, current CEO of TreePeople, and former California State Assembly Member," San Fernando officials wrote.
" ... Cindy will be remembered as a fierce advocate and a champion for environmental justice across California. To her family Cindy will always remain a loving daughter, sister, aunt and great aunt, and will be missed dearly.
"The family requests that their privacy be respected during this difficult time. Details regarding the memorial service and funeral will be shared as they are made available," the statement continued.
The cause of death was not provided, but Montañez was recently diagnosed with aggressive terminal cancer.
Montañez was the youngest person ever elected to the San Fernando City Council in 1999 at age 25, and the youngest woman elected to the California state Legislature at age 28 in 2002. Two years later she chaired the powerful Assembly Rules Committee, becoming the youngest person, first Latina and first Democratic woman to hold that post.
She was tapped as CEO of TreePeople in 2016. The educational and environmental advocacy organization works to support sustainable urban ecosystems in the greater Los Angeles area.
"I'm deeply saddened by the passing of Assemblywoman Montañez. The Assemblywoman was a relentless trailblazer who led with conviction and a vision of a better Los Angeles for all," Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
"I saw her tenacity up close many times. She was by my side when we fought together in Sacramento, making difficult decisions to help our state and she advised me when I served in Congress on a range of issues impacting our city. Throughout it all, one thing was always clear -- Assemblywoman Montañez's heart and soul were always dedicated to the people of Los Angeles," Bass continued.
"It was an honor just last month to recognize her with members of the City Council. I join so many Angelenos in holding memories of the Assemblywoman close. My thoughts are with her friends and family as we mourn the loss of a great Angeleno."
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School Board voted unanimously to rename Gridley Street Elementary School in San Fernando to Gridley-Montañez Dual Language Academy.
"I think it's incredibly inspiring both that the school community came together around this potential change, and wanted to retain its connection to Gridley," LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. "And the students spoke to seeing themselves in Cindy's story, and were inspired by all of the amazing achievements that she had in her young life."
In August, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously renamed Pacoima Wash Natural Park to Cindy Montañez Natural Park.
The Los Angeles County Democratic Party released a statement mourning Montañez, calling her a "trailblazer" who "shattered multiple glass ceilings."
"Her enduring legacy of advocating for environmental justice, climate change and housing will resonate for generations to come," the statement said. "Our hearts go out to her family, and may her influence persist with strength and purpose."
Montañez also served as assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She resigned from that position in July 2014 to run for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, but lost to Nury Martinez.
Adán Ortega Jr., chair of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said Montañez "lived up to her name as a person who climbed mountains and helped others to as well. In our last conversation at her bedside, we talked about her love for nature and hiking, as well about tackling trails of public policy.
"In 2022 ... we faced dire drought conditions, while supporting turf replacement incentives to conserve water. Cindy as a councilmember in San Fernando, spoke up for the trees," Ortega continued in a statement issued Saturday afternoon. "Since then, we at Metropolitan have been in the process of rolling out a program to protect the tree canopy to prevent heat island effects, as we conserve water by eliminating turf. Watching Cindy never giving up, accepting richly deserved accolades, but also literally issuing assignments to those of us she saw in the last year, we will continue to climb mountains because by the very nature of her actions to propel us, we can never forget her.
"On behalf of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, we are deeply grateful for Cindy Montañez's contributions and will carry her legacy forward. She will be remembered, and her work will continue to guide inspire us all."