Cheryl Weiden has been spending a lot of time working with young environmentalists lately and it’s easy to imagine her fitting right in, despite the fact that she’s been around a bit longer than most of her young colleagues. “I love working with young people,” she says. “They give me credibility.” This humility belies Cheryl’s work with 350 Silicon Valley, Mothers Out Front, Sierra Club, GreenTown Los Altos, and Los Altos Youth Climate Action Team, where she has established herself as a strong partner for environmental advocacy. In her hometown of Los Altos for instance, she sponsored and promoted with GreenTown a program called “Carbon Bootcamp” to teach residents how to make individual changes to reduce their carbon footprints.
A self-described “worker bee,” Cheryl has a vision for getting across the climate protection finish line through small but mighty local actions. In 2019-2020 she worked to coordinate volunteers to advocate for the Los Altos City Council to pass reach codes – building codes that “reach beyond” the California Energy Codes – to help lower the carbon footprint of the city. The advocacy skills she learned through the Green Foothills Leadership Program in 2017 have been instrumental to Cheryl’s success, especially in speaking to elected officials, creating coalitions, and mentoring others to advocate for the environment. The City Council passed the Reach Codes in November, and the California Energy Commission approved them on January 24, 2021.
One of the most important Leadership Program-related assets she brought to this endeavor was her connection with her fellow Leadership Program cohort member, Uriel Hernandez. “I was advised by a city Mountain View City Council member to have a resident of East Palo Alto speak to the Los Altos City Council as a representative of a community that would be directly impacted by sea level rise. I knew Uriel was an EPA resident, and I called him. For him it was a call out of the blue, but he agreed without hesitation. I was so impressed by his eloquent and on-target comments to Council. He was perfect!” She notes that without the Leadership Program, she would never have had the chance to connect with the young arborist from East Palo Alto. As a member of that city’s Planning Commission, Uriel was exploring strong, progressive reach codes for local climate action as well. Together, they shared information and strategies to strengthen their work. East Palo Alto passed Reach Codes in October 2020.
Cheryl also credits the lessons learned from Leadership Program guest speakers including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and his celebrated talk, 13 Tips for Successful Advocacy. “I’ve referred to the handout he gave us about working with public officials so many times and I’ve used it to mentor young advocates,” she recalls. East Palo Alto Vice Mayor Carlos Romero, who shared his experiences of learning to work effectively with developers with large Legos, made her realize the need to consider the different perspectives of various stakeholders. “In Los Altos,” she points out, “developers are often not highly regarded by residents. But if we don’t have housing, where are people going to live? We have to work together while staying true to environmental values.”
May 2023 update: We checked back in with Cheryl, who’s become even more involved in climate advocacy over the past few years. She reports, “After working on the Los Altos Reach Codes, I joined the board of 350 Silicon Valley and was working with their legislative team. In 2022 we became a local group of 350 Bay Area and redirected our focus to local action. 350 Silicon Valley now has a steering committee rather than a board and I’m on that. We’ve formed coalitions with other groups, especially the Climate Action Leadership Team (CALT), which I’m on. We work throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties to advocate for strong climate action at the city and county level. The idea is for local environmental organizations to work together and present a strong and unified voice to elected officials. This results in strong Climate Action Plans and Reach Codes.”
One thing Cheryl is especially proud of is her success over the past few years in recruiting other strong and passionate people who, like her, have now become leaders in the local climate movement. She also was instrumental in helping 350 Silicon Valley to win a $20,000 grant from Peninsula Clean Energy. The grant has allowed their group to do outreach and education in San Mateo County about the hows and whys of building electrification, which is a key climate action.
“I still treasure the experience of the Green Foothills Leadership Program,” she says. “It opened my eyes to looking at a situation from another perspective and taught me how to build coalitions. I also always keep in mind Joe Simitian’s 13 tips!”