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, as a mature advocate, 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 building codes that “reach beyond” the California Energy Codes, or Reach Codes, to help lower the carbon footprint of the city. The advocacy skills she learned through the Community Advocates Leadership Academy in 2017 – including speaking to elected officials, creating coalitions, mentoring others to advocate – have been instrumental in Cheryl’s success so far. The City Council passed the Reach Codes in November, and the California Energy Commission approved them on January 24, 2021.
But one of the most important CALA-related assets she brought to this endeavor was her connection with fellow 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 CALA, 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 CALA guest speakers including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and his infamous 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.”