Chris Sturken applied to the Green Foothills Leadership Academy at the recommendation of his cousin, Andrea Savage (class of 2014). “It was right up my alley,” says Chris (class of 2017) who was taking a grassroots organizing course as an Environmental Studies major at San Francisco State. “I was excited and ready to soak up everything like a sponge.”
Keeping a Family Legacy Alive
Coming from a line of public transit workers – his father worked for Caltrain and his grandfather and great grandfather worked for Southern Pacific Railroad – Chris hoped to apply the skills and knowledge he gained from the Leadership Academy to a pop-bike lane project. However, he later learned that by serving in public office he could contribute to the development of public transit beyond bike lanes.
Now, Chris is in his first year serving on the Transportation Advisory Committee for Redwood City and putting his lessons to good use. “I learned that to be an effective advocate, you need to know your audience, tailor the message. Understanding what decision-makers care about and who they listen to was also a really useful tool. It taught me that even if I don’t know a decision-maker, I can find someone who does and go from there.”
As part of the Outreach and Education sub-committee, Chris plans to do just that, by working with the Boys and Girl Club and the Redwood City Bike Coalition to make sure that community members get input in the building of a bikeable route from Vera Avenue to Downtown Redwood City.
While he is aware that many residents travel by car, Chris is committed to increasing the use of public transportation and decreasing pedestrian and bike injuries and deaths.
Creating a New Legacy for Equity, Inclusion, and the Environment
At the center of Chris’ involvement in the Advisory Committee is the knowledge that public transit reform is vital in the response to climate change. “I understand that transportation is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions at the city level.”
Chris has remained active in environmental initiatives, working for Green Foothills in 2018-2019 in support of the Protect Coyote Valley campaign and the Leadership Academy program. In 2019, he joined both the Green Foothills’ Advisory Board and the Leadership Academy Advisory Committee.
In addition to these endeavors, Chris is a commissioner for the San Mateo County LGBTQ Commission. In this role, he has been advocating for the designation of all-gender restrooms in businesses and local agencies, and for the passage of a resolution requiring service providers throughout the county to gather Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression (SOGI) Data for residents. Chris cites the resolution as one of the legacies he wants to leave behind. The lack of county SOGI Data keeps officials and service providers blind to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. “By collecting SOGI data, we can find out how to appropriately and equitably allocate resources to meet the needs of [the community].”
To this day, Chris works with a wide range of organizations, championing social justice and green policies. He credits the Leadership Academy with helping build up his confidence as a leader. “It equipped me with the tools I needed to become an effective leader. Before the Leadership Academy, I was very hesitant to take charge.”
Chris is no longer hesitant to step in where he can contribute. He hopes to one day run for City Council to ensure that the LGBTQ+ community continues to be represented there, following the example of current councilmember and fellow Leadership Academy alum Michael Smith (class of 2019). “I also want to inspire members of my community to keep running for office.”