Leadership Counsel fundamentally shifts the dynamics that have created the stark inequality that impacts California’s low income, rural regions. Based in the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella Valleys, we work alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income, and place.
Through community organizing, research, legal representation, and policy advocacy, we impact land use and transportation planning, shift public investment priorities, guide environmental policy, and promote the provision of basic infrastructure and services.
Support community strength and co-powerment.
We pursue the development of healthy and sustainable communities by supporting residents to take ownership of their advocacy ability and by leveraging the strength of other organizations to build strong, lasting, and mutually supportive organizations.
Increase access to decision-making.
We ensure the inclusion of and respect for historically excluded communities and co-power our allies to engage in decision making processes.
Respect, elevate, and protect the interests of historically excluded communities.
We raise awareness of needs and opportunities for investment in and protection of historically neglected communities and to ensure inclusion of rural, low income communities in key discussions, policies, and programs.
Meet Our Team
Directing AttorneyAshley hails from San Anselmo, California. She received her J.D. from Boston College Law School and a B.A. in Economics and Religion from Swarthmore College. During and after law school, Ashley worked in Peru on matters related to human rights law litigation, women’s rights, and rural development. Prior to joining LCJA, Ashley worked as a staff attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.’s Community Equity Initiative, where she worked to secure improved investment and equitable land use and planning practices in disadvantaged communities in the Central Valley. At Leadership Counsel, Ashley works to keep decision-makers accountable through her advocacy to ensure access to basic services and infrastructure, affordable housing, and a healthy and safe living environment for all residents.Regional Policy ManagerBlanca is a Regional Policy Manager for Kern and Tulare Counties. Being from a small town in Tulare County, is familiar with the many strengths and issues in the San Joaquin Valley. She graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in Environmental Policy, Analysis and Planning and with a B.A. in International Relations. Blanca has an extensive environmental justice background focused on sustainable agriculture and food systems.Policy AdvocateEmma is a Policy Advocate based in the Kern office. With a BA major in Sociology and minor in Spanish from UC Merced, as well as a Master of Public Policy from California Polytechnic State University, her background is in social justice programming, public and behavioral health, with a focus on environmental substance abuse prevention in Kern County. At Leadership Counsel, Emma works alongside communities throughout Kern and Tulare Counties to advocate for equity in public participation, community mobilization, and community planning.Regional Policy ManagerGrecia Elenes is a Regional Policy Manager in Fresno County. Having grown up near Fresno City's downtown in Southeast Fresno, she is privileged to work in the same neighborhoods that she grew up in. Grecia received her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and Masters in Executive Urban Planning from the University of Southern California. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Grecia worked at the State Water Project for the California Department of Water Resources at the California State Water Project.Policy AdvocateIvanka is a Policy Advocate, based out of the Fresno office. She grew up in beautiful Northern California, and after finishing her undergraduate studies in the Bay Area, she settled down with her family in Fresno. With an bachelor's degree in Spanish and Government from St. Mary's College of California, and an extensive history of community organizing and policy advocacy around health equity, Ivanka continues to work on holistic approaches to health and racial equity focusing on the City of Fresno.Policy CoordinatorJ is a Policy Coordinator, based out of the Sacramento office. They work with state-level allies and partners on policy advocacy to ensure participatory and equitable policies and processes for California's most vulnerable communities. J received a B.A. in Anthropology from Haverford College and a Master's in International Agricultural Development from UC Davis, with a focus on gender and social equity in participatory water management. They were born in Athens, Greece and have worked in various regions of the U.S. and internationally on environmental and food justice through community engagement, advocacy, and research.Staff AttorneyJamie Katz is a Staff Attorney in our Fresno office. They received a BA from Kenyon College in literature with a minor in philosophy, and received a JD from UC Davis. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Jamie was a staff attorney at a legal aid organization, representing clients on a number of issues. They also have experience in community organizing on environmental justice issues in New Orleans and are particularly interested in food justice and sustainable agriculture.Communications ManagerJill Hindenach is a communications manager based in Fresno. She is from Michigan and attended Albion College with a major in English with a creative writing emphasis and journalism minor. Jill has robust experience in developing creative content for nonprofits, working on issues such as women’s rights, conservation, and scientific education. She brings a passion for advocacy on social and environmental justice issues through a lens of strategic communications on social and earned media, relationship building, and other campaigns.Policy Coordinator - HousingJovana is a Policy Coordinator - Housing based out of the Fresno office. She works with communities throughout the SJV and ECV on a variety of housing issues such as access to affordable housing, siting, and fair housing practices. Jovana graduated from CSU Long Beach, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in English Literature. She also has a master's degree from Claremont Graduate University in Public Policy. Jovana has experience working with immigrant communities on issues such as equal access to opportunity and is solutions-driven.Policy AdvocateKarla, originally from Southern California is a Policy Advocate based in Fresno. She graduated from UCLA with a major in Political Science and minor in Public Affairs. She has experience in research and policy analysis on issues affecting undocumented youth, the economy and people of color, and voting rights. At Leadership Counsel, Karla works alongside communities in the City of Fresno to advance community needs and priorities, such as access to transportation, affordable housing, green space, and other basic services and infrastructure.Director of OperationsKaylon Hammond is the Director of Operations. She attended Southwestern University, receiving a B.A. with a double-major in mathematics and religion. She went on to complete a master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School, before earning her J.D. at Emory University. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Kaylon’s efforts focused on homeless advocacy and housing rights. Her work at Leadership Counsel involves overseeing internal operations, and coordinating community outreach efforts, in order to ensure equity in existing communities in the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella Valleys.Community Engagement SpecialistLeslie Martinez, a former Policy Advocate with Leadership Counsel, is now a Community Engagement Specialist based in the Fresno office. From a small town in Tulare County, she is familiar with the issues facing rural SJV communities. Leslie graduated from UC Berkeley, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Public Policy. She leads community organizing throughout our service region, and her state advocacy portfolio centers around community engagement and transparency.Communications ManagerLesly Figueroa is a communications manager based in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Lesly is passionate about climate resilience and equitable transportation options, having seen the effects first hand as she grew up in the City of Coachella. She graduated from the University of California, San Diego, where she was student body president, with a bachelor's in Urban Studies and Planning. Lesly has long advocated for environmental justice communities, energy efficiency, and transportation justice, and is passionate about spreading the word about these important issues.Policy AdvocateLeticia is a policy advocate based in the Fresno office. From Modesto, she received a BA in English and Political Science from California State University, Stanislaus, and a JD from UC Davis. She has robust experience in immigration rights, working alongside clients from Harlingen, Texas to Davis, California. At Leadership Counsel, Leticia leads community organizing and policy advocacy throughout Madera County, working on such issues as access to affordable housing, access to safe routes to school, and groundwater levels.Regional Policy ManagerMadeline is a Regional Policy Manager for Madera and Merced Counties. She received her BA in Spanish and Sociology, with a minor in Latin American Studies, from Whitworth University. Her previous experience includes outreach and litigation support surrounding farmworker rights in the Southeastern United States. Before joining Leadership Counsel, Madeline spent the past several years working in the Southeast, supporting farmworkers in their fight to improve working conditions in the fields.Policy AdvocateMariana is a Policy Advocate in Fresno County. From a small town in Fresno County, she is familiar with rural communities in the San Joaquin Valley. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and Spanish, and has an MA from the University of San Francisco in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Mariana has experience in elevating community priorities and holding electeds accountable to their constituents, especially to disadvantaged communities.Policy AdvocateMariela is a Policy Advocate based in the ECV office. With a BS in Sustainability Studies from UC Riverside, as well as a Masters of Public Policy from UC Riverside, her background in environmental justice includes policy and research, youth engagement, and water justice. At Leadership Counsel, Mariela works alongside communities in the ECV to advocate for equity in public health and justice.Directing AttorneyBorn in Chico but raised in Boise, Idaho, Mike is a senior attorney based in the Sacramento office. He attended Boise State University, where he received a B.A. in philosophy, and the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, where he received a J.D. with great distinction. Before joining the LCJA team, Mike worked at a private law firm in Fresno where he practiced insurance coverage litigation. He works to find solutions to water issues affecting California’s most vulnerable communities, along with the myriad of environmental justice issues plaguing low-income communities of color in California.Policy Coordinator - Water ProgramsNataly is a Policy Coordinator - Water Programs based in the Fresno office. She was born in Mexicali and raised in Oxnard, CA. She has a BA from University of California, Santa Cruz, in Latin American and Latina/o Studies, as well as an MA in Anthropology fromCalifornia State University - Los Angeles. She is currently studying Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, expecting to receive her Ph.D. in 2022. She is particularly interested in how issues of water injustice, water rights, and water governance impact people of color, low-income people, and farmworker communities in California.Office ManagerOlivia Faz is Leadership Counsel's office manager. Olivia grew up in the small agricultural town of King City located in Monterey County, California. She has received both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University, Fresno, and an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies from Fresno City College. She previously worked as a Legal Secretary/Administrative Assistant with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.'s Community Equity Initiative. Olivia has over 25 years of experience working in legal and office administration in both the private and government sectors.Civic Engagement CoordinatorOlivia, originally from the Bay Area, is the Civic Engagement Coordinator. She received her BA in Global Environmental Change & Sustainability and International Studies from Johns Hopkins University and went on to receive an MA in International Policy from Stanford University. At Leadership Counsel, Olivia leads civic engagement efforts, ensuring decision-makers are held accountable to their constituents and advancing policies on matters such as access to basic services and infrastructure such as transportation and homes far from industrial siting, climate resiliency, and generally a healthy and safe living environment for all.Policy AdvocateOmar, originally from the Eastern Coachella Valley, is a Policy Advocate based in the ECV. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Legal Studies. He has experience in policy analysis and advocacy on issues affecting undocumented youth and tenant rights. At Leadership Counsel, Omar works alongside communities in the ECV to advance community needs and priorities, such as access to transportation, affordable housing, green space, and other basic services and infrastructure.Senior Administrative AssociatePaola Perez Curiel is the Senior Administrative Associate based in the Fresno office. Paola was born in Mexico and raised in Fresno. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a minor in Spanish from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Paola finished her studies abroad in Spain. Due to her immigrant background, Paola has devoted her time to working with low-income, system-impacted communities of color, and hopes to continue this work in the future.Co-Founder and Co-Director and Legal DirectorPhoebe, a native Californian, attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her B.A. She then spent time in Guatemala, working to address human rights violations, and went on to complete her J.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles. Phoebe joined CRLA, Inc. following law school and worked at the organization’s Delano office prior to launching the Community Equity Initiative, a program designed to address critical infrastructure and service deficits in low income, unincorporated communities in California. In 2013, Phoebe co-founded Leadership Counsel with Veronica Garibay. Phoebe is based in Sacramento and leads Leadership Counsel’s state-level policy work.Regional Policy ManagerRebecca Zaragoza is a Regional Policy Manager with Leadership Counsel based in the East Coachella Valley. Growing up in the ECV, Rebecca is well aware of the barriers that the community faces every day in accessing basic amenities like education, employment, healthy foods, and health care. Rebecca graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a BA in Spanish and Global Studies. She has been advocating for healthier communities for years through many avenues including a fellowship with the SEIU UCLA Dream Summer Program, volunteering with MEDLife, and interning with her university to ensure students are able to reach their potential.Policy Coordinator - Climate ProgramsShayda Azamian is a Policy Coordinator - Climate Programs, based in our Fresno office. She is from Los Angeles and Alameda Counties, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies. Shayda has an extensive background in public policy, labor research, international relations, and community engagement. Her efforts at Leadership Counsel focus on coordinating community needs and priorities related to climate resilience and air quality with local, regional, and state policy advocacy.Policy AdvocateSheng is a Policy Advocate for Merced County, where she has had a long history of advocating on social justice issues faced by youth throughout the county. She will also be expanding her work to Fresno County. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a major in Geography. She has spent her career working with residents in disinvested and low-income communities, partner organizations, and other stakeholders in Merced and beyond, by community organizing and holding elected officials accountable to their constituencies.Co-Founder and Co-DirectorVeronica Garibay immigrated from Michoacan, Mexico, at a young age with her family. She grew up in the small farmworker city of Parlier in Fresno County. As a first-generation college student, Veronica attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in both Psychology, and Law and Society. Upon graduation, Veronica joined the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.’s Community Equity Initiative as the program’s first Community Worker. Veronica earned a Master of Public Administration from Fresno State. As co-founder and co-director of Leadership Counsel, Veronica leads the team in advocating for sound policy to ensure equal access to opportunity for all Californians.