San Fernando City Councilwoman Cindy Montanez with her mother Magarita Montanez, always at her side, at a recent community gathering in Mission Hills to honor her. A scholarship effort has also begun to honor Magarita who is also highly respected. (SFVS Staff)

City Councilwoman Cindy Montañez was moved when the motion was made to name the pocket park located on 801 Eighth St. in her honor.

It’s a park that she knows well, explained Councilman Joel Fajardo who made the motion.

“This park has a beautiful history – even before she was elected [to the San Fernando Council], she spearheaded it. Although a lot of people had forgotten about it, she made sure to beautify it and appreciate the park,” said Fajardo. The park, he said, hasn’t had a name. “People have referred to it as where the horses used to be or the park next to the school … and it will be more [of a place of] pride to the community to have it named after a local heroine.”

Fajardo cited the inspiration that Montañez brings, especially to a younger generation.

“Montañez was only 28 years old when elected to the State Assembly,” said Fajardo. “That is so extraordinary and such a gargantuan feat to be the youngest member on the California House of Representatives – a body that handles one of the largest economies – is so extraordinary and her record [of service] is there to inspire people and have them realize their dreams. To visit the park bearing her name can be inspirational,” he said.

Fajardo also noted that Montañez would probably like to have another young woman, perhaps from the City of San Fernando where she grew up, break her record one day.

Montañez, although still working as the CEO of TreePeople and as a San Fernando councilwoman, has been fighting an aggressive cancer. 

“She has put the City of San Fernando on the map and what she has done for our community and beautified it,” said Councilwoman Mary Solorio.

Mayor Celeste Rodriguez recalled a day when Montañez was so happy to see that one of the park improvements – the water capture project placed at the park – was working. “It was raining and you were so excited when you saw that it was working. I think this is a full circle moment. You showed the entire state what San Fernando can do. This is a very early thank you for what you’ve done.”

Recently, a large group of community members gathered at the Mission Hills home of renowned artist Lalo Garcia to honor her. Even the extreme outdoor temperatures didn’t deter the many who came to share their appreciation to Montañez.

Former and current legislators spoke about her lifelong commitment for public service and social justice to give parity to disadvantaged communities. Her long list of accomplishments was well noted.

She made history as the youngest woman ever elected to the California State Legislature, as well as becoming the first Latina and the first Democratic woman to chair the Assembly Rules Committee. With a passion for Mother Earth and community, being a champion for environmental and social justice, she served as a state and city of Los Angeles commissioner and assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Montañez also served as a board member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and a legislator-in-residence at the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. And perhaps most notably, currently holding the position of CEO of Tree People where she has been highly praised for expanding its reach.

But any formal reference to her lengthy accomplishments meant less to her as compared to the personal stories and longtime residents who one by one stood in line under a hot sun to give her a long hug and express their gratitude.

A UCLA professor recounted how Montañez, when she was his student so many years ago, demonstrated her commitment to a cause. He shared that she was always showing up late for his class but later learned that she was part of a hunger strike on campus.

“When my family visits me, they always comment about all of our trees that are here, that’s because of you,” said one woman.

“It means a lot when community members come up to you and say thank you for what you’ve accomplished,” said Montañez.

“She’s respected for her environmental work and conservation efforts by countless supporters,” echoed former Mayor Sylvia Ballin. “Because of her, the City of San Fernando has received over 1,000 trees and is going to even receive more.”

The council voted unanimously to proceed in the process to name the park in her honor. It will require discussion with the city of LA and the Mountain Conservatory as part of the park sits outside of San Fernando.

Fajardo added Montañez’s request to the motion to plant milkweed so the park can be a haven for Monarch butterflies.

Montañez sitting in a wheelchair, responded – speaking slowly attempting to clearly form her words – her voice at one moment cracking with emotion.

“It’s so special to me and to have something named after me. I remember so many times when we were out there planting trees or getting rid of invasive species. What we have in San Fernando is very forward thinking. I just want to say – what I do, I do from my heart. In naming something after me, it really touched my heart and I thank each and every single one of you.

“When you see a Monarca, I hope you’ll think of me,” Montañez said.