In early August, City of San Fernando Councilmember Cindy Montañez was honored at the Mission Hills home of renowned artist Lalo Garcia. And in the California State Assembly on Aug. 28, Assemblymember Luz Rivas designated Jan. 19, the councilmember’s birthday, as Cindy Montañez Day.
The councilmember is a known champion of environmental and social justice — supporting numerous health care, environmental, consumer and worker protection policies — and has been lauded for breaking several glass ceilings.
And now, more than a month after the San Fernando City Council first put forth the motion, the Pacoima Wash Natural Park has been renamed to the Cindy Montañez Natural Park. It was one of the latest events honoring the council member, who is battling an aggressive cancer, for her many achievements and contributions to the San Fernando Valley.
Friends, family, colleagues and Los Angeles officials, including Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, gathered at the park Sept. 9 at 801 Eighth St. in San Fernando for the dedication and the clean-up event. Aside from the park being renamed, the event included the planting of a coast live oak tree and more than 60 milkweed plants to support the monarch butterfly population — which has been recently increasing after being on the edge of extinction — and a special ceremonial blessing by the Aztec dance group Xipe Totec.
San Fernando Mayor Celeste Rodriguez said Montañez was dedicated to developing the park when she first came into the City Council more than two decades ago.
“This park is exemplary of all the work that she has done over years of public service,” Rodriguez said. “I could think of no better way to celebrate the renaming of this park in her honor than coming together to beautify it.”
San Fernando Councilmember Joel Fajardo was next to speak, saying the park owes its existence to Montañez. He said that although most San Fernando residents likely refer to the area as “where the horses used to roam” or “the park next to the school,” the park has always been Cindy Montañez Natural Park in all but name.
He said that stories of Montañez’s achievements will motivate others far and wide, encouraging them to pursue political office and environmental activism.
“Today, Cindy, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to you for your unwavering commitment to the community and the enduring inspiration that will shape generations to come,” Fajardo said. “We’re blessed to call you a friend and to witness the everlasting impact you’ve made on so many lives.”
Montañez’s history of activism began at a young age. When she was a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Montañez participated in a 14-day hunger strike on campus that would lead to the creation of the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies. She is currently a board member of the UCLA Institute on the Environment and Sustainability.
“Cindy Montañez’s legacy transcends boundaries, resonating with the progress she has ignited and the thousands of empowered Latinas she has inspired,” read a statement by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute, the Department of Chicana/o and Central American Studies and Latina Futures, 2050 Lab.
“As a courageous female role model, her journey is a testament to the indomitable spirit of a true advocate and changemaker.”
Professor Raul Hinjosa-Ojeda, founding director of the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center, said, “I first met Cindy during the hunger strike, becoming one of my star students and then community allies, always innovating on the forefront for climate justice. My dearest Cindy, know that we will carry your butterflies to millions of places and ask, ‘What would Cindy Montañez do?’ Know this, inspirational compañera en lucha, estamos presentes contigo y siempre!”
At 25 years old, Montañez became the youngest person to be elected councilmember for the City of San Fernando. She made history once more at 28 years old when she became the youngest Latina elected to the California State Legislature as the assemblywoman for the 39th district, and again at 30 when she was the youngest female Democrat and first Latina to chair the Assembly Rules Committee.
She served as the assistant general manager for the LA Department of Water and Power and is currently the CEO of TreePeople, a local nonprofit that aims to protect the environment.
Montañez was further honored for her work by officials from the LA Unified Board of Education during a commemoration of Latino Heritage Month on Tuesday, Sept. 12, for motivating others in the community, especially Latinas, to follow her lead.
“Ms. Montañez embodies many of the qualities we seek to teach our students, including dedication, hard work, a strong moral compass and a commitment to the community and improving the lives of others,” said Board Member Kelly Gonez. “It’s incredibly meaningful to recognize such a trailblazing Latina leader as part of our school district’s celebration of Latino Heritage Month. Ms. Montañez is an inspiration to the students of LA Unified and the leaders who have followed in her footsteps.”
At the park renaming ceremony — with dozens of milkweed plants waiting to be planted — Montañez sat in her wheelchair, speaking slowly as she thanked her hometown for the dedication and the kind words of her colleagues.
“This is so emotional,” Montañez said. “I’m really grateful for the thousands and thousands of volunteers we have had to build a more resilient [and] a more just society. I am grateful and thankful to each and every single one of you. We have a lot more to do, and we’re going to do as much as we can.
“I invite everybody to join the effort of trying to get more trees planted because it’s only going to get hotter, and trees protect people from extreme heat.”
More events are being planned in the near future that will honor Montañez for her many contributions and achievements.