By Maria Luisa Torres
San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
A remarkable middle schooler from the San Fernando Valley has accomplished an impressive feat: playing an instrumental role in designating a state bat for California – the Pallid – which became official when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 732 into law this past weekend.
Naomi d’Alessio, a seventh grader at Holmes Middle School in Northridge, was a driving force behind the bill due to her persistence and wealth of knowledge about bats, according to her father, Matthew d’Alessio. He said it’s been awe-inspiring to watch her in action and witness everything unfold, from Naomi’s decision to make the legislation a reality to watching her on the floor of the California State Legislature addressing lawmakers in Sacramento earlier this year.
Naomi first became interested in bats when her older brother brought home a pamphlet from school all about those tiny nocturnal creatures typically associated with vampires and Halloween.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning about bats and everything they do for a very long time,” said Naomi, 13. That school booklet sparked her initial fascination, which has grown exponentially over the years and up to the present. “Ever since then, bats have been my favorite animal.”
One of Naomi’s favorite facts about bats? They live astonishingly long lives for such small animals, averaging up to 16 years in the wild – and sometimes even 30 years or longer.
Naomi’s enduring interest in bats became more hands-on in 2022, when she attended the first of two bat conservation camps alongside college students in the Sierra Nevadas presented by San Francisco State University. Through the camp, Naomi’s fellow bat enthusiasts told her about a failed bill from a few years earlier to name an official bat for the state of California.
“That was one of the things they mentioned at the camp, that it would be so cool if it finally actually happened,” she explained. The knowledge inspired Naomi to make the decision to get actively involved and help revive the dormant legislation with the help of her parents, she said.
“She’s been so patient and so determined to really see this whole process through – I’m not sure where that comes from,” d’Alessio told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol with a laugh about his daughter’s propensity for patience. But regarding Naomi’s unflappable focus?
“We get over-involved in lots of things in our family,” he said about himself, his wife, Loraine Lundquist, and all three of their children – including their son Jonah, who is in high school, and a younger daughter who is in first grade.
“We never, never do things halfway, so she has definitely seen that from us, which has its pluses and its minuses – and obviously one of the pluses is that Naomi does amazing things,” he said.
“It’s been amazing to watch Naomi organize support, meet with legislators and even testify in Sacramento,” echoed Lundquist. “Her passion for bats has inspired [our] whole family.”
The Legislative Journey
Naomi and her parents began by reaching out to California State Sen. Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) last year about relaunching the effort to designate the Pallid as the state bat. They met with Menjivar at her San Fernando Valley office and the plan was soon underway.
“When Naomi approached me, I wasn’t surprised by her passion and tenacity because I knew she had devoted significant time and resources to the subject,” recalled Menjivar. “The fact that this is a bill brought to me by a youth constituent will make the … victory so much sweeter.”
When Menjivar introduced SB 732 in February of this year, it was the culmination of a six-year effort that began with the introduction of the original bill by ecologist Dr. Dave Johnston, and ended with Naomi – who was 12 years old when she helped co-author the legislation.
The California Senate passed the bill in May, followed by the State Assembly in August, and on Oct. 8, Newsom officially announced he had signed the legislation. As part of the legislative process, Naomi – with the aid of her family – sent out scores of emails, and eventually met with more than a dozen legislators and their staff members over several months.
“The entire family helped out,” recalled d’Alessio, who described it as “quite a family affair.”
d’Alessio said he and his wife took turns traveling to the state capital with Naomi for the committee hearings. He vividly recalls watching Naomi stand up to speak, full of confidence.
“She introduced herself and she was fully poised, unfazed by [everything],” he said. “I don’t know where that poise comes from, but it was very impressive. She was just 12 at the time.”
“Testifying in committee hearings, Naomi was poised, eloquent and determined,” confirmed Menjivar. “Her strong testimony is what swayed some of my colleagues in voting ‘Aye.’”
Lundquist said she believes that Naomi’s unwavering dedication “is probably a big reason the bill gained so much traction.”
“And I’ve learned so much about how critical bats are to our economy and to our comfort as people.”
The Pallid bat had been proposed as the state bat on the original legislation, and after learning more about it, the Pallid became one of Naomi’s favorite species and she decided it was the right choice for California.
The reasons are plentiful, according to Naomi, who described Pallid bats “as diverse as Californians” because they live in many different habitats, from the deserts to the mountains; they speak different “languages” (using different sound patterns) in different parts of the state; they have golden fur like the “Golden State” of California; and they enjoy diverse “cuisine.”
Naomi has even seen a Pallid bat up close – in her very own hands. During the bat conservation camps, they set up nets to catch bats, and they caught and released several different species.
“We even caught a Pallid bat, which was really cool,” she said.
Looking ahead, Naomi said she hopes that the passage of SB 732 “will be a good way to lay the groundwork for potential protections for all [species of] bats in the future.”
“One of the main reasons that I wanted this to become a law is because it will inspire people to learn more about bats,” she explained. “Learning more will make them less afraid of bats and more willing to embrace them and all the good work that they do for the environment.”