Blake Alexander Deering is the Senior Contracts Manager focusing on contracts, grants and interagency agreements for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC), Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), and Transformative Climate and Communities (TCC) programs. He is responsible for managing assignments that encompass the planning, development, evaluation, and execution of those contracts. Prior to his appointment with SGC, Blake worked as a Grant Program Specialist in the Outreach and Sales Division’s Navigator Grant Program with the Health Benefit Exchange, also known as Covered California. He served as the liaison between Covered California and regional grantees, who targeted disadvantaged communities to enroll into healthcare. Blake’s performance comprised of grant management, compliance monitoring, outreach and education, and technical assistance. Prior to working for Covered California, Blake was a training instructor for the California Procurement and Contracting Academy (Cal-PCA) with the Department of General Services. Alongside his colleagues, Blake aided in the development and delivery of classroom and web-based learning to state workers who were in a contracting role. Blake was born and raised in Salinas, California and is passionate about fishing, camping, and traveling. Blake earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies from the California State University of Sacramento in 2012.
Coral Abbott aids with the development and administration of the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program. Prior to her current role, Coral served as the Strategic Growth Council’s Executive Fellow, where she assisted with projects and initiatives across the organization, including both the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities and Transformative Climate Communities programs. She previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project where she conducted archival research on Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, in addition to preparing grant proposals and coordinating events that highlighted the work of the Movement. She honed her policy research skills as an intern at the Bill Lane Center for the American West, where she compared the water planning processes of several Western states. Coral received a Bachelor of Science in Earth Systems with a minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity from Stanford University.
Doug serves as Staff Counsel to the Strategic Growth Council where he advises on legal matters. Prior to his appointment with SGC, Doug served as the City of Stockton’s Real Property Manager, where he worked with state, regional, and local governmental and non-governmental entities to develop contracts, grant agreements, program guidelines, and internal policies. This work included preparing and administering a USEPA Brownfields Assessment Coalition award for the City and due diligence responsibilities for the purchase and relocation of City Hall. He previously practiced transactional real estate law and general litigation with one of the oldest law firms in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta region. Doug earned his Juris Doctor from UC Davis School of Law and Bachelors of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Economics and Global Environmental Politics from American University in Washington, D.C.
Jessica (Jessie) Buendia has fourteen years of experience in the foundation, government, and nonprofit sectors advancing progressive public policy and social impact programs.
Currently, Jessie is the Deputy Director of the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC). SGC promotes sustainability, health, and equity across the state by helping California achieve its climate change goals through place based and community driven programming.
Prior to joining SGC, Jessie was the Community Benefits and Social Responsibility Manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. She was responsible for implementing the agency’s landmark community benefits and environmental justice policies across its Water, Power, and Sewer Enterprises, directing its social impact program, and leading its participation in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. She has held positions at the San Francisco Foundation, Health Access Foundation, California State Legislature, City of Newark, Urban Habitat, and the Greenlining Institute. She has also lived and worked in Mexico, France, India, and South Africa.
Jessie has a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Princeton University, an Advanced Project Management Certificate from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from Macalester College. She is also a certified life coach with a focus on building transformational leadership within the social justice sector.
Daniela Simunovic helps lead the Transformative Climate Communities Program. She has over 10 years of experience advocating for policies to achieve social, economic and environmental equity. Prior to joining the Strategic Growth Council, Daniela served as the Deputy Director of Environmental Health and Justice at the Liberty Hill Foundation. While at Liberty Hill she coordinated a coalition of environmental justice organizations that successfully passed the Clean Up Green Up ordinance in the City of Los Angeles, designating three toxic hotspot neighborhoods as “Green Zones.” As a Research Analyst with Estolano Lesar Perez Advisors, Daniela helped develop an implementation roadmap to revitalize a 110-acre Brownfield in the City Huntington Park with green space, quality housing and economic development.
From 2006-2010, she worked for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment developing grassroots leaders in rural, low-income, farm worker communities in the San Joaquin Valley. In 2010, she co-founded Communities for a New California, a non-profit organization promoting increased civic engagement of underrepresented communities. Daniela received her Master in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA, and a B.A. in Sociology from St. Mary’s College of California.
Dr. Dennis Grossman is the Senior Advisor for Environmental Science and Policy at the Strategic Growth Council. He comes to the Strategic Growth Council after providing science and policy leadership in non-profit conservation organizations for the past 25 years. These NGO positions included Senior Scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute, Senior Environmental Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy, Vice President for Science at NatureServe, and Chief Ecologist at The Nature Conservancy.
Dr. Grossman is a recognized authority on biodiversity assessments, conservation planning, and impact evaluation. He has made significant contributions to the classification and mapping of terrestrial, freshwater and coastal/marine ecosystems, and improved the effectiveness of conservation and resource management decision-making through the integration of ecosystem approaches. Dr. Grossman has improved the effectiveness of international sustainable development and conservation efforts using available scientific knowledge with customized decision support systems. He has advanced the environmental assessment capabilities of multi-lateral financial institutions, development agencies and corporations through the application of these approaches, and currently serves as co-chair of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Section of the International Association for Impact Assessment. Dr. Grossman earned his Ph.D. in Plant Ecology from the University of Hawaii through the East-West Center Environment and Policy Center. He completed M.S. and B.S. degrees in Botany at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Colin Gutierrez, MPH, is a Program Associate with the Public Health Institute supporting the California Health in All Policies (HiAP) Task Force at the Strategic Growth Council. He works to promote safe and healthy communities, providing research and project management support to the Task Force’s Action Plan to Promote Violence-Free and Resilient Communities. Colin assists with other facets of the HiAP team by providing administrative support and event coordination. Prior to joining the council, Colin completed an internship on international development in Cameroon and worked as a Compensation Analyst for Jackson National Life. Colin earned both his MPH and BS degree from Michigan State University.
Liz serves as a Senior Planner focusing on Climate Change, Adaptation and Resiliency for the Strategic Growth Council. She currently works on engaging local government and regional agency grantees who have been awarded Proposition 84 Sustainable Communities Planning Grants and Incentives Program funding, coordinating the Council's planning and monitoring program, and convening SGC member organizations on sustainable infrastructure issues. Prior to working for the Council, Liz spent 25 years at the University of California, Davis where she managed the Institute of Transportation Studies & Urban Land Use and Transportation Center, served as an analyst at the Road Ecology Center and the Information Center for the Environment, and directed University Extension's Land Use and Natural Resources program. She has created and coordinated education, outreach, and professional development programs for over 20 years, in the areas of land use, transportation, public finance, fire ecology, road ecology, environmental policy, and Integrated Modeling and Forecasting.
Emily Tibbott joined the Strategic Growth Council in November 2015, to develop and implement strategies focused on the integration of conservation priorities within the context of development planning, with specific attention to the California High Speed Rail system. Prior to her appointment, she directed US policy and funding for The Nature Conservancy’s Asia Pacific Region, developing high level political and programmatic strategies to advance multi-national conservation priorities. In the early 2000’s, Emily pioneered development of the Conservancy’s transportation program at the California and national levels, including the negotiation of millions of dollars in Caltrans’ mitigation funding for conservation. Emily is a proven conservation professional with more than twenty years of experience at the state, national and international levels, with particular expertise in the design and implementation of large-scale programs, policy development, and funding mobilization. She earned an M.S. in Resource Policy and Planning from the University of Michigan, and a B.A. in Religion from Wesleyan University.
Ena leads SGC's California Climate Investments Technical Assistance Program, which helps create a more equitable playing field for under-resourced applicants looking to access the funds to transition to climate-smart communities. In this role, she manages a broad range of capacity building activities for applicants to cap-and-trade grant funded programs, including workshops, trainings, and direct application assistance. Prior to her appointment at the Strategic Growth Council, Ena completed her Master’s degree at UC Davis, where she focused her research on equitable and inclusive policies for investment in under-resourced communities. Ena also has varied experiences working in education and communications for organizations in France, India and the US.
Ena holds a Master of Science in Community Development from UC Davis and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, French, and Environmental Studies from Colby College in Maine
Julia Caplan is a Program Director at the Public Health Institute (PHI) for the California Health in All Policies Task Force, which is a collaborative project between the California Strategic Growth Council and the California Department of Public Health. In this capacity, Ms. Caplan facilitates a multi-agency process that brings together over twenty state agencies, departments, and offices to build collaborative partnerships and incorporate health, equity, and environmental sustainability considerations into decision-making and government operations across policy areas as diverse as transportation, land use, education, agriculture, and social services. Ms. Caplan also provides Health in All Policies workshops for local governments and local health departments and co-authored Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments in 2013. Ms. Caplan has twenty years’ experience in community building, social change, and public policy leadership, and holds masters’ degrees in public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Julia serves as a Senior Program Analyst for the Transformative Climate Communities program, which aims to transform disadvantaged communities statewide while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other sources of pollution. Julia has significant experience as an advocate and policy analyst working on issues related to urban development, housing, smart growth, community engagement and political participation. Prior to her appointment at the Strategic Growth Council, Julia worked in public sector management consulting for Harvey M. Rose Associates in San Francisco. Clients included the cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and the counties of Imperial, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.
Projects consisted of budget and policy analyses and performance audits to assess the cost and efficiency of proposed legislation and programs. Julia also worked on the development of a strategic plan related to a multi-year STEM education initiative while at the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. She has spent over ten years working for non-profits, government agencies, and elected officials in California, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Julia holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from Columbia University.
Kevin serves as a Senior Administrator for the Strategic Growth Council. He assists the Council with various contracting, budgeting and administrative issues. Prior to his appointment at the Strategic Growth Council, Peth worked as an Associate Governmental Program Analyst with the Division of Land Resource Protection at the California Department of Conservation. There he assisted with budgeting, administrative, and reporting items for division programs and division funding sources. In addition, he managed grants and contracts funded by Proposition 84. Before joining the state, Peth worked in the trades, the non-profit sphere, and secondary education.
Peth holds a Masters of Arts in history from San Diego State University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Notre Dame.
Karen Ben-Moshe, MPP, MPH, is a Senior Program Associate at the Public Health Institute. She supports the California Health in All Policies Task Force at the Strategic Growth Council, overseeing work to promote healthy communities by increasing access to healthy food, and preventing violence and building resilience. She has worked at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, La Clinica de La Raza (a federally qualified health clinic), and Children Now on a range of policies and programmatic areas. In addition, Ms. Ben-Moshe worked at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Health Leadership, implementing programs and organizing conferences for students and professionals. She is a co-author of a number of publications on the Health in All Policies approach. Ms. Ben-Moshe received her MPH and MPP from the University of California, Berkley and her BA from Wesleyan University.
Leah Fisher serves as the Senior Research Advisor to the Strategic Growth Council, co-managing implementation of the Climate Change Research Program. In this role, Leah supports grant recipients and advises the solicitation and review process, while also working with State partners to connect SGC’s research investments to other State programs, policies, and research, including the State’s Climate Change Research Plan and California Climate Change Assessments.
Leah has worked to bridge climate change science and policy at both the state and federal level. Leah joined SGC from the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR), where her work focused on climate change policy and research, international partnerships, transportation policy, and land use planning. Prior to joining OPR, Leah worked on sustainable transportation technology with the U.S. Department of Energy, and served as the Climate Change Coordinator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. Leah received a B.S. in Biology from Duke University and M.S. in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston.
Lianne Dillon, MPH, is a Deputy Program Director with the Public Health Institute (PHI) for California’s Health in All Policies Task Force at the Strategic Growth Council. The Task Force envisions a California government that advances health, equity, and sustainability in all policies. To achieve this vision, staff convene over twenty state agencies, departments, and offices to collaborate on policy development and implementation, with a focus on explicit consideration of health, equity, and environmental sustainability. In her role, Lianne also facilitates Health in All Policies workshops and trainings for local governments and local health departments, provides health and equity consultation to non-health sectors, and has co-authored a number of publications on this work including, Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments
Holly Nickel, MPH, is a Racial Equity Program Associate with the Public Health Institute (PHI)’s Health in All Policies (HiAP) team at the Strategic Growth Council. In this role she leads the implementation of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity Capitol Cohort – a racial equity capacity-building program designed to normalize, operationalize, and institutionalize racial equity in California’s state government. Prior to joining PHI, Holly worked at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership assisting communities and organizations across the United States in connecting active transportation and equity. Additionally, at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, she developed and implemented state-level racial equity strategies and worked to increase physical activity and healthy eating opportunities for all Michigan residents.
Ryan serves as the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) Program Manager at the Strategic Growth Council where he focuses on program planning, implementation, and evaluation. Prior to this role, he was an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Climate Action Fellow at the San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District. His work there included coordinating regional climate adaptation efforts, increasing energy efficiency in existing residential building stock through a GHG trading scheme, revising local CEQA enforcement measures, and evaluating smart growth. Ryan continues to contribute research to the Alliance of Regional Collaboratives for Climate Adaptation (ARCCA), particularly with a focus on the connections between urban and rural communities. He received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics, Finance, and Operations & Technology Management with a certificate in Environmental Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Saharnaz is the Manager of the Transformative Climate Communities program, a California Climate Investments program focused on supporting community-driven infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities. She oversees the implementation of the grants across the State and the development of the program guidelines through multi-agency collaboration.
Saharnaz has over ten years of experience working in the public and private sectors on urban revitalization, urban resiliency, and climate action and adaptation projects. Before joining the SGC, she worked for the City of Thousand Oaks Sustainability Division, supporting the development of the City Municipal Sustainability Plan and Community Climate Action Plan. Saharnaz also worked with ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability for more than three years, providing technical assistance to local governments in combating the impact of climate change through local action. As a consultant in the private sector, Saharnaz worked on multiple community revitalization and urban design projects in low-income and disadvantaged communities in Iran.
Saharnaz has a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from University of Colorado Denver, a Master of Urban Design and Planning from Shahid Beheshti University, and a B.A. in Architecture from Iran University of Science and Technology.
Suzanne Hague, AICP, is Senior Advisor for Community Development and Planning at the California Strategic Growth Council, where she provides leadership and cross-sector coordination on policy and implementation innovations that foster equitable, sustainable places where all Californians can thrive.
Suzanne is an urban planner with over two decades of experience in community revitalization, housing and real estate development, land use planning, and architectural design. Suzanne has worked at the federal, state, local, and neighborhood levels.
Before joining SGC, Suzanne served in the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative, leading technical assistance projects in Fresno, CA to facilitate infill development. Suzanne previously served as Deputy Project Manager for the national award winning comprehensive plan for post-Katrina New Orleans. She has also led a successful national coalition supporting federal housing programs, worked as a designer on award-winning urban development projects, and coordinated social services for low-income adults with mental illness.
Suzanne holds a Master of Urban Planning from Harvard University and studied architecture at the Master's level at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. She is certified in affordable housing development and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and the California Planning Roundtable.
Ulisses Arzola currently serves as the Executive Assistant to Louise Bedsworth for the California Strategic Growth Council. Prior to his appointment with SGC, Ulisses served as the Internship Program Coordinator and Constituent Affairs Representative at the Office of Governor Jerry Brown from December 2013 to November 2016. He previously interned at the Governor’s Office Appointments Unit and the California Democratic Party in 2012. Ulisses received a Bachelor of Arts in Government from California State University, Sacramento in 2014.
Michael Wilson is the Senior Graphic and User Interface Designer for the Strategic Growth Council (SGC), where he manages SGC’s website as well as designs visual communication pieces such as fact sheets and information graphics. He also serves as the webmaster and designer for the Office of Planning and Research, where he has worked on projects such as the 2017 website redesign as well as the layout and design for the Planning and Investing for a Resilient California guidebook.
Prior to his appointment with SGC, he was the graphic designer and art director for the California Energy Commission. His work at the Commission includes their 2015 logo redesign as well as the campaign collateral for the SaveOurWaterRebates.com and California Cash for Appliances campaigns.
Michael holds a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), and has mentored students CSUS’s graphic design program through internship programs at both SGC and the Energy Commission.
Doug currently serves as a policy analyst, with a focus on building and running the Climate Change Research Program. He began his career at the SGC as a California Capital Executive Fellow working on numerous programs and initiatives across the organization, including the Transformative Climate Communities Program and a white paper on smart growth urban development policies. Prior to the SGC, he worked at the US Department of Defense, where he conducted data analysis on the US’s nuclear weapons systems. In addition, he has previously interned at Erie Insurance Group, where he analyzed geopolitical risk in the Investments Division, and at MSE Enterprises, an internet-based startup. Doug received a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in International Relations and History from Tufts University.
Alexandra Gallo is the Strategic Growth Council’s California Capitol Executive Fellow, where she assists SGC staff with a variety of program projects. She previously worked as a District Representative for State Senator Bob Wieckowski in the Bay Area, where she provided constituency services including casework, written correspondence, helped manage the Senator’s social media, coordinated events, and represented the Senator at meetings and community events. Alexandra honed her research skills as a Senator Kenneth L. Maddy Institute Legislative Scholar, where interned in Congressman Jim Costa’s Fresno and Washington DC offices. During her undergraduate career, Alexandra served as Coordinator of Touch the Community program, where she supervised eight student teams implement service projects throughout the Central Valley. As a Ronald E. McNair Scholar, she conducted quantitative research on voter identification laws across the country. Alexandra is a first-generation college graduate and earned Bachelor Degrees in Political Science and Communication from California State University, Fresno.
Shelby McMichael serves as the Health in All Policies Executive Fellow, with a focus on Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE) work and healthy transportation. Prior to the SGC, she worked as a Junior Associate at Mercury Public Affairs, where she conducted policy analysis and media audits, and performed strategic communication. Her desire to pursue public service stems from her time as a Development Intern at Active Minds, Inc., a mental health nonprofit, and as the Vice President of Philanthropy of her collegiate sorority. Shelby honed her research skills as a research assistant at the UC Davis Sociology Department, specifically analyzing political party polarity throughout the 1990s. Shelby received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in Sociology from the University of California, Davis.
Elizandra Casillas is the Communications Student Assistant for Strategic Growth Council. She is currently a Communication Studies major at Sacramento State where she is planned to graduate with her bachelors in May 2019.
Elizandra holds an Associate’s degree in Business Administration, Marketing and Social & Behavioral Science from Sierra College.