Did you know that ActiveSGV was started over a cup of coffee and a small group of community members who wanted to discuss safer streets for walking and biking? From side project (volunteer run) to main hustle (12+ full time staff!), Active SGV has grown immensely over the last 11 years. Find out how one of its original founders, Wes Reutimann, helped create one of the most engaged advocacy organizations in the region!
1. How did you get started working at ActiveSGV (/ in this field)?
When I moved back to southern California after almost a decade of living on the east coast and in Austria/Switzerland, I found myself frustrated by the prospect of spending so much time in a car, stuck in traffic. I had taken a job in Granada Hills and was living in Pasadena, which meant a long daily commute. Even though it was largely against the flow of rush hour traffic, it still added up to about 90 minutes a day. Or 8 hours a week. 40 hours a month. Almost 500 hours a year. As much as I enjoyed listening to public radio, I knew it was bad for my health, the air, and our future. It also wasn't particularly safe. I almost got into a solo collision due to fatigue one day driving home from work. Luckily a plastic bollard came to the rescue! Around the same time I started to get back into bicycling after a knee injury sidelined me from other athletic pursuits. I had largely relied on two feet, public transit, and a bike to get around while living abroad, and was thankful to be able to re-explore the SGV and mountains on two wheels. Yet riding a bike, walking, or using public transportation wasn't particularly easy or comfortable in LA County, so I found myself looking into who was working on these issues. The internet connected me to LACBC, then CICLE (and Pasadena Bike Week), the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and MoveLA. Around this time StreetsblogLA was also launched, which provided another source of good information. I started attending LACBC planning committee meetings with then director Alexis Lantz and Eric Bruins. I found a new position closer to home with Pasadena-based public health non-profit Day One, a job that gave me the opportunity to run into then Monterey Park Environmental Commissioner Vincent Chang at a Monterey Park City Council meeting when he was asking the City's leaders to declare May "Bike Month" in the City. After learning about our shared interest in safer streets for walking and bicycling, Vincent invited a group of SGV residents including former Alhambra Council Member Efren Moreno to have coffee and discuss what could be done. This was the genesis of ActiveSGV. Six years later what had begun as an all-volunteer endeavor became too much to do as a side project -- particularly organizing the first 626 Golden Streets event -- and I transitioned from a volunteer to staff member.
2. What do you like most about ActiveSGV?
I truly value the opportunity to work with so many diverse, creative, and rising San Gabriel Valley leaders. ActiveSGV has long focused on hiring locally, elevating former volunteers/interns, and buildilng capacity within the San Gabriel Valley to advocate for positive change. Our team has deep roots in the valley, with most staff having extended family networks that reside in the SGV as well. This background that reflects the region's rich diversity helps keep us grounded in the region, improves our ability to connect with our neighbors, and supports more nuanced decision-making. As someone who has been with the organization since its inception, it has also been wonderful to see how it has evolved and grown since 2010, too. From a rag-tag, all-volunteer, community coalition to a professional organization with 17 full time staff, it has been quite a ride so far. Other perks I enjoy include:
- Working on local health, mobility, and climate issues
- Opportunity to work on a diversity of projects
- Office E-cargo bike share!
- Flexible work hours -- super helpful when you have young children
-Our office home at the Jeff Seymour Family Center, a green jewel of the SGV!
3. Favorite and/or memorable ActiveSGV experience?
Staging the original, 19 mile, 8 community, 626 Golden Streets ciclovia in March 2017. In addition to being our longest and most amibitious open streets event to date, it was also our first. In hindsight we really were in over our heads, but we simply dug in and chipped away at it until we got to the finish line. The event was literally 3-years in the making. Key steps included getting all the respective City Council's to endorse the concept in 2014; submitting a proposal to Metro for funding; facilitating planning with 16 police and fire agencies across the route; soliciting sponsorships to cover additional costs; postponing the event at the last minute due to wildfires breaking out in Azusa and Duarte a few days before the originally scheduled 6/26/16 event date; securing funding to cover sunk costs and re-stage the event (e.g., all the traffic control equipment had already been staged across the 19 mile event route when the fires broke out); facilitating agreement among all the cities on a make-up date; coordinating with over 500 volunteers and more than 150 vendors, performers, community organizations, and groups; and then encountering heavy rain in the middle of the 6-hour event. Needless to say, it was a lot. But I was so incredibly grateful to see so many families come out and enjoy the event.
4. If a friend from out of town were to visit, which place in the SGV would you take them to and why?
The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino! If they're able to ride a bike, this would be a sample itinerary:
--Meet at the Gold Line Mission Station in South Pasadena or Filmore Station in Pasadena (if they're coming in via transit)
--Bike via Pasadena's "Roseway" network of bicycle-friendly streets to The Huntington. Park right next to the entrance at one of two dozen or so good quality bicycle racks.
--Enjoy a half-day or more exploring the gardens and catching up, as well as taking a peek in the Library's extensive collections.
--Time permitting, take a detour on the way back through some of the many tree-lined residential streets in San Marino, South Pasadena, Pasadena en route to lunch or dinner at a local, family-owned eatery. If an eatery in downtown Pasadena is selected, ride down San Pasqual and through Caltech's verdant campus.
5. What you're listening to/ reading/ watching/ digging right now:
As I'm juggling childcare and remote work with my partner at the moment during COVID-19, my time for reading anything other than children's books is currently limited. However I do try to listen to podcasts while doing chores around the house, including the "California Report" to stay up to date with CA news; "Gimme Shelter" on housing issues in CA; "Radiolab", "This American Life", and "The Daily" for their consistently excellent story-telling; "LA Podcast" on LA City/County politics; "The City" for deep dives on community issues when new episodes become available; and "Drilled" for interviews with people working on climate action.
Want to learn more? Check out ActiveSGV's new podcast, ActiveLab