Leadership Counsel fundamentally shifts the dynamics that have created the stark inequality that impacts California’s low income, rural regions. Based in the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella Valleys, we work alongside the most impacted communities to advocate for sound policy and eradicate injustice to secure equal access to opportunity regardless of wealth, race, income, and place.
Through community organizing, research, legal representation, and policy advocacy, we impact land use and transportation planning, shift public investment priorities, guide environmental policy, and promote the provision of basic infrastructure and services.
Support community strength and co-powerment.
We pursue the development of healthy and sustainable communities by supporting residents to take ownership of their advocacy ability and by leveraging the strength of other organizations to build strong, lasting, and mutually supportive organizations.
Increase access to decision-making.
We ensure the inclusion of and respect for historically excluded communities and co-power our allies to engage in decision making processes.
Respect, elevate, and protect the interests of historically excluded communities.
We raise awareness of needs and opportunities for investment in and protection of historically neglected communities and to ensure inclusion of rural, low income communities in key discussions, policies, and programs.
Meet Our Team
Policy AdvocateAbigail Ramirez is a Policy Advocate in the San Joaquin Valley. She is from Salinas, California, born to immigrant parents from Mexico. Abigail graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Political Science and Spanish. She also obtained an M.S. in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice. Her efforts before joining Leadership Counsel include immigration policy advocacy and community organizing abroad. Abigail’s work currently involves community organizing and advocacy on issues of transportation equity and sustainable land use in the northern San Joaquin Valley.Policy AdvocateAmanda works as a Policy Advocate and helps rural communities in Fresno and Tulare Counties organize and fight for their rights to equitable development. She is from Gainesville, Florida, and attended the University of Florida, where she got her B.A. in Political Science and also studied Latin American Studies, Sustainability Studies and Anthropology. She received her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., where she studied human rights, environmental, corporate and trade law. Before working with Leadership Counsel, she was an ally for communities fighting environmental injustices in Latin America with several nonprofits based in D.C. and Mexico City.Senior AttorneyAshley hails from San Anselmo, California. She received her J.D. from Boston College Law School and a B.A. in Economics and Religion from Swarthmore College. During and after law school, Ashley worked in Peru on matters related to human rights law litigation, women’s rights, and rural development. Prior to joining LCJA, Ashley worked as a staff attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.’s Community Equity Initiative, where she worked to secure improved investment and equitable land use and planning practices in disadvantaged communities in the Central Valley. At Leadership Counsel, Ashley works to keep decision-makers accountable through her advocacy to ensure access to basic services and infrastructure, affordable housing, and a healthy and safe living environment for all residents.Policy AdvocateGrecia Elenes is a Policy Advocate with Leadership Counsel. Grecia has lived in Fresno for most of her life. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Berkeley, with a major in Environmental Science. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Grecia provided technical expertise as a Scientific Aid at the California Department of Water Resources. She has an extensive background in the drinkability or toxicity of water, including her senior thesis, which analyzed the social and economic impacts of water filter installations in Monson, CA, through data collected as an intern at Community Water Center. Grecia leads local organizing campaigns in the City of Fresno.Director of OperationsKaylon Hammond is based in the Fresno office. She attended Southwestern University, receiving a B.A. with a double-major in mathematics and religion. She went on to complete a master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School, before earning her J.D. at Emory University. Prior to joining Leadership Counsel, Kaylon’s efforts focused on homeless advocacy and housing rights. Her work at Leadership Counsel involves overseeing internal operations, and coordinating community outreach efforts, in order to ensure equity in existing communities in the San Joaquin and Eastern Coachella Valleys.Policy AdvocateLeslie is a Policy Advocate based in the Fresno office. From a small town in Tulare County, she is familiar with the issues facing rural SJV communities. Leslie graduated from UC Berkeley, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Public Policy. She leads policy advocacy and community organizing in Madera County around many issues like access to safe and affordable drinking water and wastewater services and equitable access to transit and active transportation infrastructure.Policy AdvocateMariela Magana is a Policy Advocate for Leadership Counsel in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Mariela is an ECV native from the unincorporated community of Thermal. She received her B.S. from the University of California Los Angeles, where she majored in Biology and minored in Spanish. Mariela has been a long-time advocate for health in both the United States and Mexico. She also works to cultivate the skills of others through mentorships, tutoring, and volunteer coordinating. Her work focuses on advocating for the unique needs of unincorporated communities of the ECV, including access to safe drinking water and transportation equity, among others.AttorneyBorn in Chico but raised in Boise, Idaho, Mike is an attorney based in the Fresno office. He attended Boise State University, where he received a B.A. in philosophy, and the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, where he received a J.D. with great distinction. Before joining the LCJA team, Mike worked at a private law firm in Fresno where he practiced insurance coverage litigation. He works to find solutions to water issues affecting California’s most vulnerable communities, along with the myriad of environmental justice issues plaguing low income communities of color in California.Policy CoordinatorNikita Daryanani is a Policy Coordinator with Leadership Counsel in the San Joaquin Valley. She was raised in Orange County and received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Davis, with a major in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning. Nikita has experience in climate change education and helps lead Leadership Counsel's local climate justice campaigns. She advocates on the state level to elevate regional and local priorities on policies related to climate, transportation equity, and land use.Office ManagerOlivia Faz is Leadership Counsel's office manager. Olivia grew up in the small agricultural town of King City located in Monterey County, California. She has received both a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University, Fresno, and an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies from Fresno City College. She previously worked as a Legal Secretary/Administrative Assistant with California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.'s Community Equity Initiative. Olivia has over 25 years of experience working in legal and office administration in both the private and government sectors.Policy AdvocatePatricia Leal-Gutierrez works in the Bakersfield branch office of Leadership Counsel as a Policy Advocate. Patricia is from the Eastern Coachella Valley. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Chicana/o Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Patricia’s history of advocacy includes community organizing for Building Healthy Communities, bilingual legal assistance to self-represented litigants in LA, and research for a social justice project involving Salvadoran farmworkers in Oxnard. Her work in Kern County focuses on equal access to basic amenities for low income communities.Policy AdvocatePedro Hernández is Leadership Counsel's Policy Advocate focused in Tulare County. He grew up on the border of Laton and Riverdale in Fresno County and received his B.A. in Latin American and United States History from UC Berkeley. Pedro has experience organizing communities through voter registration and around water, immigration, education, and renewable energy issues in the San Joaquin Valley as well as the Bay Area. He also has an extensive teaching background and has worked as the chair of Laton High School’s History Department.Co-Founder and Co-Director and Legal DirectorPhoebe, a native Californian, attended the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her B.A. She then spent time in Guatemala, working to address human rights violations, and went on to complete her J.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles. Phoebe joined CRLA, Inc. following law school and worked at the organization’s Delano office prior to launching the Community Equity Initiative, a program designed to address critical infrastructure and service deficits in low income, unincorporated communities in California. In 2013, Phoebe co-founded Leadership Counsel with Veronica Garibay. Phoebe is based in Sacramento and leads Leadership Counsel’s state-level policy work.Program AssistantBorn and raised in Fresno, Sandra Vasquez is a Program Assistant with Leadership Counsel. She is supporting organizing and community engagement efforts and managing contact databases. Sandra has been engaged with LCJA for years and has actively participated in climate justice and land use campaigns at both the state and local levels. She has traveled to Sacramento on numerous occasions to advocate for environmental justice legislation and testify on behalf of her community. Sandra also has experience with community outreach and administrative support and is currently pursuing an Associate Degree in Sociology.Co-Founder and Co-DirectorVeronica Garibay immigrated from Michoacan, Mexico, at a young age with her family. She grew up in the small farmworker city of Parlier in Fresno County. As a first-generation college student, Veronica attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in both Psychology, and Law and Society. Upon graduation, Veronica joined the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.’s Community Equity Initiative as the program’s first Community Worker. Veronica earned a Master of Public Administration from Fresno State. As co-founder and co-director of Leadership Counsel, Veronica leads the team in advocating for sound policy to ensure equal access to opportunity for all Californians.