by Taylor Bolanos
photography by Conor Holahan
When a Pomona couple arrived outside Assemblymember Chris Holden’s satellite office in Claremont, the pair was desperate for help. They were homeless, surviving on food stamps and general assistance. The husband, pushed in a wheelchair by his wife, had suffered the theft of his green card. The two needed federal help to solve their immigration issue and were mistakenly directed to Holden’s Claremont office where they arrived at the desk of Matt Lyons, deputy district director. While this may not have been the right office, it was still a life-changing direction for the couple. “It was a constituent in need,” Lyons says. “Pomona’s not our district. It’s not a state issue. It’s not my place to say we’re not the right level of government. A lot of what we do is connecting the dots. We find the issue and determine whether it is within our jurisdiction.” Lyons helped the two fill out paperwork and then directed them to the office of Congresswoman Norma Torres, the representative for their district with the jurisdiction to handle their federal needs.
Assemblymember Chris Holden and State Problems
Chris Holden’s District 41 Claremont office serves foothill cities that include La Verne, San Dimas and Upland as well as the Angeles National Forrest. Matt Lyons represents Holden, who has 24 years of local level experience on the California State Assembly. Holden particularly focuses on student transportation and state utilities. From his small office, Lyons handles casework solo and says many people do not differentiate between levels of government. While he may not be able to fix every problem that walks through his office door, he directs people to different federal or state offices. Constituents can reach out to Lyons for help with any issue. Daily, he manages small scale city issues, particularly related to state taxes, state agencies, the Department of Justice and public works. Walk-in cases are unusual for Lyons, and most casework is submitted to him by phone or email. When someone in need reaches out to him with sensitive information, he contacts agencies on their behalf. For many issues, constituents simply complete the correct documents, allowing Lyons to follow up and correct a situation. While he has not handled cases for La Verne students yet, he says his work would allow him to clarify potential issues with the DMV or out of state licenses. Residents can turn to Lyons or other assembly representatives within their district for issues with health care, disability insurance, veteran’s benefits, unemployment and more. Anyone may send in complaints or concerns regarding legislation for their district. “Even if you walk in the wrong door, I make it a point that it’s still the right door,” Lyons says. “They’re hitting a wall. They’re dissatisfied. We just try to listen to them or offer advice. When a constituent is having a really bad day and needs someone to champion their call, we’re their champion.”
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and County Issues
Six miles from Lyons’ desk, Debra Mendelsohn, senior deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, manages county level issues out of a city’s jurisdiction. Mendelsohn says Los Angeles County, the most populated county in the country, houses 10 million residents and is larger than seven states. Thirty years ago, Mendelsohn interned with Barger. This year, she started her newest job at the San Dimas field office, which works closely with city departments in managing issues that include public safety, mental health and veterans’ affairs. She considers herself to “act as the city manager,” and her days begin with checking hundreds of emails and then attending events on behalf of Barger. The county holds records, handles foster care and child services, contracts sheriff’s departments, runs the courthouses, oversees city elections and more. By contracting through the county for these services, small cities remain cost-effective. Barger and her San Dimas team also established mental health care officials within law enforcement departments to make sure affected individuals receive the proper care if police are called.
“We’re really kind of the boots on the ground for the supervisor,” Mendelsohn says. “We’re the eyes and ears. In this office; we’re the problem solvers. We’re like an extension of her. We advocate for the citizens of the unincorporated communities. We act as the intermediary.” Daily, Mendelsohn attends meetings across the county with other agencies and representatives, including police captains, city chambers of commerce, the Watershed Conservation Authority, the Foothill Goldline and other vital departments. Some situations require assisting city officials and allowing them to take the lead. After the Glendora fires and landslides, Mendelsohn briefed the supervisor and coordinated services for the city. She personally visited evacuation centers when many residents were forced to leave their homes. When the snow is heavy at Mt. Baldy, the county plows the roads and works with town hall to manage the influx of visitor traffic. If residents say someone is driving too fast on their streets, Mendelsohn works with police, public works and the fire department to find a solution. She and her teammates analyze police trends within specific areas and work to reduce homelessness. “It’s a great job,” Mendelsohn says. “Every day is different. I might be talking to students. I might be talking to the coroner. Today, I’m going to a ribbon cutting.”
Barger and her team make veterans’ affairs a priority. For the residents of La Verne and students of the veteran-friendly University, veterans are a vital constituency group the supervisor and her staff champion. If students or residents were to encounter issues with their benefits, Barger’s offices would be available to resolve problems and assist with filing paperwork. In May, Mendelsohn, whose husband is deployed in Iraq, hosted the 20th Memorial Day Tribute in Arcadia Park, which featured 120 exhibitors and showcased military history, veteran programs and resources.
Much like Lyons, Mendelsohn also helps district residents work through issues with various agencies. She makes it her job to be aware of issues within LA County. If residents need zoning permits, or if they are cited by a department and do not know how to fix the problem, they can turn to the San Dimas office.
Senator Anthony Portantino and Advocacy
Marco Lundgren, district representative for California State Senator Anthony Portantino, who works from a San Dimas office, primarily handles casework and relays messages from constituents to the senator or state organizations. Portantino has primarily advocated for education and health care. “By him tirelessly working for constituents, that means I also work tirelessly for constituents,” Lundgren says. Each week, he spends his time with casework, attending events, hosting community outreach and researching issues for the senator. Lundgren also attends city council meetings, updates the community on Portantino’s latest progress on legislative issues and supports city events on the senator’s behalf. This year, Lundgren will organize a business walk for La Verne, open to the community, and host a question and answer forum at the event. The senator also plans to meet with business owners in La Verne and San Dimas to discuss their issues.
Much like the lower levels of government, each case is different. From issues with unemployment benefits to general commentary about bills, Lundgren manages constituent cases from across the 25th district. While some cases may last for days, others go on for weeks at a time. “No problem is too small of a problem or too huge to be overlooked,” he says. “We try to solve any problem that comes to our plate.” Lundgren contacts state agencies on behalf of constituents. “I helped a lady receive her unemployment benefits,” Lundgren says. “She was really happy that she was able to have her problem solved by the senator.” Anyone may offer feedback on such issues like freeway noise complaints, which would be directed to CalTrans, or Sacramento legislation. Lundgren directs comments to the proper recipient.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano and Federal Jurisdiction
Perla Hernandez Trumkul came to America with her parents when she was 3 years old and remained undocumented until she was 13. Trumkul then spent her young adulthood striving to find her niche. “I was looking for a place to land,” Trumkul says. “I was an activist. I want to fight for people who don’t have a voice.” It was not until 2002, when she met Congresswoman Grace Napolitano in D.C., that she found a way to use her immigration experiences to help people. Originally a campaign volunteer, Trumkul now devotes her time as District Director for the 32nd Congressional District for Napolitano, managing events to help the community, especially for immigrants, veterans, children and the homeless.
Trumkul says she has handled immigration casework from throughout the world including Canada, South America, Iraq and Australia. “Everything from being brought into this country as a slave or being brought into this country as a 3 year old, they’re not all the same,” Trumkul says, adding, “Many came here legally.” Issues with applications, visas and more can be managed by staff members like Trumkul. While anyone can contact the El Monte office for immigration needs, working at the federal level is more than immigration casework. Educating the community is just as important to Trumkul. As a member of Napolitano’s team, she has not only managed casework, but she plans informational sessions and events for the community with the rest of her El Monte office staff. “We want individuals to feel empowered, not to be cogs in a machine.”
From the 32nd District, the staff manages yearly events for all members of the community that both educate and celebrate achievements. For residents, these events are crucial toward gaining the most from what the federal government has to offer. The veterans forum brings together a variety of services, including resume building workshops, health checks and information for jobs and homes. The Congressional Prayer Breakfast at the City of Hope honors law enforcement, military and fire departments for their service plus brings together clergy from across the district
The Export Seminar focuses on small businesses and teaches business expansion while senior fraud seminars teach senior residents to avoid scams. The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program offers at-risk youth a chance to earn high school credits, life skills and social responsibility.
This April, Napolitano and her team hosted “Know Your Rights,” an immigration clinic with information sessions regarding visas, applications and understanding the protection the Constitution offers. With programs like these, district residents are given tools to stay informed.
Why You Should Call a Politician: These Representatives are Willing to Solve Your Problems
If you have a problem with processing DMV paperwork, collecting unemployment benefits or changing the speed limit on your street, you may have a champion for your cause. Residents and students may not realize the valuable resources government representatives offer. While they advocate for the public on a legislative level, they also handle smaller scale issues for you as well. The following are representatives for those who live in La Verne, complete with their political specialties.
L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger
• Issues with county records, foster care and child services, sheriff’s department, courthouses, city elections, park system, medical examiner, zoning permits and citations.
615 East Foothill Blvd., Suite A, San Dimas, 91773
Phone: (909) 394-2264
Assemblymember Chris Holden
• Issues with disability insurance, veteran’s benefits, unemployment, DMV, public transportation and state taxes.
415 W. Foothill Blvd., Suite 124, Claremont, 91711
Phone: (909) 624-7876
Senator Anthony Portantino
• Issues/commentary with state education, state legislation and state agencies.
201 East Bonita Ave., San Dimas, 91773
Phone: (909) 599-7351
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano
• Issues with immigration, veterans affairs and mental health care legislation.
4401 Santa Anita Ave., #201, El Monte, 91731
Phone: (626) 350-0150 n