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An Interview with Sara Marcellino of TransForm

Posted on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

As advocates for street safety and supporters of alternative transportation, we at GJEL try to align ourselves with local non-profits actively working to influence public policy and make our community better. One of the organizations we frequently contribute to is TransForm. In the interview below, TransForm’s Development Director, Sara Marcellino talks a little bit about what they do, some of their upcoming goals, and how you can get involved.

The video transcript can be found below:

What is TransForm?

We are TransForm: we are a fifteen year old nonprofit organization working in the environmental and social justice arena, really creating a better quality of life for communities throughout the Bay Area and California. We do that through two ways: through improving transportation options for communities, improving public transportation, doing transportation advocacy around walking and biking. We also focus on land use and building walkable communities so we think about creating programs that support transit-oriented development – putting affordable housing near transit so you can live somewhat inexpensively – maybe with just one car instead of two, or maybe you don’t need a car, or maybe you’re disabled or you’re elderly and you actually can’t have a car or can’t afford a car, so we’re really thinking about building communities that are good for people and improve their quality of life, and at the same time improve the environment, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the state of California, I think it’s close to 60 percent. You also think about public health, you think about how we all used to walk and bike to school –when I was young I walked to school, that’s what we did. These days, because of safety issues and helicopter parents and that sort of thing there’s concern, or you have to cross a big freeway and so really creating infrastructure and supportive policies that make walking and biking possible, improving public health and just economically–transportation accounts for 38 percent of a low income community members’ costs–how they get places. Well, let’s bring that down so that they can have money for health care, food, other things that are important.

So yeah, Transform, we work at the local scale, the regional scale and more and more at the state level. We kinda “cut our chops” in the Bay Area, in 1997 and we support policy, we do a lot of policy work, a lot of advocacy making sure that transportation dollars that the region has are really working. Less on highways, more on walking, biking safety, public transportation. And, then we also have an office in Sacramento, so we are more and more involved in making sure state policies are funding our issues. We are really excited now to see the cap and trade revenues, the allocation for the cap and trade revenues which the legislature will vote on at the end of June really coming out in support of sustainable communities because it’s a once in a generation opportunity for billions of dollars for alternative transportation, so that’s TransForm.

What are Transform’s goals for the near future?

TransForm is in the midst of a strategic planning process. We got some funding from the Hewlett Foundation, which is really gonna take us through the end of 2013 to identify what are our main goals for the next five years. We’re super excited for this opportunity to really step back and figure out in which space we should really focus what really the needs are at the local, regional, state level for transportation and land use policy and programs.

This year, in 2013, we’re in the midst of two pretty big campaigns–as I mentioned–the cap and trade state campaign. We’re really making sure all our supporters, constituents and stakeholders are reaching out to their legislators to say we really need to keep this draft policy robust in support of sustainable communities. We also had some regional work. There’s something called the sustainable communities strategy which is essentially a transportation plan for the next 25 years and that comes to a vote in June of 2013, so we’re really close. We want to make sure that the policies in support of our issue are passed. That’s at the regional scale in front of the metropolitan transportation commission.

We continue to believe in our Safe Ways to School program. It’s Alameda County based. It’s one of the premier urban Safe Ways to School programs in the country. It started in Marin County and we’ve taken on the urban model and we are in approximately 100 schools and we’d like to continue to grow that program – 100 schools throughout Alameda County. Lots of low income schools. We have eight staff members right now, and we’re looking to add a few more at the end of 2013 if funding allows.

How did you get involved with TransForm?

I am someone who has been in the nonprofit sector for 15 years and I have really found my place to be where money and mission meet. To me there’s nothing more exciting than taking someone’s hopes for the community and taking philanthropic action and support.

My graduate degree is in geography and human environmental studies from San Francisco State, so I kind of have some of the content, so I felt like the relationship piece and really making sure we have all the money to support all the wonderful program staff here at TransForm was my place. So I came on board, I am someone who lives in a walkable community. I live near several AC Transit lines and a BART station and my kids are fortunate enough to be able to bike pretty safely around our community, so I do actually believe in our mission and I think the fact that there are so many co-benefits and triple bottom lines like equity, environment health, really kind of tackling so many issues that our communities are facing at once. It really inspired me to come on board at TransForm.

It’s a wonderful organization. We have 33 people in 3 offices here in Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. I feel really lucky to work for such a great organization having a really important impact.

How can people get involved with TransForm?

There are several ways. We have an electronic newsletter. If you go to www.transformca.org, you can sign right up for that electronic newsletter. And why that’s helpful–it comes out once a month, not too much–it really talks about our efforts, campaigns and work.

Because we are trying to move policy, sometimes we need people to tell their legislator: please support this bill. And so, being on our list you can hear about when we just need people to inundate Sacramento and say – please, support a 3 foot bill around bikes so cars can’t be within 3 feet of bikes. It didn’t get passed. It passed, but Governor Brown vetoed it. We had a lot of great support, it’s just an example – we have lots of successes too.

You can get involved and just pay attention through our e-newsletter. We have events, you can come to our events. We post them on our website and often through the electronic newsletter tell people about our events. We love it when people donate to us. Unrestricted dollars allow us to do the advocacy that we want to do because foundations don’t like to pay for that and be nimble in our work so we can be ready to capitalize on opportunity as it comes up.


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