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The Hidden Heroes of the Greenbelt Awards recognize the dedicated Bay Area government staff who work to champion climate-smart plans, policies, and actions in our communities at the intersection of land-use and climate.

The Hidden Heroes of the Greenbelt are selected through a public and internal nomination process that acknowledges the region’s climate leaders who are advancing our mission of creating a more climate-resilient and equitable region.

These climate leaders are creating a legacy of positive impact throughout their communities.

The Hidden Hero Awards are given annually in three categories that reflect our shared work: Nature-based adaptation, Planning for Resilience, and Abundant Climate-smart Housing.

Since 2021, Greenbelt Alliance has brought together key stakeholders and communities to celebrate the Hidden Heroes’ critical work at an annual event, while inspiring new ways of thinking about local governance, and raising funds for our organization.

Through short video narratives, we present each Hidden Hero trajectory, day to day work, partnerships, motivation, and aspirations for the future. Learn more about our annual cohorts of Hidden Heroes and their amazing work by watching the short documentaries below:

Nature-Based Adaptation Category

2023

Watershed Planner, Contra Costa County Watershed Program

John Steere is an environmental planner who resides in Berkeley, CA. His career spans public, private, and non-profit sectors of conservation and planning. His work as an environmental planner, activist and alchemist over the past 40 years demonstrate his commitment to the importance of connecting people to nature in the Bay Area as a way of cultivating a sense of place and well-being and to create tangible community.

Throughout his career, John has advocated for protecting special open spaces, innovating and leading collaborative habitat restoration projects, and has used his multidisciplinary skills for reimagining communities’ relationships to their surrounding environment.

John's ecological outlook informs his career as an Environmental Planner—of environmental analyses and resource management plans, trail and open space planning, and the development of green infrastructure and LID around the East Bay) is coupled with his avocation as an environmental “alchemist” to foster collaborative “placemaking”– to creatively engender community through several mediums: 1) park making and stewardship, 2) urban creek restoration, and 3) supporting and leading community sustainability and climate resiliency projects. He is also an expert in public involvement facilitation, CEQA/NEPA regulations and managing and writing environmental impact reports (EIRs), and in watershed management planning processes.

John Steere has been the Watershed Planner for Contra Costa County since 2013; in this capacity, he implements green stormwater management requirements for new development and pollution prevention regulations to protect the County’s waterways; coordinates and advocates for green infrastructure (GI); works with many organizations in development of community-based beautification and on-land cleanup programs; project managing the preparation and implementation of the County Green Infrastructure Plan, including the “North Richmond Watershed Connections” Project, a multi-benefit urban greening, GI, and resiliency project.

2022

Fire Marshal and Battalion Chief at the Central County Fire Department serving Burlingame, Hillsborough, and Millbrae

Born and raised in San Mateo County, and with 31 years in the fire service, Christine is dedicated to doing what she can, in her own way, to keep her community safe.

With wildfires worsening across the state, Christine saw that places like Hillsborough, where 70% of homes were at significant fire risk due to their proximity to wildland vegetation, known as the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), needed support to build resilience. So she created the community Wildland Urban Interface Protection Program, which includes educational materials and public information, comprehensive inspections for each of the 2,840 properties in the WUI, and an ongoing collaborative partnership with Hillsborough Firewise and the Town to support the community's goal for a firesafe Hillsborough. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Christine and her team successfully implemented this program, leading to successful inspections of all properties in 2021.

Christine Reed’s vision and leadership skills have had a profound impact on the communities she serves. Through a collaborative, educational approach, Christine’s work is an inspiration for how places throughout the region, state, and nation can use nature to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

2021

Climate & Agriculture Programs Manager & Agricultural Ombudsman, San Mateo Resource Conservation District

Adria Arko has been working to support and protect agricultural viability in a changing climate through her work with the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. Adria interfaces between local government staff and the county's food producers, providing farmers and ranchers with technical assistance and connecting them to the resources they need to empower them to implement nature based solutions to sequester carbon and adapt to climate change. Among her many achievements, Adria has worked locally, regionally, and statewide to remove regulatory, funding, and technical barriers to increase adoption of carbon-sequestering practices at scale; influence policy for effective State investments in this work; and partner with San Mateo County to develop a new chapter in its Climate Action Plan that incorporates actions that can be taken on agricultural lands. Because of Adria’s work, agricultural producers have become directly engaged in climate action while building resilience on their local family farms, nourishing the lands and people of San Mateo and beyond.

Planning For Resilience Category

2023

Senior Environmental Engineer at Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District and Solano Stormwater Alliance Manager

Emily Corwin is a Senior Engineer at the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, a Registered Professional Civil Engineer in the State of California, and the founder of an environmental engineering firm that focuses on water resource and conservation projects. At the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, Emily is creating partnerships and field examples to bring innovative nature-based climate adaptation solutions to the Solano Bayshore region in the San Francisco Bay. These projects combine the conservation and restoration of critical ecosystems with the selective use of conventional engineering approaches. Emily studied Hydrology at the University of California Davis, Environmental Engineering at the University of California Berkeley, and founded the Global Green-Gray Community of Practice at Conservation International, with representatives from 200 organizations and 500 individual members. She also is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers Committee on Natural and Nature-based Infrastructure Systems, manages the Solano Stormwater Alliance, and co-chair of the Solano Bayshore Resiliency Roundtable.

2022

Sustainability Manager at City of San Leandro

With a strong interdisciplinary background in environmental science, climate policy, and social justice, Fei is leading the implementation of the Climate Action Plan and other sustainability programs in San Leandro. They aim to build out equitable community-driven strategies for local resilience to climate change. One such strategy has involved working with 100k Trees for Humanity to create a canopy of shade that will reduce the city’s carbon footprint as well as bring shade and greenery into San Leandro. Fei also serves on the California Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) Climate Network, the National Adaptation Forum equity advisory committee, and the Bay Area Climate Adaptation Network (BayCAN) equity working group.

Prior to this role, Fei was the climate equity lead at ICLEI USA, managing local environmental justice partnerships and providing technical assistance to local governments around climate action planning, adaptation, greenhouse gas (GHG) inventorying, and renewable energy. They developed climate action planning and GHG inventorying curriculum for the California Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative (SEEC) and served on the equity advisory committee for the 2018 California Adaptation Forum. Other work included climate and food justice research; substantial ecological field research in Costa Rica, Tibet, and Australia; and community organizing and art with queer trans people of color organizations in Australia and the Bay Area.

Dr. Hoi-Fei Mok’s commitment to environmental justice, equity, and inclusion is reflected throughout their career and the impact they’ve made both locally and globally. This level of dedication is inspiring and will be instrumental to truly build resilience to climate change.

2021

Former Policy Director of Mobility & Interagency Relations, Oakland Mayor’s Office

Warren Logan is a Bay Area transportation planner working with frontline communities that are most impacted by climate, safety, and land-use concerns to ensure that their voices are being heard. He works closely with the City of Oakland’s Department of Transportation, Public Works Department, and other Bay Area public agencies to develop strategies that advance the City’s vision for safe and sustainable transportation for everyone. Much of Warren’s work involves directly engaging with local constituents to hear their concerns and gather their input on urban and transit development efforts, then incorporating that input alongside climate resilience considerations into the City’s general plans, climate actions plans, hazard mitigation and safety efforts. Warren has been directly involved in the rollout of Oakland’s Slow Streets program, praised by many as heralding a new era in people-centric urban planning. Warren’s work is redefining how planners and policymakers can address the need for climate resilience while engaging the voice of the people in revolutionary new ways.

Abundant Climate-Smart Housing Category

2023

Director, East Palo Alto Community and Economic Development Department

Amy Chen is the Director of East Palo Alto’s Community and Economic Development Department, which includes housing and rent stabilization, building permits and code enforcement, and planning functions including the entitlement of new development
projects. This department also carries out the City’s economic development initiatives and support for job training of local residents.

Under Amy’s leadership, the Community and Economic Development Department advanced crucial City initiatives including:

  • Building Reach Codes that encourage more efficient development and more sustainable design
    A Local Minimum Wage Ordinance raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and increasing automatically every year thereafter.
  • A Transportation Demand Management Ordinance, which will reduce up to 40% of vehicle trips in EPA.
  • An Urban Forest Master Plan and updated related tree ordinances, that provide a roadmap and shared vision to increase the tree canopy in East Palo Alto

Currently, she is overseeing the City’s efforts to receive certification of its 2023 Housing Element that projects EPA will meet and exceed its Regional Housing Needs Assessment goals over the next 8 years.

She is also leading an update to the Ravenswood Business District/Four Corners Specific Plan which will refresh the existing plan and bring more community benefits, including public open space, to the city and to this area.

Prior to EPA, Amy worked in the City of San Jose for 12 years, holding key roles in the City Manager’s Office, the Office of Economic Development, and various departments, including Environmental Services, Transportation, and Housing. Over the years, Amy and her teams brought in more than $120 million to support planning efforts and sustainable transportation improvements in San Jose.

Amy graduated with honors from Santa Clara University with a dual bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies and received her Master’s degree in Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.

2022

Director of Community Development at the City of Vacaville

Erin Morris’s passion for affordable housing can be seen throughout her 20+ years of work in city planning. She got her start with the City of San José, where she worked on several neighborhood revitalization plans. In Santa Rosa, she not only brought new homes to the community, but she was also instrumental in the City’s decision to deny a mobile home park conversion that would have displaced low income seniors from a 178 unit senior park. In Napa, she saw numerous affordable housing projects through the development review process, including the Heritage House/Valle Verde supportive housing project, Stoddard West, Manzanita Family Apartments, and Caritas.

Erin became the Community Development Director at the City of Vacaville in August, 2021. In just under a year, she has already made strides for equitable housing. Among the many housing-related projects she’s been responsible for, Erin has been essential to the Greentree Specific Plan. Through complex coordination and effective collaboration, Erin has creatively and thoughtfully organized limited city staff resources to bring this project to fruition. As a result, the Greentree Specific Plan provide workforce housing that incorporates a wide range of effective climate-smart features including reducing the need for cars which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and improving walkability.

Erin’s vision for inclusive communities can be seen throughout the cities she’s worked in. Her dedication, creativity, and inclusive approach serve as a model for other planners, city staff, and decision makers to follow to ensure everyone in the Bay Area has a safe, resilient place to call home.

2021

Executive Director, Renewal Enterprise District

Michelle Whitman is leading an innovative new effort to redefine climate-smart housing and urban infill development in downtown Santa Rosa in her role as director of the Renewal Enterprise District (RED), a joint city-county agency working to address the region’s chronic housing shortage. Formed in 2019 between the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma, RED has been tasked with creating a new housing fund to encourage higher density, affordable housing projects in appropriately planned areas of Santa Rosa that are also in close proximity to transit stations. Michelle is navigating a complex set of stakeholders to pool critically needed funding resources together with an eye towards reimagining SMART—Sustainable, Mixed, Affordable, Resilient, Transit-Oriented—urban development in the heart of Santa Rosa. Her efforts are moving projects forward that are putting people and the environment at the center of affordability and climate-smart solutions.

Explore Hidden Heroes Events

THANK YOU TO OUR GENEROUS 2023 SPONSORS

Resilient Communities Sponsors

Conservation Education Sponsors

Thriving Neighborhood Sponsors

Alta Housing | Avison Young | Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) | Brakeley Briscoe | Build It Green | Community Planning Collaborative | Eden Housing | Habitat for Humanity Bay Area | HOK | IGH Partners, LLC | Laurel Prevetti | Marin Agricultural Land Trust | Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) | MidPen Housing | Mithun | Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California | Palo Alto Forward | Pathways Climate Institute |  Perkins&Will | PlaceWorks | Studio KDA | The Nature Conservancy | Tidewater Capital | Water Emergency Transportation Authority 

In-kind Sponsors

Adventure Cat Sailing Charters | Mike’s Bikes | Napa Valley Wine Train  |  Oakland A’s | Oakland Zoo | Patagonia | San Francisco Botanical Garden | San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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