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Public Policy Conference Speaker Bios


Nan Aron
President, Alliance for Justice
A leading voice in public interest law for over 30 years, Nan Aron is President of Alliance for Justice, a national association of over 100 public interest and civil rights organizations. Aron, who founded AFJ in 1979, guides the organization in its mission to ensure that all Americans have the right and opportunity to secure justice in the courts and to have their voices heard when government makes decisions that affect their lives. She is a nationally recognized expert on public interest law, the federal judiciary, and citizen participation in policy formulation. She is the author of Liberty and Justice for All: Public Interest Law in the 1980s and Beyond and has appeared as an expert in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Vanity Fair, and National Public Radio. Aron is also a frequent guest speaker at universities, law schools, corporations, nonprofits and foundations. She has taught at Georgetown and George Washington University Law Schools, and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council at American University’s Washington College of Law. She has served as Executive Producer for several award-winning films on immigration, courageous judges, and gun violence. Nan holds a J.D. from Case Western Reserve.

Efrain Escobedo
Vice President of Civic Engagement and Public Policy, California Community Foundation

Efrain Escobedo is the vice president in charge of civic engagement, multisector collaboration and public policy at California Community Foundation, responsible for promoting collaboration and advocacy efforts across the nonprofit, public and private sectors to address community problems. Escobedo is recognized nationally and locally as an active leader and expert in Latino civic engagement and elections policy. Prior to joining CCF, Escobedo was the manager of governmental and legislative affairs for the Registrar of Voters in LA County, the largest election jurisdiction in the nation with more than 4.5 million registered voters. There, he worked with elected officials to enact numerous initiatives aimed at making the voting process easier for Angelenos, including the electronic delivery of sample ballots and the authorization of online voter registration. Escobedo also served as senior director of civic engagement for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, where he led the development of innovative voter contact strategies and technologies that have helped to engage more than one million young, newly registered and infrequent Latino voters across the country. Escobedo is a recent graduate of the Los Angeles County Executive Leadership Program.

John Kim
Executive Director, Advancement Project, California Office 
Since 1997, John Kim has fought to expand the voice and influence of marginalized communities throughout California. Through building new tools, coalitions, and institutional capacity, his commitment has been to ensure that the experience of low-income people and communities of color can no longer be ignored. Kim started his community-building work as a cultural artist/activist and youth organizer in the Bay Area. In 1999, He became the Executive Director of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay where he was instrumental in launching new programs in the areas of domestic abuse, community development and community technology. Kim first joined Advancement Project in 2002 to launch the Healthy City Project; became the Managing Co-Director for the California Office in 2008; and was named Executive Director in January 2015. Over the years, he has developed advocacy and research initiatives on issues ranging from community health, redistricting, community engagement, education, and public finance. Many of these initiatives have resulted in the reallocation of millions of public and private dollars to underserved neighborhoods and have lifted up marginalized communities throughout California. Kim also has a long track record as a coalition-builder and facilitator and has established a wide-range of partnerships with foundations, community based organizations, and elected/governmental bodies statewide. In 2011 he accepted the Unsung Heroes Award from the California Community Foundation, given for “outstanding excellence in community engagement.”  He has recently concluded a term as a member of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners for the City of Los Angeles.  And in 2011-12, he was selected for and completed the prestigious Rockwood National Yearlong Fellowship.

Christine Margiotta
Vice President of Community Investment, United Way of Greater Los Angeles
Christine Margiotta is the Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Greater Los Angeles, leading a team that harnesses the collective power of Los Angeles to create large-scale transformation in our communities. She believes big change happens when we’re motivated by a bold vision, driven by clear data, and fueled with appreciation and connection. Margiotta launched Home For Good in 2010, the region’s initiative to end homelessness, cultivating the collaboration of over 200 cross-sector leaders to design, fund, and implement innovative, effective solutions to homelessness. Home For Good has brought together public and private funders to leverage over $438 million through the Funders Collaborative and created the vision and support system for hundreds of stakeholders to co-create a groundbreaking Coordinated Entry System. She brings over a decade of experience in policy change, community organizing, and direct service experience.  Margiotta received her MSW from UCLA, and serves as Adjunct Faculty teaching policy and community change at Whittier College.

Raphael J. Sonenshein
Executive Director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, California State University, Los Angeles

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a noted professor, author and expert on the governance of Los Angeles and the region. He is Executive Director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute (PBI) of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. Sonenshein is currently chair of the Division of Politics, Administration and Justice at Cal State Fullerton, a professor of political science and public administration, and the director of the Division’s Center for Public Policy. From 1997 to 1999, Sonenshein served as Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Appointed Charter Reform Commission, which helped create the first successful comprehensive reform of the Los Angeles City Charter in 75 years, and has since advised charter reforms in Glendale, Burbank, Culver City, and Huntington Beach. He also served as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Review Commission. As an author, Sonenshein has written extensively regarding city governance and the relationships among racial and ethnic groups, and is currently working on his fourth book. His monthly column, “The Jewish Vote,” which runs in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, was nominated in 2005 as the best column by the Los Angeles Press Club. He has served as a political consultant of the Los Angeles Times’ election-day exit polls, and has penned op-ed pieces for the newspaper. Sonenshein received his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Yale University.



Maria Brenes
Executive Director, InnerCity Struggle
Maria Brenes leads InnerCity Struggle (ICS), a nonprofit based in the Eastside of Los Angeles that works to build a powerful and an influential movement of youth and families to promote healthy, safe and nonviolent communities. ICS organizes Eastside high school students and parents to expose educational inequities and develops their leadership to transform the quality of public education. ICS also prepares student leaders to graduate and attend college and mobilizes thousands of Eastside voters to be involved in improving their communities. Brenes began her activism as a high school student living along the U.S./Mexico border during a time when state legislation was proposed that criminalized immigrant families and youth. This environment resulted in Brenes and her fellow Latino schoolmates being removed from their schools. Despite the discrimination she faced, she completed her studies and later earned degrees from UC Berkeley and Harvard University. The experience taught her the importance of lifting up her voice through collective action to ensure disadvantaged students have access to a quality education. Brenes has organized for educational justice through various campaigns and initiatives. For the past 12 years at ICS, she has spearheaded an expansion of the influence of students and community residents in decision-making about L.A.'s public schools, mobilizing thousands of Latino parents and students. Brenes's work with ICS has resulted in a wide range of improvements within Eastside schools as well as schools throughout the LA school district. Her leadership has helped win several breakthrough victories; new schools for the Eastside, a district-wide policy focused on preparing all students for college, increased funds for schools, smaller learning environments in Eastside high schools and an expansion of school-based health services.

Reverend Sam Casey
Executive Director, Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement

Reverend Samuel J. Casey is is a pastor and community leader. Pastor Casey is the Executive Director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE). COPE galvanizes the collective will of congregants, parents, and community leaders throughout the Inland Empire to engage in faith-based grassroots organizing efforts focused on education, prisoner reentry, and civic engagements efforts to increase voter participation. He is also the Senior Pastor of New Life Christian Church in Fontana, California and an alumni member of the USC Center for Civic & Religious Studies – Passing the Mantle Clergy and Lay Institute.

Cathy Cha
Program Director for Immigrant Rights, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Cathy Cha manages the Fund’s efforts to promote equal opportunities for immigrants to become fully engaged citizens. She has started initiatives to increase immigrant citizenship and voting, improve the local and state immigration policy climate, and support public education for federal immigration reform. Cha applies her two decades of experience and highly collaborative approach across all of her work. In her home state of California, that means strengthening and connecting the immigrant rights movement. Within philanthropy, she works to bring funders together to scale solutions and maximize impact in immigrant communities and beyond. Nationally, Cha helped to start the New Americans Campaign to help reduce barriers to citizenship for the eight million eligible immigrants currently living in the U.S. She also convenes the California Civic Participation Funders which seeks to increase immigrant voter engagement. In addition, she is on the steering committee for the Four Freedoms Fund, the national collaborative on immigration reform. Cha has experience in community economic development work, with a focus on low-income and immigrant communities. Prior to her work in philanthropy, Cathy worked in nonprofit, private and government sectors. Cathy is the co-chair of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), and has a Master's degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley.

Mary Anne Foo
Executive Director, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance 

Mary Anne Foo is the Executive Director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance also known as OCAPICA. OCAPICA serves more than 30,000 community members annually through health, mental health, youth development, education, policy and advocacy, and workforce development programs. The organization has almost 60 staff that speak 16 languages. Foo has been working for 25 years in the community with underserved populations in addressing health, education, and economic disparities. She holds a Master's degree in Public Health from UCLA.  Foo serves on numerous community and health care institutions’ boards and advisory committees. 

Marcos Vargas
Founding Executive Director, Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy

Marcos Vargas is the founding Executive Director of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a community-based social movement organization serving the California central coast. His experience in the nonprofit sector includes service as Executive Director of El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, a Ventura County Latino community advocacy and multi-service organization, founding Chairperson of the Ventura County Living Wage Coalition, and Director of Planning for the United Way of Ventura County. He currently serves on the Boards of the McCune Foundation, Common Counsel Foundation, and the Partnership for Working Families. Marcos has received numerous awards in recognition of his community work, including the Outstanding Citizen Award from the California Federation of Teachers, the Bannerman Fellowship, El Concilio Latino Leadership Award, Earth Summit Leadership Award from the Ventura County Citizens for Peaceful Resolution and the Alice Greenfield McGrath Social Justice Award. A strong commitment to the life-long practice of social learning, Vargas has sought to inform his work through decades of community organizing and policy advocacy, as well as the study and application of both social science and Native American indigenous teachings. A Sundancer in the Lakota Native American and Mechica traditions, Vargas is actively involved in efforts to expand the knowledge and application of these indigenous teachings and ceremonies in all levels of social change work. He earned his doctorate degree in urban planning from the University of California at Los Angeles.





Rose Chan
Of Counsel, Rodriguez Horii Choi & Cafferata

Rose Chan concentrates her practice in the areas of tax-exempt organizations and tax controversy. She specializes in counseling nonprofit organizations with regard to their advocacy work. Prior to joining Rodriguez Horii Choi & Cafferata LLP, Chan was a founding member of and a Senior Tax Manager in the Pacific Southwest Tax Controversy Group of Deloitte & Touch, as well as a Senior Tax Attorney in the Tax Controversy Group at ARCO. She began her legal career at Latham & Watkins, where her tax experience encompassed transactional advice, drafting of ruling requests, federal and state tax controversy work and advice to tax-exempt organizations. Chan’s work has included the following matters: applications for tax exemption (working with founders on structuring their nonprofit organizations and in obtaining tax-exempt status) advocacy and lobbying (advising nonprofit organizations on how to carry on advocacy work, including legislative lobbying work, in support of their missions). She also assists clients on the appropriate corporate structure for carrying on their advocacy programs and providing day-to-day advice on advocacy work.

William Choi
Partner, Rodriguez Horii Choi & Cafferata

William Choi's practice is concentrated in the area of tax and corporate law, with particular emphasis in the representation of tax-exempt organizations. Prior to law school, he practiced as an accountant with Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte & Touche), and passed the C.P.A. examination in 1982. Choi's representation of nonprofit organizations has included the following matters: charitable giving (donor-advised funds, supporting organizations, structuring complex gift arrangements and partial interest gifts); private foundations (self-dealing, foreign grants, scholarships, program-related investments, and termination issues); and charitable trusts (endowment and other restricted funds, UPMIFA and Attorney General audits).



Ruben Gonzalez
Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Political Affairs, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Ruben Gonzalez is the Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Political Affairs for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which is the oldest and largest business association in Southern California. In this role he oversees all public policy issue development and advocacy for the Chamber. He is the chief advisor to the Chamber on setting and implementing the organization's public policy priorities and political strategy. Gonzalez formerly served as Senior Vice President of External Affairs for The Meruelo Group, a multibillion dollar consortium of companies. Prior to The Meruelo Group, Gonzalez was with Englander, Knabe & Allen, LA’s top public affairs firm where he served multiple clients as a lobbyist and ran political and issue campaigns. In addition to this private sector experience, Gonzalez has made his mark in the public sector, serving as Deputy City Controller under Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick and he has held positions with the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Governing Board, California Transit Association, former California Assemblyman Lou Correa and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. Gonzalez currently chairs Board for Helping Young People Excel (HYPE) and is on the Board of Directors at LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles and the Eisner Pediatric & Family Medical Center Foundation Board.



Jennifer Ito 
Project Manager at the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, University of Southern California

Jennifer Ito is a Project Manager at the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC. Before joining PERE, she worked in varied capacities at Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), a grassroots organizing and movement building organization based in South Los Angeles. As Research Director, her areas of focus included clean energy economic and workforce development policy and campaign development, tax and fiscal policy reform, workforce development policy, healthcare career training, community health leadership development, and other research to support grassroots organizing and campaigns. Ito also provided trainings and capacity-building support, such as GIS, campaign development, and power analysis, to other community-based organizations. Ito previously worked on urban environmental issues in Los Angeles and on rural sustainable economic development in Guatemala. Appointed by the California Assembly Speaker, she served on the California Commission on the 21st Century Economy. She currently serves on the Boards of the Economic Roundtable and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Ito holds a Masters in Urban Planning from UCLA.