Meet the Staff
Patricia Jovel (PJ) Flores is Orange County Environmental Justice's new Project Director, and is excited to lead the organization in confronting the many environmental issues disproportionately affecting Orange County's marginalized communities. PJ was raised and currently lives in Santa Ana, California. She began organizing as a student at UC Berkeley, where she worked to bring student power to bear in support of campus labor organizing and the local prison abolition movement. After graduating, PJ returned to Santa Ana, where she organized with Colectivo Tonantzin, a local grassroots organizing collective, to fight wage theft and defend the rights of day laborers and domestic workers in Orange County. Currently, she helps coordinate the Tierras Comunitarias Coalition to ensure public lands in Santa Ana and Garden Grove are put towards community needs such as public parks and open space, in addition to organizing alongside Acjachemen and Tongva activists to Protect Puvungna and other sacred sites in Orange County. In her free time, PJ is a storyteller and musician, and is currently working on a novel centering trans femmes and two-spirit people in the fight for liberation and Indigenous sovereignty. In all her work, PJ is dedicated to building bridges between local Indigenous communities and communities of color in defense of the water, land, and air that we all call home.
Keila Villegas (she/her pronouns) is OCEJ's Community Organizer since July 2020. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Environmental Studies and an emphasis on political science in 2019. She grew up and currently lives in Santa Ana, CA. After learning and being constantly exposed to the reality of climate injustice and people of color always cornered to receive the lower end of the stick, she wanted to turn those emotions into action. Her passion is rooted in prioritizing the well being of our neighbors through community stewardship & leadership. Overall, Keila is passionate about establishing progressive environmental justice while acknowledging its intersectionality with the world around us by creating spaces and opportunities for community leaders to thrive.
Redistricting Campaign Organizer
Kayla Asato (she/they) is OCEJ's Redistricting Organizer as of April 2021. She grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii learning about the effects of pollution, climate change, and environmental racism from war, so moving to Orange County to see similar racial injustices in our soil, water, and air really sparked that passion in making sure justice comes. Kayla enjoys bridging feminist, critical race/ethnic studies, queer, and international relations theories to practice at the local level in the fight for justice. She enjoys doing curriculum work, power mapping, coalition building, and inspiring people through deep canvassing/positive imaginary work most of all in organizing. She graduated from Chapman University in 2018 with a passion for organizing around issues and electoralism. Since graduating, she has been working on nonprofits and electoral campaigns nonstop, and is thrilled to join OCEJ as the redistricting organizer.
Meet the Advisory Board
Julie, Advisory Board Chair, currently serves as the Director of Development at Environmental Charter Schools in the Los Angeles South Bay/South LA area. In her role, she works to develop and build partnerships while overseeing fundraising, marketing, grants and communication activities. Julie has more than fifteen years of experience in nonprofit development and fundraising, youth development, and community arts, particularly in Orange County. She currently serves on the board of the Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA), the Steering Committee of the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and organizes with VietUnity-SoCal and the Việt Solidarity & Action Network. Julie is committed to developing powerful youth, promoting artistic expression as a way to nurture community, and building strategies for change within communities of color. She has taught at the National Academy of Social Sciences in Vietnam, has been honored for her community leadership by the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative and was awarded Best Advocacy Voice by New American Media (NAM). Julie holds a B.A. in Sociology and Asian American Studies and a minor in Education from UCLA.
Cristal Flores is a sociologist by training and a social justice warrior by heart. She earned her Masters degree in Sociology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her research focused on how race and ethnicity affect individuals in different spaces - social, environmental, and cultural. Through her academic career she has been involved in political and academic advocacy for the Latinx community that ranges from equity in the classroom to equipping student groups with the tools needed to advocate for themselves. She has also been involved in lobby work for the Diocese of Orange and is passionate about helping communities whose voices have been tuned out due to their social location, socioeconomic status, etc. As she continues to teach in the classroom to a new generation of college students, she hopes to inspire students to apply basic classroom sociological methodology into practice in changing the different spaces in their lives to create a more equitable, and culturally responsive society where the marginalized are dignified and seen.
Ray Hiemstra, Advisory Board Treasurer, has spent the last 17 years at Orange County Coastkeeper working to preserve, protect, and restore coastal and inland water quality and habitat. As Associate Director of Programs his work includes water quality advocacy and policy development, Marine Protected Areas, species and habitat restoration and water and sediment monitoring. Ray is a member of numerous committees and workgroups including the Port of LA/Long Beach Harbor Safety Committee and Newport Bay Management Committee. He is a lifelong resident of Orange County and spends his spare time working with the Sierra Club and community groups or outdoors with his family and friends.
Dr. Beatriz "Betty" Valencia
Betty Valencia currently serves as the Vice President of Operations in Business and Finance. She is a proponent of education equity and a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership Studies and a Masters in Organizational Communication and currently serves as the vice-president of Santiago Canyon College Foundation (SCCF) Board of Directors. She also serves on the Board of H.I.R.E (Hub for Integration, Re-Entry & Employment) and One Payer State, and is a volunteer recruiter with Close the Gap California and WeleadOC.
Pushing for representation in local politics, Betty ran for City of Orange City Council and served as past Central Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. Currently, she is a member of the LGBTQ Caucus of the Democratic Party Member-at-Large, as well as the Vice-Chair Region 7 of the Chicano Latino Caucus of the Democratic Party (the largest in the nation). Betty was named (one of several) women of the year for 2019 and most recently named by the OC Register as TOP 100 Influencers in Orange County for 2019. Betty is a motivational speaker on civic engagement, education equity, immigration justice, environmental justice, transformational leadership, and a published author.
Betty was born the youngest of 12 children in Mexico City and is married to her long-time partner Laura Villa.
Oscar Teran, Esq. is Director of Career Development at Western State College of Law in Irvine and prior to that was a legal aid attorney with a focus on representing migrant farmworkers in rural communities. As a lawyer and an educator, Oscar is interested in using law as a vehicle for social justice and in empowering students--particularly those with identities that are underrepresented in the legal profession--to discover authentic and fulfilling ways to practice law. Oscar has also taught courses in diversity, equity, and organizational leadership in the Masters of Leadership Development Program at Chapman University. In his free time, Oscar enjoys spending time with his partner, watching artfully made movies, and taking long drives on twisty roads.
Connie McGuire, PhD, Advisory Board Member, is Director of Community Relationships with the Community-based Research Initiative of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at the University of California, Irvine. She works on Research Justice oriented projects in a variety of settings including in the struggle for Environmental Justice. She is a cultural anthropologist and a Latin Americanist by training and teaches community based participatory research methods course in UCI's undergraduate Community Engagement Minor. Connie has trained in and works as a coach and guide in several mindfulness-based practices including yoga, meditation and Hakomi, a mindfulness-based, somatic method for assisted self-study.