Meet Our Team
Prior to joining Groundwork, Leslie served as Vice President of University Relations
and Development. for San Diego State University from 1978 to 1994, where she was
responsible for university public, media, and legislative relations; university publications;
alumni programming; university advancement policy development.
Leslie also worked for the California State Legislature, where she served as Chief of Staff to a State Legislator. She managed District and Capitol offices, including development of environmental policy and legislation.
To give back to his hometown community of Flint, MI, he worked as a long-term substitute and taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade Math and Social Studies at Edison Elementary.
During his professional period outside of education, Jesse has worked as a corporate trainer in the collections industry and as collections department supervisor, where he provided on-going training, coaching and mentoring for his employees, assisting them in becoming better collectors and helping them reach their collections and life goals. He has worked as an advertising copywriter and has owned numerous small businesses over the years.
in San Diego just 2 years after his parents came to America as refugees from Somalia. Growing
up in San Diego and witnessing our city’s evolution is what pushed him towards studying
sustainability, and to discover ways to benefit his community. He attended San Diego State
University, which presented him with several opportunities, one of the most notable being that
he was on a team called the SOULA Project that designed, constructed, and operated a
hydroponic greenhouse on campus which is still being used today. After graduating from SDSU
in 2018 he began his career journey. He was hired as an outdoor sustainability educator at
Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center. As an outdoor sustainability educator, he ran daily
workshops to various groups that ranged from school kids to adults on ways to lead more
sustainable lives. After Olivewood he was able to utilize the geographical information systems
knowledge he acquired at SDSU to excel at Asplundh Construction & Engineering working as
an electrical designer with San Diego Gas & Electric. His journey then led him to Groundwork
San Diego - Chollas Creek in 2020.
“If it’s not equitable, it’s not sustainable”
Since equity is one of the pillars of sustainability, can we truly say a city is moving towards a
more sustainable future if its neighborhoods aren’t treated equitably? There is no simple
solution to this answer but all real solutions have one similarity, they must begin and end with
the community. As the environmental project manager, Abdirahman aims to activate the voices
of those communities which aren’t usually heard, foster relationships that benefit the people,
and be a part of the change we wish to see in our neighborhoods. This is what makes him such
an integral part of the Groundworks climate-safe neighborhoods effort.
With a Bachelor of Arts in International Business and a passion for sustainability, Caitlin joined Groundwork with the hopes of promoting environmentalism and climate action through the non-profit.
She now serves as our Director of Marketing, implementing various social media marketing strategies, email marketing, and SMS marketing in order to lift up the voices of our community and the purpose of our non-profit.
Board of Directors
The Groundwork Board of Directors is a of local leaders with knowledge, skills, and experience who are dedicated to the long-term health and well-being of the Chollas Creek Watershed and its neighborhoods.
Derryl Williams, President
Serves as a Subcontract Administrator for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. He served as President of the Webster Neighborhood Council where he assisted in the rezoning of the community to reflect its single-family character in harmony with a light industrial business focus. Under his leadership, the most successful Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) in the City of San Diego was approved. He served on the City’s Committee on Government Efficiency and Fiscal Reform, and as Chair of the Encanto Neighborhoods Community Planning Group. He served on the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation, and is a founding Board member of Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek.
Bill Ponder, Vice President
has extensive experience in higher education administration, counseling, teaching, and urban planning. He served as Vice President for Student Affairs at Eastern Washington University, and as Registrar at the Pierce College District. At University of California Riverside, he directed student admissions and outreach. He served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Combined Fund of Washington, and a member of the Planning Commission for the City of Olympia. He served as a member of the Advisory Board for the Leadership Development Initiative at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and currently serves as an appointee to a San Diego Unified School District oversight committee.
Charles Davis is the principal of Urban West Development providing project development and construction management services for residential, office, industrial, retail and environmental projects. He served as Director of Project Development for the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation from 2006-2013, where he was responsible for project management of housing, retail, environmental and commercial projects totaling over $350 million. He has served as a Board Member of the -San Diego Housing Federation and the San Diego Land Trust.
Dr. Hugh (Bud) Mehan
Is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Education at UCSD. He started the Teacher Education Program at UCSD and directed that Program from 1972 until 1998, when he became the founding director of The Center for Research on Educational Equity, Access, and Teaching Excellence. CREATE coordinates efforts at UCSD to improve the academic preparation of under- represented students. He has helped build equitable educational environments (The Preuss School UCSD and Gompers Preparatory Academy in Southeastern San Diego). He assists the Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership and Groundwork San Diego in Southeastern San Diego by advising those organizations on evaluation measures and educational policies. He has authored 7 books on a variety of educational equity issues; In the Front Door: Building a College-Going Culture of Learning, documents the political and cultural context surrounding establishing CREATE, Preuss, and Gompers.
Is the Co-Chair for the Independent Voter Project. The Independent Voter Project works to represents the rights and access of independent voters to the political process. Marston was president and co-owner of Marston+Marston, Inc., a full service public, governmental and community relations firm and, before that, was senior vice president of another San Diego-based public relations firm where he spent nearly four years serving as the lobbyist for the City of San Diego in Sacramento. Marston was a member of the California State Assembly representing San Diego’s 78th District and is active as the Past President of the San Diego State University Alumni Association.
Is a TK-5th grade science teacher for the San Diego Unified School District. She serves as secretary for the Webster Neighborhood Council and is vice chair of the Eastern Area Communities Planning Committee. She is a passionate advocate for science education and serves on the leadership team for 52 Weeks of Science Barrio Logan and is the director of San Diego State Universities Aztec Science Camp.
Has lived in and worked on behalf of the Chollas Creek Watershed since 1968. She was president of the Montford Point Marine Association Ladies Auxiliary, and volunteered for the American Legion. She was active in the Heroines of Jericho, Daughter of the Elks and the VFW Ladies Auxiliary. She was a member of the Coalition of Neighborhood Councils, the Chair of the Webster Community Council and is now Chair of the Webster Heights Community Development Corporation.
Is a general contractor and a graduate of the New School of Architecture in Landscape Architecture . He currently teaches landscape design at Southwestern Community College, and supports Groundwork’s residential drought-tolerant landscape program.
Vice President for Planning) is a retired urban planner who worked for the City of San Diego Planning Department for 22 years. His responsibilities included planning for the Southeastern San Diego and Encanto communities and implementation of the Chollas Creek Enhancement Program, an officially adopted City planning document. Prior to working in San Diego, he worked for 15 years with the City of St. Louis Community Development Agency. He is also active in the League of Conservation Voters and other local organizations.
Is the Manager of Environmental Engineering for National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), the largest full service shipyard on the West Coast of the United State. Prior to joining NASSCO, she worked for the City of San Diego’s Industrial Wastewater Control Program. Sara holds her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Humboldt State University and a professional Certificate in Project Management. She is an experienced environmental compliance professional with 25 years’ experience working for improved air and water quality in both public and private sectors. Sara was born and raised in San Diego and is married with one son. She enjoys hiking, camping, gardening, and travel.
Is principal and owner of TTG Environmental, a consulting firm focusing on environmental planning, project management, compliance and permitting. She is passionate about mentoring students in conservation/planning issues, and recently received the Rosa Parks Diversity award from the Women in Transportation (WTS) in recognition of her outreach efforts with students from Southeastern San Diego. Ms. Wilkinson served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, Central America and was the environmental coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. She also co-authored the “Politics of Water Management in the Tijuana River Watershed”. Borderlinks Journal.
Is a landscape architect and urban designer and President of Estrada Land Planning, providing land planning, landscape architecture, GIS, re-vegetation, visual analysis, and urban design services. Her projects have included the Balboa Park Master Plan, the Otay Ranch New Town Plan, the San Ysidro Mobility Study, the Rancho San Diego Specific Plan and the Downtown San Diego Streetscape Manual. She serves on the San Diego Canyonlands Board, the County of San Diego Historic Site Board, the Cal Poly SLO School of Architecture Deans Advisory Board, the Media Arts Center San Diego Board, the San Diego Athletic Club Board, the C3 Parks Board, and the San Diego Foundation Board.
Board of Advisors
Marti Emerald excelled as a broadcast journalist for 30 years before taking the oath of office for the San Diego City Council in 2008. Most notably, Marti was the Consumer Advocate (The Troubleshooter) at San Diego’s ABC television affiliate for 22 years, earning more than 100 awards for community service and journalistic excellence. During her tenure on the San Diego City Council Marti focused on repairing the image of City government through fiscal restraint and increased transparency in City government functions. Marti chaired the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee during her entire eight years at council. Marti retired from the City Council in December 2016 and lives with her husband Karl Bradley in Imperial Beach.
Teddy Cruz is a professor of Public Culture and Urbanization in the Department of Visual Arts at the UCSD, and Director of Urban Research in the UCSD Center on Global Justice. He is known internationally for his urban research of the Tijuana/San Diego border, advancing immigrant neighborhoods as sites of productivity, from which to rethink urban policy and inclusion. He has received the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, the Architecture Award from the US Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2018 Vilcek Foundation Prize in Architecture.
Fonna Forman is a professor of Political Theory and Founding Director of the Center on Global Justice at the University of California, San Diego. Her work engages issues at the intersection of ethics, public culture, urban policy and the city-including human rights at the urban scale. Fonna serves as the Vice-Chair of the University of California Climate Solutions Group and its Bending the Curve report on climate change; and on the Global Citizenship Commission-advising UN policy on human rights.
Chris Kehoe served from 2004 to 2012 as a member of the California State Senate representing the 39th district. She was previously a member of the California State Assembly (2000–2004) and of San Diego City Council (1993–2000). She served as executive director of the California Plug-In Vehicle Collaborative, as one of California’s 55 electors in the Electoral College, and is currently a member of the California Transportation Commission.
History and Mission
Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek is an environmental enhancement non-profit organization empowered by the City of San Diego to restore the Chollas Creek Watershed through citizen engagement. It’s mission is:
To improve the environment, economy and quality of life for residents in the Chollas Creek Watershed through new approaches to community and educational development
To link energy, economic, and health equity with environmental justice by improving water quality; developing alternative forms of energy and economy; and increasing the capacity of low-income communities to lead climate action
To develop and deliver K-12 experiential environmental education, impacting formal and informal learning and serving as a model for other underserved communities
To construct and steward The EarthLab, a 4 acre climate action park, as a collaborative community asset to benefit the youth, families and communities of the San Diego region
Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek was founded in 2007 at the request of the City of San Diego to lead the master plan for the Chollas Creek Watershed. Initial funding came from the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Endowment in recognition of the role the environment plays in the well-being of low-income citizens. The master plan, entitled the Chollas Creek Enhancement Program, was developed through extensive stakeholder collaboration that represented neighborhoods, community planning groups, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions across the watershed. Its vision was to recover the pre-urbanization beauty of the natural resources of the region through education, advocacy, and compelling environmental design. To this end, Groundwork as generated over $10 million in government and philanthropic funding and engaged thousands of volunteers and stakeholders.
Our Watershed Communities
Chollas Creek is a 32 square mile natural waterway and drainage system that traverses neighborhoods within City Heights, Oak Park, Encanto, Chollas View, Mt. View, Mt. Hope, Barrio Logan, and Southcrest, from its headwaters in La Mesa and Lemon Grove to San Diego Bay. Located in the Pueblo Watershed, Chollas Creek was a significant settlement for the Kumeyaay, and has amongst the richest cultural, biological, and geological assets in the region. Once it is restored to its natural state, Chollas Creek will bring untold recreational, educational, and economic benefits to the communities along its banks and beyond
The Chollas Creek Watershed crosses and includes four planning areas:
The population is 79,925, with 54 % hispanic;12 % white;13 % black;19 % asian. 72 % do not speak english/english is not first language and live 29 % below poverty level
The average yearly income for a family of four is between $19,393 and $24,400, within the range of the federal poverty level of $22,050. It is estimated that City Heights only has 1.52 acres of park per 1,000 residents.
The population is 51,210, with 78 % hispanic;12 % black;5% white;3% asian.73 % do not speak english/english is not first language, the median income is $29,782, and 33 % below poverty level. There is a 33.13 acre park deficit.
Southeastern San Diego
The population is 56,757 , with 83 % hispanic; 9 % black; 2 % asian; 4 % white. The median income is $31,414, with 34 % living below the poverty level.
The target area is the Encanto Neighborhoods community (population 66,461 in 2011) in Southeastern San Diego. Encanto demographics are 39% Hispanic, 34% African American, and 16% Asian, with over 25% of residents living below the federal poverty level. Encanto’s Area Median Income of $35,000 is approximately half that of the overall region. Students enrolled in the elementary and middle schools serving Encanto are 85% to 100% eligible for free or reduced price meals.
Groundwork programs carry impact beyond the local community. The Earthlab figures prominently in the University of California Bending the Curve Report presented by Governor Jerry Brown to the Climate Collaborative meeting in Paris; the residential water conservation upgrade project was nominated to compete for the prestigious Engaging Local Government Leaders national water conservation award; the California Energy Commission-funded Advanced Energy Community Master Plan is being shared as a model of participatory climate action planning for all California low income communities; the EarthLab is a centerpiece of the C4 Climate action work in California; .the Chollas EcoVillage master plan was presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Energy Services Professionals.