Q & A with "San Francisco 40 Under 40" winner, Ann Cheng

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Most people don’t serve as Mayor, win the U.S. Green Building Council’s Award for Outstanding Community Organization, and land their dream job all in the same lifetime, unless you’re Ann Cheng.

Every year, the editors at San Francisco Business Times search for the most influential young leaders in the Bay Area. There are a few simple criteria – these leaders must all be under 40 years old as well as high achievers for their companies, industries, and communities. We are thrilled to announce that TransForm’s own GreenTRIP Program Director Ann Cheng is one of the innovators being recognized in 2014! We sat down with Ann to talk more about her work, her love for the Bay Area, and what it means to be one of the “40 under 40.”

Q: You have been the Program Director of TransForm’s GreenTRIP for 3 years; what exactly does GreenTRIP do?
A: GreenTRIP is an innovative housing certification program that complements certifications like LEED that focus on green building materials and energy, by incentivizing developments that are sustainable because they reduce car ownership and driving. This happens mainly through free transit passes, carsharing memberships, and bike parking for tenants. All of these approaches result in less driving and ultimately more affordable housing because you are not forced to pay for a parking space with your rent.

Q: What would it look like if new developments followed the GreenTRIP model?
A: The first five GreenTRIP projects led to developers voluntarily offering to provide 80,000 years of free transit passes and 24,000 years of CarShare for residents of GreenTRIP buildings. As leading developers increasingly adopt the GreenTRIP model, it would mean fewer cars on the road, more people riding transit, sharing cars, walking and biking,and increased space for homes, shops, and open space in your community. 

Q: Why did you choose to work in this field?
A: Simply put, having grown up in the Bay Area, I wanted to make the Bay Area a better place. As a senior in college pursuing a degree in Environmental Biology and Management, I found that there was little to no concern for social justice in the typical environmental resource management field. TransForm has been a perfect place to pursue my top concerns around sustainability and social equity. I’m blessed to call this my job and have the privilege of working with amazing colleagues including TransForm’s founders, the former Mayor of Emeryville, SFMTA director, cofounders of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and so on. I never thought I’d be working at one organization for over seven years, but given the caliber of talent that TransForm attracts and the amazing partner organizations and cities we get to work with, I’ll be here for a while.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
A: My favorite escapes are exploring all the interesting communities and pockets of the Bay Area by bike and transit and similar trips around the world.

Q: What’s the most surprising fact about you?
A: I was the youngest and first Asian American Mayor of El Cerrito.

Q: What’s your favorite quote?
A: “If you are not at the table, you are likely on the menu.” Which translates to: Young people, consider applying to get on a city board or commission to build your knowledge and leadership while giving back to your community. Regularly attend and speak up at meetings, and you will be surprised what an impact you can have to support more sustainable and equitable communities. Urban Habitat’s Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute is a great resource for this.

Q: What’s the number one thing you want to accomplish in the next five years?
A: I want to organize a panel of professionals in local governments who are also alumni of local public schools to speak at West Contra Costa public junior high and high schools. This would expose the next generation about exciting, fulfilling, and impactful careers that they likely would never have known about and get them motivated to prep for their own careers in this sector. Ideally this will help lead to pipelines to internships and jobs for local youth building on the great foundation of Linked Learning Academies in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: A professor at UC Davis (where I went to college) said to us: “Kids, if you want to know how to change the world you must know how local governments work, as they have jurisdiction over land use.” Ever since I heard this, I have been exploring the multiple facets of local government – from working as a redevelopment planner for Contra Costa County, transportation planner for Alta Planning + Design to an elected official, and now in the non-profit advocacy sector. It didn’t occur to me to pursue urban planning until I was almost done with college!

Q: Do you have any words of advice to share?
A: You can change how, what, and where growth occurs and improve transportation choices for all while having a very fulfilling career! It’s all about knowing how local government works and how they shape policies. Fortunately, there are public meetings everywhere to learn a ton and make great connections. Come to TransForm events, read our blog, and sign up to get e-alerts for meetings to effect change near you!

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.