From Cerritos College student to Mayor of Norwalk: Meet Jennifer Perez

Mayor+Jennifer+Perez+sits+in+the+City+of+Norwalk+City+Council+Chambers+while+the+City+logo+peeks+out+behind+her.++And+talking+to+Cerritos+College+students+and+faculty+about+her+political+career.++March+25%2C+2021+

Jacqueline Cochran

Mayor Jennifer Perez sits in the City of Norwalk City Council Chambers while the City logo peeks out behind her. And talking to Cerritos College students and faculty about her political career. March 25, 2021

Jacqueline Cochran, News Editor

As tears welled up in her eyes, Jennifer Perez, Mayor of the City of Norwalk and Cerritos College Alumni, ends the conversation by telling students that Cerritos College is family. It’s home.

Another in the alumni conversation series, Jason Barquero sat with Jennifer on March 25, 2021 at 6 p.m. Jason’s initial question caused Jennifer to go back in time and outline how Cerritos influenced her current career in local city government.

Before graduating in 1999, she fondly recounts her first experience in politics. “My two friends both named Jennifer and myself were involved in the ASCC. I was on the senate with ASCC and decided to run for student body president and just tried to keep giving back to the wonderful students and the programs that we all learned to love.

“I did not win that election but what it did was teach me that I did not want to give up. So I started my family here in the City of Norwalk.

Once she started planting roots in the City of Norwalk, she explained how she was one day asked to take on a volunteer position as a Norwalk City Planning Commissioner.

In most local jurisdictions, a planning commission is typically made up of at least five individuals who have been appointed by the governing body, like a city council.

Their purpose is to hear items related to planning and development and grant approvals or denials based on whether or not they believe the proposal is good for the city and meets all relevant criteria.

“I remember being in a planning commission meeting and the five of us voted on a business that we did not think was a good fit for our city and after the meeting, our city attorney came back and told us no you can’t vote like that.

“The city has ordinances and the developer met those ordinances and just because it was a development that you thought wasn’t a good fit, you can’t vote that way,” she said.

Jennifer suggested that this instance was a pivotal moment in the trajectory of her career. “I decided that the planning commission was as far as my voice could go at that time.

“I knew that if I wanted to do more, if I wanted to be a part of a conversation with the developers, I knew I had to run for City Council.”

Her first City Council election was in 2017 and she won.

Although Jennifer has followed her own path, she was exposed to this politics early in her life. “My father ran for City Council when I was a freshmen in high school.

“He served for four years and one of those years was as mayor. After serving as a City Council member, he decided that he wanted to run for Cerritos College Board of Trustees. And he served as a Board of Trustee member for over 20 years.”

Jennifer expressed to Jason that her passion and desire to serve was the driving force that caused her to enter this familiar arena. “I believe that I could do more for our community.”

For any students listening and interested in getting into politics, Jennifer talked about how intense the campaigning process can be while you are doing it. “You don’t know what day and time it is and the start and end activities never stop,” she said.

She pointed out how running for student body president at Cerritos laid the ground work for her City Council campaign. “Running for political office at Cerritos College, walking around campus, passing out flyers, hanging up posters, that taught me a lot.

You had to figure out how you can be in all areas of the campus at the same time, she said. Campaigning is a lot of work, but the reward of being that servant and leader is well worth it.”

One thing that has happened in Norwalk that seem to fill Mayor Perez with a sense of pride as the mayor of Norwalk, is the reduction of energy usage for sustainability through purchasing street lights poles and converting them to LED lights.

“We did this because it saves on energy and it brighten up our neighborhoods while raising the level of safety for residents.”

Jason asked Jennifer if she could share some upcoming exciting things that might be happening in the City of Norwalk. “I will tell you that the City of Norwalk is getting a new grocery store in the very near future.

That’s all I can say. We are also getting a few new restaurants. Pick Up Stix is going to be opening very soon. And we will be one of the first city’s to have a drive thru Chipotle.”

The mayor also said that Norwalk officials are looking for new and innovative ways to bring programming back to the city. “We are searching for new ways to gather and still be safe and healthy. So there may be concerts or movies in the park,” she said.

Another important fact that Mayor Perez shared is that the state of California wants cities to focus on housing. As a result, she said that they are tasked with increasing their housing stock.

“You will definitely see some new housing tracks in the city. We are looking for ways to make bike riding in the city safe since it is a form of transportation and our residents want it,” she said.

Her farewell words to students included her philosophy on listening. “Something I have learned is that you should listen more than you speak. Listening needs to be your priority.

“Hold on Falcons, we will get there, and that through hope together things will be brighter.

“We are all blessed and we are all Falcons, true and true and will always be Falcons and we will get there,” she said.

For more information about the alumni conversation series check out the alumni page in the college website.