SJDA staffers will apply recent personal achievements to improving downtown

Three San Jose Downtown Association staff members are improving themselves – and downtown in the process. Congratulations to Community Engagement Manager Juan Carlos Aguirre, Operations Manager Chris Arkley and Street Life Manager Sarah Billings for their latest achievements this month:

Juan Carlos Aguirre – Scholarship Award Winner

Juan Carlos Aguirre has been awarded a scholarship from the College of Graduate Studies at San Jose State University that will support his efforts to get a master’s degree in applied anthropology. The Bertha Kalm Scholarship goes to graduate students who demonstrate a desire to make a difference for humanity.

Aguirre certainly fits the bill. He has turned his life around the past five years by finding a purpose in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) research, advocacy and implementation. For his master’s thesis, he is gathering an inventory of successful and faltered strategies applied by downtown associations across North America and Europe, including SJDA. The goal is for downtowns everywhere to build a strong framework of DEI, justice and belonging in their business models.

“DEI in general starts a dialog and creates an atmosphere that the way things used to be — the status quo — is no longer acceptable,” Aguirre said.  “Our world must be more accepting and inclusive of all identities.”

“The scholarship committee was particularly impressed with the positive trajectory you have made from difficult challenges to your advanced degree program,” said the award letter. “This

award honors and recognizes you, as well as Associate Professor (A.J.) Faas, for outstanding work to date and exciting promise in the future. We believe you can make a difference, and look forward to hearing about your future endeavors.”

Aguirre is committed to imbedding activism into whatever work he does in his lifetime, he said. His resume includes a number of committees and projects meant to help others and evoke change. The award committee was particularly impressed with his projects for Japantown Prepared and the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center.

Chris Arkley – Leadership course completion

Chris Arkley completed the Leadership San Jose program.

The 10-month cohort of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce involved 20 people who were encouraged to apply for the program.  At the first session, the group set its own agenda and selected tough topics including county health, the mechanics of city government, arts and culture, equity, supportive housing and working in a changing world.

“The purpose of the program is to show how we can be empowered to make a difference in our day-to-day work,” Arkley said.

The monthly all-day sessions required open-mindedness and exposed Arkley to different viewpoints and ideas, he said.

In addition, Arkley learned from the program that he has a passion for transportation projects. He’s more prepared now to contribute to the re-imagining of Santa Clara Street, which has been in discussion the past year.  And as someone who lives outside of downtown, he’d like to help identify and improve connections to downtown that would make it easier for him to get to and from work.

“Leadership SJ explains the how and the why and helps to connect the dots,” he said.

“I recommend the program to anyone who wants to be more knowledgeable and more involved in the community.”

Sarah Billings – Certified Arborist

Street Life Manager Sarah Billings will continue to work with tree-care providers to maintain downtown’s tree canopy — but from now on as a certified arborist.  She earned her certification through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Billings has been with SJDA the past two years, coming from a position where she served as a tree specialist for an environmental consulting firm specializing in vegetation management.

With the training she received to earn her certification, Billings can better manage tree care trimmings and timing. She will continue to work with the City of San Jose arborist on new plantings, such as a new variety of oak introduced on Almaden Boulevard in front of the Zoom headquarters last year.

And she continues working with tree-care crews hired through the Downtown Property-Based Improvement District (PBID) to unbind the trees at their bases.  They remove the metal grates that harm the trees’ root systems and simultaneously impedes sidewalks and causes tripping hazards for pedestrians.

“Downtown has a good canopy,” she said. “It’s nice to look out a window and see nature and new plantings doing well.  We want to keep the trees happy and give them room to grow.”

Looking forward, Billings has plans for more plantings in the newly defined expanded PBID areas and to work more closely with downtown property owners on continued tree maintenance around their buildings.

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