It took awhile, but they arrived just in time for the introductions as part of Friday’s South Coast Air Quality Management District’s annual Governing Board Intern Breakfast.
Michael Cacciotti, a South Pasadena City Council member who also serves on the SCAQMD Board, was running a little bit behind schedule for the 8 a.m. event at the agency’s headquarters in Diamond Bar.
He walked in along with Diego Zavala, one of eight interns he’s brought in this summer to learn how the governmental agency operates in protecting public health by reducing air pollution and improving the quality of life for all residents living in the region.
Cacciotti had a good excuse for his tardiness as pointed out by William Burke, the governing board chair, who was at the podium recognizing all board members in attendance at the breakfast.
When it came time to talk about Cacciotti, Burke was all smiles, telling audience members, “It’s unbelievable how he comes to our meetings,” he said. “He always takes public transportation.”
Awakening in the wee hours of the morning, Cacciotti and Zavala, starting from South Pasadena at roughly 5:50 a.m., boarded three buses, consuming about 2 ½ hours on the road in order to make it to SCAQMD headquarters Friday.
While Burke didn’t exactly have Cacciotti’s traffic pattern down pat, he does know that the board member sacrifices plenty to attend the meetings without the use of a car.
“He rides his bike to the bus stop, takes the bus, takes the train, then rides his bike some more,” Burke told the crowd before taking a long pause. “He’s never on time,” he said with a smile, “but he’s always here.”
The room filled with laughter as Cacciotti’s colleagues and interns took in Burke’s kind-hearted words. “What he does to get out here is nothing short of amazing,” added the chair.
Agreeing with him was Zavala, a recent South Pasadena High graduate, who has returned to SCAQMD for a second summer internship. He enjoyed the lengthy bus ride and public transportation experience with Cacciatti while looking forward to lending a hand to an organization celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Zavala wanted to see “the ins and outs” of how the SCAQMD works when he signed up for the agency’s internship program. In recent weeks, he’s been working in human resources or, in his words, “the people who keep the building running,” adding, that he’s also given time in the Legislative and Public Affairs Office for a short time this summer.
Cacciotti, who has served on the South Pasadena City Council since 2001, recognizes that SCAQMD has made significant progress over the years to clean the air, but acknowledges that residents are still affected by some of the most polluted air in the United States.
There’s still much work to be done and he’s pleased his team of interns are learning firsthand how SCAQMD looks to layout aggressive strategies to pursue reductions in criteria pollutants, greenhouse gases and air toxics.
He’s pleased interns like Zavala can make a real difference over the next couple of months. “It’s an opportunity for these students to change their lives,” said Cacciotti. “They understand the impacts of pollution on their own health, their family’s health, pets, and will discover the causes of pollution, what it’s going to take to reduce it and improve our health.”
Including Zavala, four of the SCAQMD interns are from South Pasadena, joining Yoli Patzkowski, Maren Bender, and Jacob Ruano. The remaining four are Luis Acosta, Andre Yeung. Mason McCune and Andrew Shao from neighboring cities.
“In talking so some of the interns, this experience has really impacted their lives and changed their career path,” explained Cacciotti. “It’s life changing.”
Alcosta said he has been learning a lot about SCAQMD’s engineering department and hopes to go into the field once he graduates from UC Irvine. “This has been a really good experience,” he said. “I appreciate Mr. Cacciotti for allowing me to do this.”
Ruano, a senior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, is working in Information Management at the District, which “allows me to take a look into SCAQMD from a technological standpoint,” he said. ”It has been a really, really great time.”
It’s the second go-around for Bender, a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, noting that she’s had a solid introduction at the agency in the science-related field. “My supervisor has really been great, and I’ve had a lot of hands-on work in what I plan on doing in the future,” she said.
Yeung, a science oriented student, said he’s grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the internship at SCAQMD. “I want to delve into policy making, which is why I’m participating in the Legislative Department,” he said. “I want to learn more about how science and policy interconnect with each other.”
The Arcadia High student added: “I’m really getting a lot out of this experience.”
Patzkowski, a senior at South Pasadena High, said she was thankful for the opportunity to get a glimpse into the SCAQMD world. “It’s an amazing experience to find out what the work space is like, how the District runs and how interconnected all the departments are,” she said. “I’m also thankful I have the opportunity to promote air quality. I do have a passion for environmental science and bettering society for a more cleaner environment.”
Addressing the interns at Friday’s breakfast was Wayne Nastri, the SCAQMD executive officer, who welcomed the young minds joining the agency’s team over the summer months. “You invigorate us,” he said. “We appreciate the energy, excitement and the fresh eyes you bring to what it is we do. This is a program that we all value and cherish very much. It’s also about the future, your future. It’s about how you look at the challenges we face as a society from an air quality and public health perspective. And [you might discover] if this is something you want to engage and move forward into [the future]. We appreciate all the things you do.”