by Rebecca Norden-Bright | email@example.com
While on the phone with the COURIER, Claremont City Councilmember Jed Leano was trying to get his six-year-old son Welles to sit down at the table and practice his sight words.
“That’s not ‘D,’ that’s ‘buh-buh B,’” said Mr. Leano to Welles. “Sorry,” he said, going back to the phone. “As you can tell, homeschooling means that when I talk to the newspaper, I am doing sight words.”
Mr. Leano, who was elected to the council in 2018, has been a frequent name in local headlines since then. In the past year, he was featured by the COURIER for his work in August 2019 for founding the nonprofit Room for All to help improve conditions at a refugee shelter in Tijuana, his recognition by the 41st Assembly District as Democrat of the Year followed in October 2019; and his role in securing funding for an affordable housing development on Base Line Road that was approved by the council in July.
Mr. Leano pointed to the reduction of Claremont’s homeless population by 37 percent, as the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count revealed in July, as a major highlight of his year and an indicator of the work he has been doing as an advocate for affordable housing.
But behind the news stories, Mr. Leano has had a year much like many other people in Claremont and around the country during this time. He’s grappling with the challenges of homeschooling and keeping Welles occupied.
“It’s a reality of COVID when the thing that you do to support your family, by law, shuts down,” said Mr. Leano of his law practice. “I can’t demand that the courts reopen. I’m in a position where I have to wait for them to come back and then I can get back to my job. But it works out perfectly. Because while that’s happening, Welles needs my attention more than he ever has. And I am the person in the capacity to do that, so it actually works out well.”
Managing through a pandemic
Mr. Leano made no attempt to sugarcoat the challenges he’s faced in the past few months.
“It was overwhelming, in everything that’s happened,” he said. “I don’t know how else to say that.”
Despite being frequently overwhelmed by the challenges of this year, Mr. Leano also expressed his pleasure and his pride in the work he has been doing in Claremont.
From the outset of his involvement in politics, he has framed housing and homelessness as one of his key priorities. And last month, the culmination of the long process of securing funding for the Base Line housing project was a major victory for his vision.
“I’m really glad about that,” said Mr. Leano. “That’s going to be a lasting impact that I will know that no matter what happens to me, it will always be there. And it will be a tremendous benefit to the community.”
Mr. Leano noted that his tireless advocacy for housing has made him unpopular with some Claremont residents who disagree. He emphasized that he is always willing to hear the opinions of his constituents—he sets aside a certain amount of time each day to respond to calls and emails—but that when it comes to housing, he considers the current crisis so acute that he has a responsibility to come up with solutions.
“I have a job to do, and I have convictions that I believe in,” said Mr. Leano. “What is at stake here really is, do we stand for the status quo and let the housing crisis further deepen, knowing that we had opportunities to turn it around and change it?” he added.
Mr. Leano’s focus on affordable housing is an issue rooted in his family’s background. His father, an immigrant from the Philippines, lived in public housing in a poor slum in Manila. His grandmother, who raised him, lived in senior public housing at the end of her life. So, for him, rhetoric about affordable housing developments bringing crime and drugs into communities is personal.
“People like my father and grandmother need people to stick up for them,” he said.
In addition to his family, Mr. Leano’s perspectives have also been influenced further by his time working in and around local government.
“When I became a commissioner [on the community and human services commission] in 2016, and I started paying attention to local government, it became fundamentally clear that the changes that are necessary to make housing affordable are typically at the very most local level,” said Mr. Leano.
Securing funding for the Base Line project was the end result of more than a year of planning, making connections and partnerships with local and regional agencies. But Mr. Leano’s work is far from done. He noted that along with Director of Human Services Anne Turner, he is constantly looking for new ways to not only build, but also repurpose, housing for low-income and homeless Claremonters.
“I am always thinking, what is the immediate and next opportunity?” said Mr. Leano. “We are always evaluating what’s coming down from the county, what’s coming down from the state. Anne and I are always engaged with those partners and seeing what opportunities exist for new services and housing opportunities. So that is—and is going to be—number one. And that’s the immediate priority.”
In addition to continuing to work on housing, Mr. Leano also hopes to continue responsible stewardship of the city budget. He’s planning to work with a group of 11 interns from the Claremont Colleges this fall, providing them with the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of policy making and building on his campaign platform of engaging young people in local politics.
Despite his own personal goals for the office, Mr. Leano stressed that he continues to view his top priority as being accessible and accountable to the people of Claremont.
“I still feel like accessibility to my residents and being a good listener is still my number one job,” he said. “I have my goals and my agenda that I want to fight for. But I still have a responsibility to listen to as many people as possible and hear their opinions on things.”
Asked whether he plans to pursue higher office in the future, Mr. Leano acknowledged that it’s a question he is asked frequently, especially since his Democrat of the Year Award. But, for now, he loves his job on the council.
“All I can say is that I have the best job in politics, which is representing Claremont. The meetings are a mile and a half from my house and I get to work on the issues I care about with wonderful colleagues and a wonderful staff. And I get to make a direct impact on the place that my family and I call home,” he said.