The way that Katherine Perez-Estolano fills out her calendar, it’s a wonder that she was able to accept a high-profile seat on the High Speed Rail Authority board.
In fact, when offered the position two years ago, the UCLA Luskin School graduate had to decline.
“I came to the conclusion that two years ago, it wasn’t the best timing,” Perez-Estolano said. “I was starting my business and you have to contribute a good deal of your personal time and be committed” to be on the board.
She wasn’t about to miss an opportunity like that again. This time, she got everyone’s blessing — from her business partners at Estolano LeSar Perez to her three children to give an approving nod.
“I have a lot of professional and personal demands on my time,” said Perez-Estolano, who had to squeeze in the interview for this story while driving to Fresno for a meeting for her new board seat. “It meant a lot and everybody understood that I want to go do this.”
Perez-Estolano, a 1996 Urban Planning graduate from UCLA Luskin, acts as the Southern California member of the seven-member High Speed Rail Authority board, which oversees the development of a high speed rail system in the state.
“A lot of the policy work we are doing is trying to spur job growth,” she said. “There’s a good deal of information about having the greatest bang for our buck. You name it, we’re trying to do that.”
There are three things that Perez-Estolano wants to work on during her board term, which can last as long as six years. She wants to be sure to continue a commitment to the communities the high speed rail project might impact — right now, the first leg has been to build a rail line from Madera to Bakersfield; she wants to put together a land use committee, something the chairman of the board, Dan Richard, has asked her to do; and a commitment to small businesses throughout the state to ensure that “Californians from all backgrounds can enjoy the investment,” she said.
“Transparency is very important to us and we’re working to ensure there is accurate information out there,” Perez-Estolano said.
The first time she was offered a seat on the board, she was just launching her company with fellow UCLA Luskin Urban Planning graduates, Cecilia Estolano and Jennifer LeSar. The company, based in Los Angeles, focuses on transportation, land use, urban planning and outreach and each Luskin grad has “three important parts to community planning,” Perez-Estolano said.
She has made it a point to give back to Luskin, the same way the School helped her career path. She has been a Senior Fellow, has been an instructor and has contributed to UCLA Luskin to give others the opportunity to succeed.
“I do as much as I can because I feel they have given me so much,” she said.
So much that it set her up for success in a variety of areas, which has set Perez-Estolano up for success in her new role with the High Speed Rail Authority. From serving as the first transportation director for South Pasadena — “one of the hardest jobs I’ve had in my life,” she says — to starting her own non-profit, to being recruited to run a real estate department and having firms contact her for various jobs, Perez-Estolano is ready for this challenge.
“All the stuff I’ve done,” she said, “it’s been a new experience and I haven’t been afraid. Exposing myself to all of these different things has just been fantastic.”
About the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Founded in 1994 and dedicated in 2011, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs  is a leading institution for research and scholarship in the areas of public policy, social welfare and urban planning. Based in the global metropolis of Los Angeles, UCLA Luskin develops creative solutions and innovative leaders that confront challenges in immigration, drug policy, prison reform, transportation, the environment, and other areas vital to the continued health and well-being of our global society.