As one of two women on the Los Angeles City Council, Nury Martinez fights to improve the quality of life in the northeast San Fernando Valley, a place she’s always called home.

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  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

In her career of public service, Nury Martinez holds some important distinctions. She was the first Latina in 25 years elected to the LA City Council, representing District 6. And from 2013 to 2017, she was the only woman on the 15-person council. The CSUN graduate has also served on the San Fernando City Council, the LAUSD School Board and as mayor of San Fernando. Here the passionate 45-year-old Sun Valley resident chats with writer Karen Young about her deep desire to make an impact, how she deals with all the red tape and why she appeared on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

What were your early years like in the Valley?

I was born in North Hollywood, but when I was 6, my parents bought their first home in Pacoima. My father would take a 5 a.m. bus, six days a week, to his job as a dishwasher at a coffee shop on Riverside and Woodman. My mom started off working as a seamstress at a little shop off Van Nuys and Erwin that made curtains for really big clients. Sometimes on Saturdays my sister and I would go to her work. She’d give us 25 cents and we’d walk over to See’s and buy two pieces of candy.

What influenced your personal drive and social consciousness?

My passion for social justice comes from my father. He was very political in his own way, with limited English and no formal education; we’d watch the news in Spanish and talk about politics. My mom is my role model; she’s a force! She always said the only thing no one can take from you is an education. When I was in high school, she worked the graveyard shift at Price Pfister just to get health benefits for our family. She’s absolutely the reason I entered politics. She taught me that if you want to make things right, you need to get involved to make change.

How do you avoid frustration amidst all the bureaucracy?

The way I tackle issues is through relationships and getting decision-makers to walk the neighborhoods with me, to get out of their offices and see what people deal with. Take environmental justice issues. You try living across the street from a mountain of trash. You try to get to school when your neighborhoods don’t have gutters or sidewalks, and it’s rained so much that you can’t get across the street because it looks like a lagoon. I try to expose our engineers and environmental scientists to these issues.

Homelessness is a red-hot issue—what’s your take?

On any given day, 30,000 people are living on sidewalks in neighborhoods like mine. I feel like it’s communities of color and the poor that are often asked to bear the burden of dealing with these social issues. In my district we have a number of homeless service providers and homeless shelters. There’s absolutely a crisis on our hands that we need to figure out, but we need to level the playing field. Everyone needs to address this issue equitably. I will do my fair share to build permanent supportive housing but so should everyone else.

How did you end up walking through homeless camps with Kim Kardashian?

The producers called and said Kim wanted to meet with me for Keeping Up with the Kardashians to learn about homelessness. I said I’d do it only if she’d walk the encampments in my district and meet people face to face to learn how complicated this issue is. The fact that she said yes, I thought was big. We walked along the railroad tracks on San Fernando Road, which are among the worst camps in Sun Valley. She asked to meet with a women’s homeless shelter. We came up with a list, and she chose Alexandria House, which she later visited. I really felt she was sincere.