About the Councilmembers

The Governor appoints the Council’s 31 members. Some are appointed because they are self or family advocates, some by virtue of their position in state government, and some as representatives of other organizations involved in the developmental disability services system. Under federal law, self-advocate and family advocate representatives must comprise at least 60 percent of the Council membership.

The self-advocate and family advocate Council members include: 

Council Chair, Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith – Family Advocate, Sacramento Region Representative (Alpine, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba Counties)

Sandra Smith, of Sacramento, was reappointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2016, where she has served since 2012. Smith has been office manager at Visiting Angels since 2007. She was a consultant at California Services for Technical Assistance and Training from 2000 to 2011 and at United Advocates for Children with Mental Health Needs in 2008. Smith was an executive assistant for the City of Sacramento in 2004 and a grant reader for the California Department of Education from 1998 to 2000. Smith was a teacher at Merryhill Private Middle School from 1996 to 1998 and a special education teacher for the Grant School District from 1992 to 1996. She is a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the University of California, Davis Institutional Review Board.

Vice Chair, Charles Nutt

Charles Nutt – Self-Advocate, North State Region Representative (Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tehama, and Trinity Counties)

Charles was appointed as a self-advocate to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2017. He serves on the Self-Determination Advisory Committee for the North State. He currently lives in Oroville, CA and is committed to delivering system change to benefit California’s with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Sandra Aldana

Sandra Aldana – Self-Advocate, At-Large Representative

Sandra I. Aldana, of Newbury Park, was reappointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities, where she has served since 2015. Aldana has been a self-employed educational consultant since 2013. She was a data collector at Westat from 2016 to 2018 and a technical assistant at JFA Avionics from 2010 to 2013. She was a graduate research assistant at the University of California, Santa Barbara Department of Education from 2005 to 2012, a graduate intern at the University of California Cooperative Extension Agricultural Water Quality Research and Education Program from 2006 to 2009 and a consultant and facilitator at the ALS Association’s Kern County Patient and Caregiver Support Group from 2005 to 2006. Aldana was an instructor of advanced Spanish grammar and beginning literature for the University of Kansas Department of Spanish and Portuguese and a development coordinator at the American Stroke Foundation in 2004. She was a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Kansas Department of Applied Behavioral Science from 2003 to 2004, a service coordinator at the North Los Angeles County Regional Center from 2001 to 2003 and a qualified mental retardation professional at the United Cerebral Palsy Chatsworth Campus from 2000 to 2001. Aldana was a pregnancy prevention program coordinator at the Vista Community Clinic from 1999 to 2000, a senior health educator for pregnancy prevention at the Northridge Hospital Medical Center from 1998 to 1999 and a staff intern at the World Health Organization in 1997. She was a women’s health graduate teaching assistant for the Department of Health Science at California State University, Northridge from 1995 to 1996, an intern at the Ventura County Department of Public Health from 1996 to 1997 and an AIDS educator for AIDS Care Inc. from 1990 to 1998. Aldana is a member of the American Educational Research Association, International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, California Association for Bilingual Education, American Association of University Women and the American Public Health Association. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in education from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master of Public Health degree in health education from California State University, Northridge.

Nicole Adler

Nicole Adler – Self-Advocate, At-Large Representative

Nicole Adler was appointed to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2018. She is currently working towards her associates degree in communications from the College of San Mateo. In 2014 she was appointed by Governor Brown to the California Disability Commission and remains an active participant. She is also a member of the Redwood City Women’s club. 

Diane Ambrose

Diane Ambrose – Family Advocate, At-Large Representative 

Diane Ambrose, of Santa Clarita, was been appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2018. Ambrose served as deputy director at the North Los Angeles County Regional Center from 2010 to 2017, where she held several positions from 1982 to 1998, including manager for the training and information department, manager of community affairs, area specialist, supervising counselor of the Children’s Unit and counselor of the Adult Unit. She was clinical counselor at the Catawba Center for Growth and Development from 1982 to 2009. Ambrose earned a Master of Education degree in special education from the University of South Carolina.

Julie Austin

Julie Austin – Family Advocate, San Diego Imperial Region Representative (Imperial and San Diego Counties)

Julie Austin, of Oceanside, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2018. She has been a caregiver at In-Home Supportive Services since 2010 and an independent special education and disabilities advocate since 2001. She was director of the Sales and Marketing Division at Pacific Quartz Inc. from 2013 to 2015 and owner and manager at Brengle Terrace Animal Hospital from 1993 to 2004.

Stephen Bell

Stephen B. Bell – Family Advocate, At-Large Representative   

Stephen B. Bell, of Shasta Lake, is a family advocate whose son is diagnosed with autism. He formerly was employed by the California Highway Patrol and retired honorably in 2012.   

Kilolo Brodie

Kilolo Brodie – Family Advocate, North Valley Hills Region Representative (Amador, Calaveras, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne Counties)

Dr. Brodie was appointed by Governor Brown to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2013. She is currently social work department chair and master of social work program director for Stanislaus State and has been teaching at the graduate-level for over thirteen years. She received her Ph.D. from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 2008; obtained her MSW from Stan State in 1998; and earned a bachelor’s degree from Clark Atlanta University. Her research interests focus on advocacy for underrepresented and disenfranchised groups. Dr. Brodie has worked as a county child welfare worker and for community collaboratives as a family group conference coordinator/facilitator. She has been providing trainings for human service organizations for over 10 years.

Jeana Ericksen

Jeana Ericksen – Self-Advocate, North Bay Region Representative (Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties)

Jeana Ericksen, of Santa Rosa, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2017. Ericksen was a warehouse worker at Redwood Empire Industries from 1992 to 1994. She is a member of the City of Santa Rosa Paratransit Users Group.  

Francis Lau

Francis Lau – At-Large Family Advocate, Bay Area Region Representative (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties)

Francis Lau, of San Francisco, has been a vice president and area manager at First Bank since 2000. He was co-manager and vice president at the Washington Mutual Bank Retail Banking Division from 1997 to 2000, a corporate development director and director of finance at Pharmakon International Laboratory Ltd. From 1994 to 1995 and a branch manager at Wells Fargo from 1992 to 1994, where he held several position from 1977 to 1992, including assistant vice president, manager of the Private Banking Department and lending officer in the retail banking group. He is treasurer at the Donaldina Cameron House and a member of the Operation HOPE Advisory Council and the Habitat for Humanity, Greater San Francisco Family Selection Committee. Lau earned a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of San Francisco School of Management.

Matthew Lagrand

Matthew Lagrand – Self-Advocate, Sequioa Representative (Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa,  Merced, and Tulare Counties)

Matthew D. Lagrand was a worker at BARC Recycling in 2003. He is a member of the Kern Regional Center Board of Directors and the California Department of Developmental Disabilities Consumer Advisory Committee. 

Maria Marquez

Maria Marquez – Self-Advocate, At-Large Representative

Maria Marquez, of Pittsburg, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2017. Marquez was an advocate at People First of California in 2012 and a peer self-advocate coordinator at Disability Rights California from 2005 to 2012. She was a consumer advocate at the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center from 2004 to 2005 and an inclusion specialist at Sherry Beamer and Associates Inc. from 2003 to 2004. Marquez was a peer support specialist at the Family Resource Library and Assistive Technology Center from 2001 to 2003 and an assistant camp counselor at the AbilityFirst Joan and Harry A. Mier Center in 1994. She is a member of the Regional Center of the East Bay’s Board of Directors and Consumer Advisory Committee and serves as vice president of the center’s Self-Determination Program Local Advisory Committee. Marquez is a member of the Developmental Disabilities Council of Contra Costa County. 

Jacqueline Nguyen

Jacqueline Nguyen – Family Advocate, Orange County Representative 

Jacqueline Phan Nguyen, of Stanton, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2016. Nguyen has been senior project specialist at CalOptima since 2014, where she was a provider relations representative from 2010 to 2014. She was senior case manager at Southeast Area Social Services Funding Authority WorkSource in 2010 and program coordinator at the University of California, Irvine from 2006 to 2010. Nguyen is a member of the Community Emergency Responders, Association of Contingency Planners and the Business and Industry Council for Emergency Planning and Preparedness. She earned a Master of Science degree in public safety from Capella University.

David Pegos

David Pegos – Family Advocate, At-Large Representative 

David A. Pegos, of Sacramento, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2018. Pegos has been special assistant in the Plant Division at the California Department of Food and Agriculture since 2011, where he has served in several positions since 2006, including deputy secretary for communications and external affairs, assistant secretary for public outreach and assistant secretary for legislation. He was director of advertising and promotions for the California Exposition and State Fair from 2005 to 2006, legislative consultant at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research from 2003 to 2005 and manager for appointments in the Office of the Governor in 2003. Pegos was legislative director in the Office of California State Senator K. Maurice Johannessen from 2000 to 2003 and in the Office of California State Assemblymember George R. House Jr. from 1994 to 2000. He is a member of the National Down Syndrome Congress, The ARC, Alta Regional Center, Down Syndrome Information Alliance, Cowan Fundamental Elementary School Site Council and the San Juan School District Community Advisory Committee.  

Alfredo Rubalcava

Alfredo Rubalcava – Family Advocate, Los Angeles Region Representative (Los Angeles County)

Alfredo Rubalcava, of Downey, has been the chief executive officer and superintendent at Magnolia Public Schools since 2018 where he has held several positions since 2002, including principal, dean of students, athletic director, department chair and teacher. He is a member of the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center and the California Charter Schools Association Advocacy Program. In addition to his roles with Magnolia Public Schools, he also worked as senior advisor of diversity, outreach and community development for the California Charter Schools Association. 

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor – Self-Advocate, North Coast Representative (Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, and Mendocino Counties)

Robert Taylor, of Clearlake, was reappointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2016, where he has served since 2013. Taylor has been an advisor at the Board Resource Center Inc. since 2009. He was a member of the Regional Community Advisory Committee of L.A. Care Health Plan from 2008 to 2011. Taylor was a telemarketer at Zoya Communications Inc. from 1998 to 2001. He is a member of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center Self-Advocacy Group, Employment First Committee, and a consumer member of the California Health and Human Services Agency, Olmstead Advisory Committee.

Andrea Vergne

Andrea Vergne – Family Advocate, At-Large Representative 

Andrea Vergne, of Arroyo Grande, was appointed to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD) by Governor Jerry 2013. Andrea is the mother of five grown children and she has been an advocate for the rights of children with developmental disabilities having guided her developmentally delayed grandson, Cade, through the public school system. Andrea adopted Cade and has been advocating for him since he was little. Andrea has served as a board member of the Children’s Resource Network of the Central Coast.  Facilitated the creation of the Arroyo Grande School Teen Closet. Served as an Advisory Board member to the District Attorney’s First Responders Group. In collaboration with other professionals, she introduced a draft for the Adults in Transition Program Serving Students 18 through 22 years of age.

Wesley Witherspoon

Wesley Witherspoon – Self-Advocate, At-Large Representative 

Wesley Witherspoon, of Inglewood, was appointed to the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2018. Witherspoon has been project coordinator at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles since 1980. He is a member of the Community Emergency Response Team.

In addition to the self-advocates and family advocate members, 11 Councilmembers are appointed because of their position in state government or because of their role with a specified organization. They are:

Tony Thurmond

Tony Thurmond, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Superintendent Thurmond is an educator, social worker, and public school parent, who has served the people of California for more than ten years in elected office. Previously, Superintendent Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council, West Contra Costa Unified School Board, and in the California State Assembly, representing District 15.

Like many of California’s public school students, Superintendent Thurmond came from humble beginnings. His mother was an immigrant from Panama who came to San Jose, California, to be a teacher. His father was a soldier who didn’t return to his family after the Vietnam War. Superintendent Thurmond met him for the first time when he was an adult. After Superintendent Thurmond’s mother died when he was 6, he and his brother were raised by a cousin who they had never met.

Superintendent Thurmond’s family relied on public assistance programs and great public schools to get out of poverty. Superintendent Thurmond’s public school education allowed him to attend Temple University, where he became study body president. He went on to earn dual master’s degrees in Law and Social Policy and Social Work (MSW) from Bryn Mawr College and began a career dedicated to service.

Much of Superintendent Thurmond’s social service work has focused on improving the services provided to foster youth and directing programs that provide job training to at-risk youth. He also led programs to provide help for individuals with developmental disabilities. Tony has 12 years of direct experience in education, teaching life skills classes, after-school programs, and career training.

Superintendent Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council from 2005-2008. While on the council he served as Liaison to Richmond’s Youth Commission and Workforce Investment Board and the Council Liaison to the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He was chair of Richmond’s 2005 Summer Youth Program which employed 200 local teens.

Superintendent Thurmond served from 2008-2012 on the West Contra Costa School Board, where he coordinated a plan to keep schools open during the 2008 recession.

Superintendent Thurmond helped restore fiscal solvency and local control to the School Board, while supporting campaigns to put millions of dollars toward preserving counseling, after-school, music, and athletic programs. Under Superintendent Thurmond’s leadership, the School Board rebuilt dozens of schools to provide state-of-the-art student learning facilities.

Superintendent Thurmond funded programs to help students learn about and apply to top universities. He also led efforts to expand drug and alcohol treatment services for youth, and to bring nutrition and wellness programs to schools. Additionally, Superintendent Thurmond spearheaded a campaign that reduced school suspensions by 27%.

In the State Assembly, Superintendent Thurmond served on the Assembly Education, Health, and Human Services Committees. He chaired the Assembly Labor Committee and the Assembly Select Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education.

Education is at the core of Superintendent Thurmond’s legislative record. He authored legislation that successfully expanded the free lunch program, bilingual education, and the Chafee Grant college scholarship program for foster youth. Additionally, Superintendent Thurmond’s legislation guaranteed preferential voting rights for student school board members, improved access to families for early education and childcare, and shifted millions of dollars directly from prisons to schools. Superintendent Thurmond introduced legislation to expand STEM education, improve school conditions for LGBTQ youth, and tax private prisons to fund early education and afterschool programs.

In recognition of his social service leadership, Superintendent Thurmond has been a Fellow in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship program.

Superintendent Thurmond lives in Richmond with his two daughters who attend local public schools. They are his inspiration and a constant reminder about the promise of our neighborhood schools and the strong future that every child deserves.

Julie Neward

Julie Neward, Non-Governmental Representative

Julie Neward, 38, of Concord, has been appointed to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Neward has been general manager at Somersville Towne Center Mall for Urban Retail Properties since 2016. She was property manager for Madison Marquette from 2015 to 2016 and at the Village at Corte Madera for Macerich from 2014 to 2015. She was assistant general manager for Westfield Parkway Plaza in San Diego, Westfield Santa Anita in Los Angeles and Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose from 2007 to 2014, property manager for Shea Properties from 2011 to 2012 and a licensed retail salesperson for Colliers International from 2002 to 2006. Neward is co-founder and president of the California Sibling Leadership Network. She is co-chair of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee and a member of the Contra Costa County Mental Health Commission and Shelter Inc. Neward earned a Master of Business Administration degree in international business from the University of San Diego. 

Robin Hansen, M.D.

Robin Hansen, M.D., University Center for Excellence (University of California, Davis) 

Dr. Hansen is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician/researcher with vast experience in diagnosing and treating children with neurodevelopmental problems such as pervasive developmental disorder, autism, learning disorders, and attention deficits. She heads a multidisciplinary clinic that diagnosis children, plans/initiates intervention strategies, and works closely with patient families. Her clinical research has focused on children’s temperament and its effects on parenting, long-term effects of prenatal drug exposure, and etiologic diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorders such as autism, including clinical characteristics, biologic markers and gene-environment interactions. Dr. Hansen has developed services for families affected by parental substance abuse, infant mental health, and children in foster care in Sacramento County. She has been an advocate for children at high risk for developmental/behavioral disorders, through her research and her community service at the local, state and national level.

Larry Yin, M.D.

Larry Yin, M.D., University Center for Excellence (University of Southern California) 

Dr. Larry Yin is a clinician practicing both Developmental-Behavioral and General Pediatrics.  Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.  He also holds the academic position of Associate Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at USC.  He is the Medical Director of the Boone Fetter Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (an Autism Speak’s Autism Treatment Network Site) and the Director of the USC University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.  For over 15 years, Dr. Yin has been the Medical Consultant to the San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center.  Dr. Yin has over 20 years providing care for children with neurodevelopmental disorders and special health care needs.  His current research interests include: access and service delivery for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, racial/ethnic health disparities in autism spectrum disorders, and pediatric obesity to name to some of his scholarly work.

Olivia Raynor, Ph.D.

Olivia Raynor, Ph.D., University Center for Excellence (University of California, Los Angeles) 4521(b)(2) (F)

Olivia Raynor, Ph.D., is the Director of the Tarjan Center, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute, UCLA. Her career spans over 35 years of experience in management, analysis, evaluation, training and public policy at the individual and system levels that support individuals with disabilities participation in inclusive postsecondary education, integrated competitive employment, the arts, and civic engagement . Dr. Raynor is the Principal Investigator and Director of CECY, California’s Project of National Significance Partnerships in Employment Systems Change project. She also established and provides leadership to the CA Higher Education Consortium for People with IDD. Under contract with the CA Community College Chancellor’s Office, Dr. Raynor is the developmental disability consultant to the community college system. Dr. Raynor chaired the UCLA Committee that lead to the establishment in 2006 of Pathway at UCLA Extension, a ground breaking 2-year postsecondary program for students with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Raynor is the Immediate Past President and serves on the Board of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). She is a Governor appointed member of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Raynor holds degrees from Boston University and USC in Occupational Therapy and a doctorate from UCLA in Educational Psychology.

Jennifer Kent

Jennifer Kent, Director, California Department of Health Care Services

Governor Brown appointed Jennifer Kent as director of the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) in 2015. Director Kent oversees a staff of almost 4,000 individuals at DHCS, which is responsible for the operation of Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. The department manages the spending of more than $100 billion annually in public funds that support the health of more than 13.5 million Californians.

Kent had served as executive director of Local Health Plans of California since September 2013. Prior to that, she was principal with Health Management Associates Inc., from 2011 through 2013, where she advised clients on issues of health care reform. Her previous California government service included leadership roles in legislative, intergovernmental, financial and health policy areas with the Office of the Governor, the Health and Human Services Agency, and at DHCS.

Kent earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government/History at Saint Mary’s College of California, and received a Master’s of Public Administration from the University of Southern California. 

Catherine Blakemore

Catherine Blakemore, Executive Director, Disability Rights California

Catherine Blakemore is the executive director for Disability Rights California (DRC). She previously worked as DRC’s Director of Litigation and the Managing Attorney of the Los Angeles office. Before joining DRC, Catherine was an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the Disability Rights Legal Center.

Catherine received her J.D. from Loyola University School of Law in Los Angeles.

Her work as an attorney was in the area of special education. She continues to work as one of the lawyers in the Chanda Smith vs. Los Angeles Unified School District case. She is the Vice Chair of the California Commission on Access to Justice, which seeks to improve access to courts and administrative agencies for low-income and modest means Californians. She also served, in the past, as president of the National Disability Rights Network.

Lora Connolly

Lora Connolly, Director, Department of Aging 

Lora Connolly is the Director of the CDA, having previously served as the Chief Deputy Director from 2002-2012. CDA administers California’s Older Americans Act, Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy, Senior Community Employment, and the Community Based Adult Services programs as well as the Medicaid home and community based waiver for older adults.

Since 2006, Lora has managed California’s federally funded Chronic Disease Self-Management Demonstration Grants and has been instrumental in developing the CA Healthier Living Coalition to support access to evidence-based chronic disease self-management programs throughout the State. She has held various positions focused on aging and long term services and supports within state government over the past 25 years. Lora holds a Master of Science degree from the USC Davis School of Gerontology.

Mark Ghaly, M.D.

Mark Ghaly, M.D., Secretary, California Health and Human Services Agency 

Mark Ghaly, of South Pasadena, has served as director of health and social impact for Los Angeles County since 2018. He was deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services overseeing community health and integrated programs from 2011 to 2018 and medical director for the Southeast Health Center, a San Francisco Department of Public Health clinic, from 2006 to 2011. Ghaly earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from Harvard Medical School and a Master of Public Health degree in health policy from the Harvard School of Public Health. 

As both a physician and an expert in public health, Ghaly brings a deep knowledge and understanding of how individual and community health outcomes intersect with policy and law on issues like whole-person care, mental health and stage of life care. He will help lead the administration’s efforts to advance the Governor’s health care agenda, including proposals to lower prescription drug costs, provide coverage to young undocumented adults through Medi-Cal, and help put California on a path toward single-payer health care.