Championing community transformation

Abel Pineda awarded the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award

Abel Pineda (Oakes ’14, sociology) accepts the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award on Oct. 27, 2023.

The Alumni Association at UC Santa Cruz is proud to present this year’s honorees of the UCSC Alumni Awards. These awards recognize and honor alumni who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements, made distinct contributions to society, provided impactful contributions to UCSC, and who have embodied the values and spirit of the university.

For his service to his community and the public, Abel Pineda received the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award on Oct. 27, 2023. 

Abel Pineda was very intentional in choosing to attend UC Santa Cruz and what he planned to do after graduation:  To return home to serve the City of San Pablo where he was born and raised. Pineda came to UCSC with the purpose of gaining the knowledge and skills he needed to better understand the issues facing his community and how to address them.

The first in his family to go to college, Pineda graduated from UCSC in 2014 with a B.A. in sociology. Five years later, he became the youngest person ever elected to the San Pablo City Council, and in 2022 became the youngest ever elected as the city’s mayor.

Pineda’s dedication to public service was profoundly influenced when he lost his best friend to gang violence while still in high school. He became determined to make radical changes in his community.  

“As somebody that was born and raised in San Pablo, I got a chance to see our community go through so much. I knew that we deserved better, that we deserved a better shot at having complete lives, having great jobs, feeling safe in our schools and community, and having access to healthcare resources and programs. I look at it through that lens because I grew up in this community. It's very personal to me.” 

In recognition of his dedication and service, UCSC awarded Pineda with the first-ever Outstanding Recent Alumni Award on Oct. 27. 

“This is a recognition that means a lot to me personally because it not only represents the hard work and sacrifices that I've made to obtain a higher education, but also the support and encouragement that I've received by my mentors, colleagues, and the community that I serve,” Pineda said. “So I really appreciate and value this so much, because it's also a testament of the power of education, public service, and making a positive impact on people's lives.”

Making meaningful change

It’s difficult for Pineda to pinpoint the policies and programs that he is most proud of spearheading—especially because there are dozens of them. Pineda emphasizes that he is intentional about the issues he aims to address in San Pablo and combats the issues directly affecting his community. 

“When it comes to health, when it comes to education, when it comes to housing, all these issues are very much top of mind for me. They're all super important amongst others. In my situation and in my community, while we may not have all the solutions or the funding to address all these issues immediately, we're all working on a plan both short term and long term to try to meet the needs of our residents.”

One of the key issues at the forefront of Pineda’s agenda is educational accessibility, specifically when it comes to higher education. In 2023, Pineda helped establish the San Pablo Scholarship, a three-year pilot program which aims to financially support individuals on their journey to pursue higher education or trade school. Pineda is actively working on a ballot measure to create long term funding for the scholarship to support San Pablo residents of any age.

“There's a lot of opportunities there,” Pineda emphasizes. “I want to make sure that people have all the options on the table so that they can be qualified and prepared to take these roles on. When it comes to long term funding, I don't want it to be limited to just recent high school graduates, I want anyone living in the city of San Pablo to have this opportunity to have the support, to have these resources, and to be able to pursue their passions.” 

In addition to strengthening accessibility to higher education in his community, Pineda was adamant about advocating for his constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic and instilled an eviction and rent increase moratorium in the city. Pineda said the moratorium prevented displacement during a vulnerable time for many people. More recently, he has worked to create a rental registry requiring landlords to report their properties to the city. In turn, the city will be able to ensure landlords are in compliance with state mandates and prevent severe rental hikes. 

Pineda’s work to support education and rental security only scratches the surface of policies and programs he’s spearheaded and supported since being elected in 2019.

His advice for students looking to pursue a career in public service: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, don’t limit yourself because you don’t have the experience. 

“I've come across people that will negate themselves the opportunity to pursue a position of working for an elected official or running for office themselves because they say ‘I don't have the background or I don't have the experience necessary for me to even be considered.’At every single person's time in a career, it was their first day too. No one was born with all the experience or knowledge.” 

As a stark advocate for the residents of San Pablo, Pineda is positioned to leave a legacy of dedication and passion in his community and beyond.