Westmont Magazine Two Careers, Two Cultures

As a city council member in California, Brett Franklin ’83 understands the changing demographics of his hometown and native state. After experiencing big growth during the 1980s, his city of 338,000 is 80 percent Hispanic, and students in the public schools speak more than 50 different languages.

But Brett doesn’t live in Los Angeles or the Central Valley. He represents Santa Ana, the county seat of California’s traditionally conservative Orange County. The future is multicultural even here.

In 1990, Brett realized that if he planned to stay in California, he needed to speak Spanish. Locating a language school for missionaries in Costa Rica, he spent a year there becoming fluent.

Not only did he return bilingual, but he brought back a Costa Rican bride, Rossette. He returns frequently to Costa Rica to visit his in-laws and is raising his 1-year-old son to speak both languages and to feel at home in both cultures.

Spanish fluency is a great asset for a city council member. “People don’t expect it and they are very open when they realize they can talk to me in Spanish,” Brett says. “Being bilingual has opened a lot of doors for me.”

Interested in international issues ever since he went on a Westmont Europe semester, Brett has helped to establish an international trade center to promote commerce between Mexican firms and Orange County businesses. Mexican President Vicente Fox and California Gov. Gray Davis attended the opening.

“The center is a one-stop shop for small and medium businesses to cut through the red tape on both sides of the border,” Brett explains. “Each state in Mexico has a representative in the office, which gives our local business people an immediate contact.”

In 1999, the American Council of Young Political Leaders chose Brett to represent the United States in a delegation to North Africa and the Middle East. He was one of 10 people selected by the German Marshall Fund to meet with business leaders and government officials in Spain in 2002.

Brett understands the needs of small businesses. In 1986 he went into business with his father, a Realtor, and handles the property management side of the business. Nearly all the residents in the small apartment buildings and single family homes he oversees speak Spanish. His flexible hours make it easier for him to serve on the city council.

Concern about trees being cut down on his parents’ street led Brett to serve on the Santa Ana Environmental and Transportation Advisory Committee from 1992-1996. Preserving the urban forest became an interest as did developing youth programs, renovating parks and playgrounds and creating new ones. He also worked to improve the infrastructure, including streets.

In 1996 Brett was elected to the city council, and he won re-election in 2000. He became mayor pro tem in 2002.

“It seems like I work 24 hours a day,” Brett says. “Wherever I go, my constituents recognize me. It’s easier to get a hold of me than most other elected officials, so I end up doing a lot of listening to people.”

Participation on the Orange County Water District board and the Transportation Corridor Agencies board has encouraged him to announce his intention to run for Orange County supervisor in 2004 when term limits end his service on the city council.

“There are a lot of divisive issues in the county with a rift between the older cities and the newer ones in the south. Serving on regional boards has put me in touch with a lot of elected leaders in the county. My goal is to help unify the region by finding areas of common interest, which I have done successfully in Santa Ana.”

An economics and business major at Westmont, Brett took a class from David Lawrence, a political science professor who also served as a city councilman in Carpinteria. “I learned a lot from Dr. Lawrence. I had always enjoyed following politics, and his experience encouraged me.”

Brett says he appreciates all his Westmont professors. “The beauty of a liberal arts education is that you really do learn how to use your mind and think for yourself,” he says.