The Team

Alison Becker, AICP 

Alison Becker is the Director of Planning and Economic Development for Council District 15. She has almost two decades of experience in community economic development and enjoys working with, and learning from the communities that she serves. Early in her career, Alison supported organizing efforts for day laborers, street vendors and an immigrant job cooperative. She started a homeownership program for a local historic preservation organization. She has been a policy and planning aide for three elected offices. She became a certified City Planner in 2008. This is the 6th community-based research effort she has been involved with. When not having fun at work, Alison lives in a 102-year old stone house with her family and too many pets in NELA’s famous Highland Park.

Cynthia Gonzalez, MPH, PhDc


As a proud lifetime resident of Watts, born and raised, Cynthia Gonzalez attended Edwin Markham Middle School and King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine. She became interested in research through an internship at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), where she has worked for over 10 years.  She completed a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Southern California (USC). She is currently completing a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco where she plans to utilize research as a tool for community engagement in Watts.

When asked about the reasons for her interest in Watts, Cynthia responded: “I often wondered about the ways in which I adapted to some conditions in my community.  It all seemed unfair, unjust, and disparate from other places. Though despite these conditions, our history makes Watts a resilient and powerful place where you will find legacies of leadership, culture, and survival. It is this particular reflection that drives my passion to continue to work and live in Watts.  In an effort to engage in collaboration with both, community and government, for community development that does not displace the residents of Watts, I look to the Watts Community Studio as a beginning for:

  • Partnerships between government and the community’s leadership, for I owe my passion to their work and legacy and
  • Inclusion of resident perspectives, for I owe my commitment to my parents, who also live in Watts.”

Heather Anderson, MS Urban Planning 

Heather Anderson completed her MS in Urban Planning at Columbia University in May 2012. In New York City, she supported community involvement in planning and advocated for neighborhood improvements while at public and non-profit agencies. Heather’s dedication to equity informed her early work experience with homeless youth and dual-diagnosis homeless adults. Heather grew up in Southern California, is excited to be back and to contribute to Angelenos’s quality of life.  When Heather is not nerding out over data, she can usually be found on her bike or watching a horror movie. She is enthused about Watts Community Studio for the potential connections it can foster: community to government and policy; people to place; business owners to resources; residents with one another in a discussion about the challenges, strengths and vision for their neighborhood.

Lila Burgos, MURP 

Lila Burgos completed her Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA in June 2013. Prior to city planning, Lila worked in public health, public education and human-trafficking prevention efforts around the globe and in the US. She discovered the power of participatory planning as an undergraduate NASA Space Grant Intern when she worked on planning projects that increased civic engagement in border cities and on Native American reservations. Lila first experienced how incredible Watts is when she began doing work with the Watts Gang Task Force in graduate school. She believes that the resilience and spirit in Watts is unstoppable and likes to highlight the positive activities in the community. Lila can be spotted playing the steering wheel drums and singing loudly in her car.

Nicolas Zuniga, MURP 

photo (18)Nicolas was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. He came to Los Angeles two years ago to earn a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, and throughout those two years, he fell in love with the city of Los Angeles. During this time, he also developed an interest on how to communicate ideas and information through maps. Today, maps are his passion and drive to enhance neighbors within L.A. Nicolas is excited with being part of the Watts Community Studio team. He truly believes this summer project will make him fall in love a little more with LA.


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