Lenny Mendonca discusses California’s economic outlook, shares his self-care journey, and more at recent Cal Cities Speaker Series

Aug 4, 2021

City leaders from throughout the state convened virtually last week for the second installment of the Cal Cities Speaker Series, which featured an informative and inspiring presentation from Lenny Mendonca, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s former Chief Economic and Business Advisor.

Mendonca started by discussing California’s post-pandemic economic outlook, recovery opportunities, and the related challenges facing the state. Before the pandemic, California was experiencing one of the greatest periods of economic growth in its history. That expansion was rocked by COVID-19, and while uncertainty abounds, Mendonca remains optimistic about the state’s innovation, perseverance, and near- and long-term recovery. “California has repeatedly proven its ability to reinvent itself,” said Mendonca.

While the state remains on track to weather the storm and economically recover, California still has its challenges. As local leaders know, the pandemic only exacerbated already existing issues and inequities in our communities, including the downturn in the production of affordable housing, the continued need for resources for unhoused residents, and an ever-increasing economic inequality gap. Mendonca urged local and state leaders charting the state’s path to recovery to address those inequities in their recovery plans and make them a priority. For more about California’s economic outlook, read Mendonca’s recent CalMatters op-ed.

The conversation also centered around another issue that has been top-of-mind for many local leaders — the importance of mental health. Cal Cities President and El Centro Mayor Cheryl Viegas Walker, who also spoke during the event, noted that “city leaders, who have stepped up and been the “helpers” in their communities during the pandemic, have come to realize the importance of maintaining mental health and committing to self-care during these extraordinary times.”

Mendonca, who shared his experiences with depression and anxiety in a Cal Matters op-ed last year, praised the resilience of city leaders and residents in navigating the pandemic. He also reflected on the realities of the enormous stress and strain the last 18 months have put on many. “Mental health is just health,” said Mendonca.  

During a dynamic question and answer period led by Cal Cities Executive Director Carolyn Coleman, he expanded on that point. “What does it say about me that I had a mental health challenge?” asked Mendonca. “It says that I’m a human being. Whether you’re an elected official, government official, business leader, or the greatest of all time gymnast, we are all human. And treating each other as humans and recognizing and acknowledging and supporting each other, particularly in challenging times, is really, really important.” Mendonca reminded attendees that as leaders, you have to be a role model and create the space for a conversation about mental health within the team. Legitimizing and destigmatizing the conversation around self-care is the first step in leading with humanity, Mendonca explained.

Mendonca and others also discussed the need to address the fast-moving climate crisis, the necessity of affordable and accessible broadband, and the importance of a federal infrastructure package — three major priorities for Cal Cities and its members. The Cal Cities Speakers Series will continue to feature high-profile individuals with timely and relevant content for city officials. Stay tuned for more information about our exciting lineup of speakers.