By Reagan Cisar/Orange County Tribune
“I loved knowing that it was the road to summer; that’s what [Beach Boulevard] was known for in earlier decades,” said Jennifer Lilley.
She is Stanton’s director of community and economic development and has been credited with playing a pivotal role in attracting development to the city, especially on Beach Boulevard. Lilley oversees the building department, where she manages everything from permits and inspections to problem solving in the field.
Lilley and her team seek to ensure fair housing for residents, reinvesting in the community through grants and other government assistance programs. Additionally, she works to maintain the existing business community and attract new businesses to Stanton while promoting an open dialogue between the community and local businesses.
The Beach Boulevard stretch in Stanton has long been an eyesore, home to a junkyard, vacant buildings, low-rent motels, and used car lots. However, in recent years, the Home Key Renovations project has transformed some motels into permanent housing to help individuals get back on their feet. The project includes several rehabilitative services free of charge, such as skills training, after school child care, and resume building. In addition to the Home Key Renovations, developments such as the 22 Beach Retail Center, which includes the Rodeo 39 urban eatery, have replaced run down lots.
“[We’re] bringing that charm back to Beach Boulevard,” said Lilley.
Born and raised in Orange County, Lilley always thought she would become an architect, however, during her time at Cal Poly Pomona, she discovered the profession of planning. She realized that instead of drawing buildings for people, she could facilitate conversations and engage with the community to assess needs more holistically.
“I had never heard of planning before. People don’t know what it is. Community development is an invisible part of our world,” said Lilley. She says that when residents are informed and connected to local government, community-building flourishes.
Lilley’s work has not been limited to the public sector. In 2007, she founded her own consulting firm where she managed 40 employees, but later sold the company to return to public service.
“A lot of our planning and professional leaders were getting to be of retirement age, and there were less folks coming in behind. I really saw that gap as something I had a responsibility to fill,” she said.
So Lilley returned to her roots of public service in 2015 as a city planner in Brea and assumed her current position in Stanton in August 2020. Her diversified planning knowledge, passion for communication, and a mind for innovation have worked to create a bright vision for the future of Stanton, say admirers.
“I love spaces. I love travel. I love going to new places and exploring along the way. I’ll see some great plaza or landscape or public art and just think; how can I bring this back to what we’re doing in Stanton?” said Lilley.
Although Beach Boulevard has seen vast improvements in recent years, growth is far from over. The Town Center Specific Plan is currently paving the way for a transformation in Stanton’s Town Center area into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly district. With the help of Jennifer Lilley and her team, the road to summer may well continue to be at the forefront of development in Stanton.