LANCASTER – Sandra Johnson will be the first to tell you that she has lived the American dream. Having legally immigrated to the United States from Chile at a young age, Johnson grew up with very little, but worked hard to change her circumstances and steadfastly pursued her dream of opening a learning institution.
Today Johnson is the chief executive officer and co-founder of the University of Antelope Valley (UAV), which has grown from a small CPR startup company into a nationally accredited institution with three campuses.
“Through hard work, dedication, honesty, [being] law abiding, and fear of God, it works to be able to reach your American dream,” Johnson said. “And with me living that and being an example of that, I know that I would be the best candidate for that [City Council] position for our community.”
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris agrees. That’s why he appointed Johnson to the Lancaster city council in September 2011 to replace Sherry Marquez, who resigned due to family matters.
“I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and this is definitely my calling,” said Johnson. “I had the blessing of being appointed, and I said that if I was to accept it’s because it will be a long-term commitment.”
Johnson is hoping that voters will help her fulfill that long-term commitment by electing her to one of two open seats on the Lancaster City Council this April.
Having sat on the city council for roughly five months, Johnson has nothing negative to say about the council. Rather, she said what struck her almost immediately was the positives of the current council.
“They all had the same kind of mindset like mine, which is that entrepreneurial mind, that mind of vision, that mind of thinking ahead in the future, that mind of making a difference in our community because we’ve all lived here for so long,” Johnson said. “It was very comfortable for me to walk right in and feel like I belonged already.”
Additionally, she said she was proud to be the only female on the council.
“That was an honor for me to have that female voice, that female touch, and that female vision,” Johnson said. “Not necessarily to just represent females… but everyone in our community.”
She says if elected, she will work hard to represent the community and to address what she believes are three of the most important issues facing the city right now — education, unemployment and crime.
“I would love to be able to be a voice for our city,” Johnson said.
As co-founder of a university that graduates more than 1,000 students a year in programs ranging from career-specific certificates to master’s level programs, Johnson said her commitment to education is already evident.
“We’re giving [students] that opportunity to learn, whether it be a trade or a degree, in order to become productive citizens in our community,” said Johnson. “And it’s very rewarding when you see these students graduate and then they become an example for their families and examples for their community.”
Johnson says her experience running UAV also puts her in a unique position to further her second goal for the city, which is to create more jobs for its residents.
“Creating jobs is very important because that’s what our community runs on,” Johnson said. “With us here at the university having 140-plus employees, it shows that we had the creativity of being able to create jobs in this type of environment… we also create jobs every single day for our graduates, so I’m able to share those tools with our city.”
If elected to the Lancaster City Council, Johnson also hopes to make a difference in crime, which she believes to be one of the top three issues facing the city.
“I know how it feels to hurry and get home because it’s getting dark, or that there’s a house that they’re dealing drugs from, or that I need to run away from that gang,” Johnson said, referencing her humble beginnings. “I know how it feels to have a challenging environment.”
Johnson said that Lancaster’s crime rate has dropped 42 percent and credits the decrease in crime to a hardworking Sheriff’s department.
“But it’s still not enough, and that’s definitely one of the things that I want to try and make even better,” she said. “We have Impact Homes and Wellness Homes that are such great assets to children in the neighborhoods where I grew up… those are the kinds of areas that I am looking forward to making even better.”
When asked about funding for her campaign, Johnson said she had not set a limit on funds for her campaign, but said she intended to run a grassroots campaign.
“Coming from humble beginnings I’ve been raised to stretch the dollar, which is wonderful because that’s exactly what I’m doing in this campaign,” she said.
Johnson said she has contacted family members and close friends to see if they are able to contribute to her campaign, but said she mostly planned to get the word out on her own through “knocking on doors and doing whatever is necessary.”
Asked specifically if Mayor Parris had contributed funds to her campaign, Johnson said: “At this point, my answer would be no, but if he’s willing to, I’d be more than happy to accept because it does help my purpose.”
Her purpose, she said, is simply to become an advocate for the community where she has lived her entire life.
“With her becoming a city council member, there’s no personal goal there, there’s no hidden agenda, there is no reason for her to do this other than to help the community, to have a direct impact on the community that she has been a part of for 40-plus years,” said husband, Marco Johnson. “If the community wants someone who is here for the community and that’s it, then she is definitely the person.”
*This is the last of the profiles The AV Times has published featuring Lancaster city council candidates. Previous council candidate profiles featured John Kiramis, Michael Rives, Isaac Grajeda and incumbent Ken Mann. The AV Times will now publish profiles featuring Lancaster mayoral candidates. Profiles will be published in random order.