2022 40 Under 40: Darwin Moosavi

Aug. 23, 2022
Darwin Moosavi, Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy & Housing Coordination, California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA)

One word to describe yourself: Dedicated 

Alma Mater: University of California Davis and Portland State University 

Fun fact about yourself: Five years ago, my wife and I quit our jobs and spent a year traveling around the world. 

Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): TriMet’s #14-Hawthorne Bus. My daily commute on the Hawthorne bridge over the Willamette River into downtown Portland was the perfect way to start my mornings when I lived there. 

In Darwin Moosavi’s first seven years with the State of California, he rose from an entry level role as a transportation planner at Caltrans to be appointed as a deputy secretary of the CalSTA under Governor Gavin Newsom’s Administration. But what makes Moosavi stand out is not his ability to rise through the ranks, but his skill in leading major change in transportation policy.  

Moosavi spearheaded and delivered a substantial policy change for California on behalf of CalSTA: the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI).  Adopted in 2021, it is now enshrined as a key policy for transportation planning and infrastructure investment in the state. As a funding framework, CAPTI guides decision making on more than $5 billion of annual transportation investment in California, centering investment in transit, rail and active transportation networks by prioritizing it over investment in traditional highway expansion.   

While any major policy change is always a team effort, his colleagues have attested that CAPTI would not be what it is today without Moosavi. He helped initiate it, was the lead author of it, served as its public face and saw it through to publication. He now oversees its implementation, which is being viewed as a nationwide example. Moosavi’s work has been acknowledged in several publications, including the New York Times 

CAPTI is not his first major accomplishment. In his previous role at the California Strategic Growth Council, Moosavi was the program manager and one of several co-creators of the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities program, a grant program for transit-oriented development that revolutionized the way housing developers work with transit agencies and transportation departments to create seamless transit connections for residents.  As a graduate student in urban and regional planning in 2014, he served as the project manager for the design of a microtransit system for Cherriots, the transit agency in Salem-Keizer, Ore.  

He also serves on the Leadership Council for the National Center for Sustainable Transportation and is passionate about furthering research and innovation in the field. Colleagues say Moosavi has already demonstrated the intelligence, gumption, sensitivity, commitment, patience and the persistence needed to build coalitions and maneuver successfully at the highest levels of government.   

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today? 

I grew up on a corner lot right off a six-lane boulevard in a suburban car-oriented environment. As a child and a teenager, the exposure to constant air and noise pollution, the lack of transit, bicycle and pedestrian access in my neighborhood and our family’s dependence on an unreliable car all had a significant impact on me and, in turn, have profoundly impacted my career choices and driven my interests in transit systems and creating sustainable communities. Beyond my interests, however, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the mentors, leaders and colleagues who have given me incredible opportunities to do meaningful work over my past eight years here in the state of California. 

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I am very grateful to have a job where I get to spend each day working towards affecting positive change on issues I care deeply about. From addressing the climate crisis to addressing housing and transportation inequities, I have an opportunity to think about, weigh in on and implement policies and programs that deliver important outcomes that will shape the future of our state. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

With every great opportunity to influence policy changes comes great challenges and political resistance. For every success, there are many more fits and starts or failures, but that is just the nature of the work. It takes time, leadership, coalition building and finding the right opportunity to make changes happen. 

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why? 

Although I am proud of various policy or planning related accomplishments, I think I am most proud of the increased level of interest in state government work I have seen from people who care about sustainable transportation issues. When I first started working at Caltrans eight years ago, it was viewed as an anomaly that someone with my interests and background would choose to work there. Now, I am reached out to all the time by young professionals who are excited about the work we are doing here in California and want to know how they can be a part of it. I like to think that myself and my many other colleagues who have worked hard to change the culture of the organization and its goals have played a part in that shift.