Saito received his bachelor’s degree in 1976 from San Francisco State, where he majored in art. He joined the CCC straight out of college and rose to the level of program manager by the time he left in 1986. The conservation corps movement was in its infancy and the CCC, now the oldest and largest in the nation, was just a year old when he joined.
The CCC hires men and women, 18-25 (up to 29 for veterans), for a year of natural resource work and emergency response. The program was modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, during the Depression.
The CCC, now housed in the state’s Natural Resources Agency, was created during Brown’s first go-round as governor. He envisioned “a combination Jesuit seminary, Israeli kibbutz and U.S. Marine Corps boot camp.”
Its homepage promises “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions . . . and more!” That’s a quote from the corps’ irrepressible third director, B.T. Collins (1979-81), a disabled Green Beret war hero and Governor Brown’s former chief of staff. He helped put the CCC on the map, most notably when he drank a cup of Malathion to assure corps members they would be safe working in pesticide-treated areas. He died at age 52 of a heart attack.
Corps members maintain trails, restore riparian zones, plant trees, remove exotic plant species, work on construction projects, help when floods hit and fight fires in the wild. Organizations pay the CCC to do the work.
Along with getting paid and learning some skills, corps members can complete their high school diploma through independent CCC schools. The CCC also offers scholarships for corps members interested in higher education or vocational training.
Saito was part of the CCC team in 1976 that created the model for youth development and environmental enhancement programs at a time when there were few other 501 (c)(3) non-profits in existence.
He was recruited by the L.A. Conservation Corps after former U.S Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor founded it in 1986. He was named executive director in 1995, and has overseen dozens of conservation, education and support programs and services in primarily low-income communities throughout Los Angeles County.
Saito replaces David Muraki, a 2007 appointee of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor, faced with a huge budget deficit, attempted to eliminate the CCC in 2009, but failed. Martha Diepenbrock served as interim director for a short time.
The position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $154,795.