By Raymond R. Beltran
Cheryl Cox has made Chula Vista her home since the sixties, when her family moved there from Virginia during the height of the Vietnam War. Originally, she’s from Florida and moved around a bit because her father was in the Navy.
As a University of Southern California alumnus with a Doctorate in Education, she’s made a thirty year career of teaching and administrating in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, where she’s been a trustee since 2000.
But the Nov 7 elections may pull her from her duties as a board member because she is currently vying to replace the current Chula Vista mayor, Steve Padilla, who’s campaign has suffered what many would consider self-inflicted political controversy that proved to sway voters in the June preliminary elections earlier this year (stipends, bodyguards, appointing council members, and the questionable resignation of City Manager David Rowlands).
Cox succeeded in putting her name on the ballot with ten percent more votes than the mayor in June’s primary elections, but with Councilman Steve Castaneda off the ballot next week, she knows she’ll have her work cut out for her if she wants to pick up the 24% of the support he drew.
She hasn’t walked away from her school board seat just yet, but when asked why she was abandoning a post that she prides herself on so much, she replies, “This isn’t about leaving the school board as much as it is about trying to find a way to help the city.”
Calling into question Padilla’s character in his four year tenure, she says people began looking towards her to replace him. Her concerns: roads, the budget, and safety.
“Well certainly number one issue (is) public safety, but to make sure you have public safety, you have to have a good solid financial base,” she says. “I’ve been concerned over the last five months about the city’s financial base dependent on development impact fees from newer development.
“The thing about that is in a housing development built today, those roads also need to be maintained ten, twenty, thirty years from now. You have to have a strategic plan, not only for roads, but a plan for safety.”
Asked what types of strategies she has in mind to mend the budget that she says has been drained $20 million by Padilla, she says she hasn’t spent too much time thinking about her possible duties as mayor come Nov 7. “Right now it’s all about getting elected,” she admits, a point that Padilla has used to call into question her abilities as mayor.
For instance, she says roads are in the worst condition they’ve ever been, but looks toward Governor Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures 1A and 1B (local tax and highway safety bond act highly supported by Republicans) for the solution. Traffic is a growing issue, but she highlights the construction of the 125 Freeway to alleviate road congestion.
The odds of victory over an incumbent are historically unlikely, but that may not prove to be heronly disadvantage. Chula Vista residents have voiced concern over the lack of Latino representation in a city where they make up 49% of the population, according to the city’s estimates. Residents, as well as Cox, say that Latinos are actually more than half.
“People have asked, ‘When you’re elected mayor, what kind of outreach will you have?’” she says. “Well, we can urge people to become involved in the city, whether it’s through boards, or commissions, or workshops, and if language is something that discourages that involvement, we can encourage (it) through translation or learning English so that people can feel comfortable in interacting.”
She’s been endorsed by the National Latino Peace Officers Association, and the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) has submitted silent support.
“The San Diego bylaws require that we can’t endorse a candidate who does not ask for our endorsement,” says Mateo Camarillo, vice-chairman of the MAPA. “Both candidates were invited and Padilla didn’t appear. Cox did, so, we had to do that.”
He says they did not make a public address other than an endorsement letter made to the candidate and also declined to comment on his or MAPA’s views of Cox’s campaign, stating he “can only hope” that she considers the city’s Latino population if she becomes mayor.
For Camarillo, two main issues are the lack of Latino representation in Chula Vista’s governance and the neglect of the west side, an ongoing issue that’s been voiced by many.
The Chula Vista’s west side, which is bounded by the 805 and 5 Freeways, is made up of more low income residents, mostly Mexican neighborhoods that have long been dilapidated.
“When you try to look at doing something for the older established area (the west), you can’t look at development impact fees,” she says about developing the west side. “You have to look at the entire city’s revenue.”
Development impact fees are one time charges used to offset public service maintenance of new projects, usually roads, water, and recreational facilities. The revenue for these funds usually comes from newly arriving residents.
Half of the redevelopment projects on the city’s website occur along Third Avenue on the east, the more affluent side of Chula Vista. She says what may cause the neglect in the west is the lack of space and city revenue in older, more established neighborhoods.
“The city needs to be aware of fixing all the geographical areas, not just one at the expense of the other,” says MAPA’s Camarillo. “We’re talking about the inclusion of all, municipal services, streets, police services, street sweeping. They should be equally distributed.”
As for the lack of representation, the mayor and two city council members are currently Latino, Steve Castaneda and Patricia Chavez, three Latinos on a five member board. But with Padilla’s seat up for grabs, the elections may swing that ratio. Local business owner Rudy Ramirez is vying for Chavez’s seat.
What may strike an unpopular chord with many Latinos about Cox is that she still speaks confidently about her earlier political support in the sixties for then Republican Mayor Pete Wilson, who in 1994 proposed the controversial Proposition 187. The proposition barred undocumented migrants from a slew of public services, including emergency medical care, and was highly opposed by Latinos much like this year’s House Resolution 4437, which resurrected a leg in Wilson’s anti immigration politics.
Though the proposition gained a majority vote, it was labeled unconstitutional and remained inactive.
Cox earned 41% of the residents’ votes in the primary elections. Padilla earned 31%, and the rest of the votes, mostly Castaneda’s supporters, may decide who wins.