When Steve Padilla stepped down as mayor of Chula Vista in January, a seat on the California Coastal Commission became available. The vacated seat is the San Diego Coast Representative seat that must be filled by an elected official of the county. The appointment is done by the Speaker of the House, Fabian Nunez. Nunez had indicated that he preferred a Hispanic, which makes sense in that, at present, there are no Hispanic commissioners.
Normally, the appointment process is done with little community input, usually slugged out between environmentalist groups, and with little fanfare. But this time around it has drawn quite a bit of attention and has dragged on beyond the allotted thirty days. The appointment process has been extended by six weeks. So we see this as an opportunity to put in our recommendation as to who should be the next Coastal Commissioner from San Diego.
The Hispanic candidates recommended for the appointment come from the County Board of Supervisors and from the region’s eighteen mayors. They are San Diego City Councilman Ben Hueso and Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Castañeda. The county supervisors and mayors must either re-recommend these candidates or submit a whole new slate on candidates, but we don’t see this happening.
Up to this time, Ben Hueso had been the presumptive choice based on two things. One, he is a Democrat, and two, Nuñez and Hueso grew up in the same neighborhood. The problem with Ben Hueso is that he has very little else to show for himself that would make him a slam dunk for the Coastal Commission. Hueso has had a long history within the community to establish himself as a friend of the environmentalist yet as a city councilman, he has voted contrary to their concerns, environmentalist are very influential in Democratic politics. And, as of yet, he has not distinguished himself on the City Council.
More to the point for Speaker Nuñez, he was embarrassed by the actions and controversies surrounding Steve Padilla, and Nuñez can’t afford a repeat. Hueso has been no stranger to controversy, including an election night scuffle between his brother and a news reporter. Probably more damming is his association with the Inzunza family including former city councilman Ralph Inzunza, Jr who was convicted of a felony and former National City mayor Nick Inzunza who was found to be a slum lord, and their mutual family business ties. With the Hispanic community, Hueso has come across as aloof, non responsive on issues and concerns. Plus, there is the fact that in a citywide election for a school board seat, Hueso lost to a non-descript Luis Acle, and this cannot bode well for him.
On the other hand Steve Castañeda has demonstrated his leadership ability on issues of importance to the community of Chula Vista and has demonstrated environmental concern, voting against a power plant on the bay front. He’s garnered support and respect from community groups such as Crossroads II in Chula Vista and has earned the support and the endorsement of the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) and the League of Conservation Voters. Castañeda has worked hard for open space and height limits, and he has an understanding that there also needs to be development, but development done right. Castañeda’s downfall, he is a Republican.
For the Hispanic community, what it comes down to is: yes, we want a Hispanic representative on the Coastal Commission, but we want a Hispanic that would best reflect our community and our interest. Of the two, Steve Castañeda best represents the Hispanic community irregardless of political affiliation. Castañeda is smart and hardworking, and he doesn’t come with the picadillos or controversies that surround Hueso.
Now the question is, can Fabian Nuñez see beyond partisan politics and select the best Hispanic for the Coastal Commission?