By Daniel Muñoz
When you first meet Pamela Bensoussan you do not see a politician, she doesn’t look the type, not that there is a type. Your first impression of her is ‘what a nice lady.’ Nothing wrong with that, but politicians usually have a certain feel about them that you don’t get from Bensoussan. But don’t let first impressions fool you, yes she is a nice lady but she is also passionate: she is passionate about her city, about the issues, and passionate about her campaign.
Pamela Bensoussan is running for the #3 seat on the Chula Vista city council and passion is what she brings to this campaign.
The road for Bensoussan from art and antiques appraiser to a candidate for city council is, as she puts it, just a natural progression from her involvement with the many city commissions and civic organizations to candidate for seat #3 on the city council.
Pamela Bensoussan is a Chula Vista native. Born in 1950 in Chula Vista, Pamela’s first home was on Shasta Street, only a few blocks from where she presently lives on 2nd Avenue. Back then there was no I-805 or an East Chula Vista. “I enjoyed the rural Bonita and the Chula Vista small town feel,” describes Pamela. “What makes Chula Vista unique is that it has kept that small town feeling, in spite of the city growing in population and acreage.”
Pamela’s life is one that took her from Chula Vista to San Francisco, from San Francisco to France. In France she studied the language, arts and antiques. She met her husband and had two children, a son David, a recent graduate from UC Irvine and a daughter, Nicole who is finishing her PhD in Art History.
Pamela is an experienced businesswoman. At one time she owned two art and antique galleries, one in San Francisco and the other in San Diego. Eventually these businesses turned into her present day business as an art and antiques appraiser. “The appraisal business is very research intensive. I am very analytical and I like to pick things apart,” described Pamela.
The research and analytical aspect of the appraisal business served Bensoussan well as she became involved with the community and civic organizations.
Her first experience with city hall in Chula Vista was when she became involved with an effort to have a home designated as a historical home. The designation was denied, but what became clear was that there were no real guidelines in determining whether or not a home meets the standards for such a designation.
“We started out by organizing a group of Historical homeowners and lobbying for the City of Chula Vista to adopt the Mills Act,” stated Pamela. “That is how we got the historic homes tour started. We wanted to raise public awareness of historic homes and historic preservation in Chula Vista. The Historic Home Tour is all about elevating feelings about Chula Vista. It is all about civic pride, pride in neighborhoods, and beautification of neighborhoods. Embracing what we have and our connection to our past.”
Pamela demonstrated natural leadership abilities by working with the city in developing the framework for a Historic Preservation Ordinance and getting the City to adopt the Mills Act as an incentive program to protect historic sites in the city.
Pamela’s dedication to historic preservation led to her appointment to the Resource Conservation Commission (RCC) on which she served for five years. “While I was on that commission I cut my teeth on EIRs (Environmental Impact Reports). I got involved with development and planning, and that led to more boards and more commissions.”
“Eventually I threw my hat into the ring for the planning commission, I thought it was the next step from the RCC and to my surprise I was appointed by then mayor Steve Padilla,” stated Pamela. “During that time while tracking the city’s effort to create a Redevelopment Corporation I advocated for the creation of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC). I wanted to make sure that there was a public participation component to that process. I advocated for the RAC to include community members and diverse stakeholders. In the interim I co-founded the Northwest Civic Association.”
What led you to create the Northwest Civic Association?
Pamela: It seemed to me that there was a real need for geographic based community groups in Chula Vista, at the time there were none. I thought that there was a lack of the community neighborhoods having voices in the direction and growth of their city. And since the city was not interested in doing planning groups, this was an attempt to have a community organization fulfill that role.
Why are you running for city council?
Pamela: I am deeply concerned about Chula Vista: it is my hometown. I feel it is not going in the right direction.
What direction is it going in?
Pamela: We’ve sacrificed a lot in terms of quality of life issues, for development sake. Community character has not been a priority. Environmental justice is not a priority. Sustainability has not been a priority until recently.
The number one issue on everyone’s mind is the economy. What caused the problem with the city’s finances?
Pamela: the focus on housing to the exclusion of everything else.
Okay, so what is the fix?
Pamela: It is harder to fix when you are in such a pickle than it is if you had done the good planning all along. It is going to take a catch up period of at least a couple of years, but the city should start listening to its residents stop chasing developers and focus on planning that makes more sense. We need to develop the bay front. We need to bring clean industry to the Southeast part of town and expand the auto park. We need to revitalize the west.
The focus has to be on jobs. Creating good job growth so that people don’t have to drive to other areas to go to work.
The city is 50% Hispanic, how would you best represent this community?
Pamela: I would represent the people of Chula Vista period! The issues are the same. We all deserve the same quality of life.
We have talked about the disconnect between city hall and the community. There is also a disconnect with the Hispanic community. There hasn’t been much of a Hispanic voice within the city. An example of this would be that there has been effort in the past to get the city council to provide bilingual services at their council meetings, yet so far they have refused this effort.
Pamela: I think that providing bilingual services is a good thing and is a part of government being accessible and transparent.
Another example. For years there was an individual who tried to get the city to reveal the level at which the city contracted with minority contractors, but the city refused to divulge this information. Is the city diversified?
Pamela: I agree 100% that we should reveal the level of minority contracting. The city needs to reflect its diverse population.
Recently we have been getting phone calls that the Chula Vista police are targeting Hispanics, checking immigration status, and holding those without the proper papers for the border patrol. What is your position on this use of the police?
Pamela: That shouldn’t be allowed. The city has the right to set policy for their police and I would say no way.
What should the city be doing in regards to immigration?
Pamela: Building bridges. Make government more accountable to people who speak foreign languages. That is one way to build bridges so that new residents don’t fear their government.
Let’s say you have sixty days to make your mark. What would you do?
Pamela: As a single city council person you really don’t have the authority to make changes it takes a minimum of three votes. The transparency issue is really important to me. Transparency and government participation by the community is really important. So I would really focus first and foremost on those issues.
As we ended the interview the passion in Pamela’s voice was self evident as she talked about the many issues facing the city. It is this passion and confidence that carries Pamela Bensoussan as she makes her run for city council seat #3.