May 30, 2008
Seat #4, City of Chula Vista
By Daniel Muñoz
Under investigation for two years for perjury, Steve Castañeda would tell anyone who would listen that there was nothing to worry about, he was not guilty of anything and that the truth would come forth.
After years of investigations and a month long trial, in April, Steve was acquitted of all charges. There was a huge sigh of relief in the knowledge that this whole sordid mess was finally over with! Still, the trial changed the man and refocused Steve Castañeda’s priorities in life.
“I wish this experience on no one,” stated Castañeda. “It really highlighted what is the most negative, derisive, and corrosive thing that infects our electoral system. And frankly, this is the reason why good, honest, and successful people don’t want to run for office.”
“What was very clear to me from the beginning and I think was clear to a lot of people was, this was essentially a political witch hunt,” continued Castañeda. “I have been in politics for a long time and I understand that negative campaigning occurs, but the kind of negative campaigning and the negative politics that would actually want to see somebody be convicted and potentially go to jail for something that is not even illegal! I am sorry that is a horror and a nightmare.”
The legal quagmire that Castañeda found himself entangled in, regarded an investigation into a quid pro quo arrangement with the owner/developer of the condo his wife was living in. After a year of investigation there was no wrong doing found. But District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis’ Special Investigation Unit filed felony charges against Castañeda for lying to the Grand Jury for “thinking” about buying a condo. It was a case that should have never been brought forth.
“This whole experience has changed my viewpoint of this whole business [of politics]. I love the city. I love working for the city. I am still very committed to the issues. But I have got to tell you, it became very clear to me that the most important things in my life are my family, my son, my way of life, my health.”
Before the trial ended Castañeda found himself in an odd situation of a candidate running for re-election, most people unsure of the outcome, and others hedging their bets. Campaign contributions were slow in coming (of course the bad economy had a role in this) and a full slate of candidates filed to run against him.
Candidate Pat Aguilar filed to run for Seat #4 in case Castañeda was prohibited from running. A supporter of Castañeda her stated intent was to follow in his foot steps and continue representing his ideals. After Castañeda was cleared of all charges, Aguilar dropped out the race. Her name is still on the ballot but she quit campaign weeks ago.
Scott Vinson and Pat Moriarty saw this as an opportunity to run for what they thought would become an open seat if Castañeda was not able to run.
Now unburdened from the legal issues, Castañeda is campaign fulltime to retain his seat.
“We have been walking the last several weeks talking with people,” stated Castañeda. “We have been trying to figure out what the sense of the people is on this legal issue. One guy told one of my walkers ‘didn’t he just get acquitted lately,’ kind of like it is not even a big deal? The walker says yeah. The voter told him ‘I already voted for him’. It was not even an issue.”
Question: In this election we get the sense that Latinos as a voting block are being ignored. What is your sense in this regard?
Castañeda: It is unfortunate but they just don’t vote in the Primaries. If you look at the raw numbers, in Primaries, in the City of Chula Vista, Latinos make up about 25% of the vote. But in the General Election, in particular a Presidential election, they are close to 40%.
Q: The question of Latino voters is in relation to winning an election. But, in Chula Vista the Latino population is 50% of the city. When you look at the city from this perspective, this community is not being represented by the candidates running in Chula Vista.
Castañeda: The Hispanic population is closer to 60% percent now. My biggest concern is that we don’t have more qualified Latinos running for office, folks that represent the every day working man, working woman, family, you just don’t get that. When you look at the next generation of leaders, when you go younger I am not sure what you got.
Q: As a Hispanic how have you represented the Hispanic community in your first 4 years?
Castañeda: First of all I think I have to a great degree represented the Hispanic community, not specifically singling out Latinos, or Whites, or blacks, or Asians. But I have looked at areas that have traditionally been neglected by the city and it just so happens, that area is predominately populated with Latinos which frankly has never had a voice at city hall. We have never spent resources in this community and we are slowly turning the ship to try and do that. We are investing more money in infrastructure and opened a new park in Southwest Chula Vista.
I am looking at the area of the most need and the area with the most need is in Southwest Chula Vista and we are going to continue to invest in those neighborhoods. We are accomplishing a new community plan that’s going to look at a number things like creating new jobs, to make the streets safer, more public facilities, as well as look at ways to stem the incidents of childhood obesity which has afflicted the Latino community which is very important.
Q: In the Southwest there is the issue of a power plant in the neighborhood. What is your position on that?
Castañeda: The MMC power plant is something that I saw in the planning commission and I didn’t think it was in the right place. I think unfortunately as we are finding with the South Bay Power Plant that it is almost impossible to get rid of power plants these days. I haven’t taken a position on it yet. I am still waiting to see exactly what mitigation will be provide and required.
One of the main priorities of the city is to ensure the health of folks who live in the neighborhoods. The other thing is to ensure that we have a robust economy that generates jobs and creates enough tax revenue to ensure that we can do the things that people want us to do with their city.
Q: What would you say have been the highlights of your first four years as city councilman?
Castañeda: We passed the General Plan and it reflects the community’s interest and their priorities. The bay front plan reflects the interest and priorities of folks. And the facts that we finished the first piece of this university initiative and we have all the land now we can in earnest go out and start to promote a facility that will serve the community and be an economic engine.
We are starting to create options in our energy decisions in Chula Vista which I have been very involved with since the beginning. We have adopted the green house gas reduction program which is going to require all new development to be sustainable and to the greatest extent to use renewable energy. We are focused on the city being more energy conscious.
The other thing is that I am very proud of the fact that I have worked very hard with Healthy Eating Active Community and also with NALEO (National Association of Elected Leadership and Appointed Officials), to look at various ways we can roll back the incidents and extent of childhood obesity which we know in the future is going to one of the biggest problems we will face as a community.