January 13, 2006

“I am not going to be pushed around”

Chula Vista’s new councilmember fights back

By José A. Álvarez

Her appointment has been heavily criticized and her experience questioned. Patricia Chávez, however, is brushing all her critics aside. The newly appointed Chula Vista Councilmember said she wanted the job to bring community issues forward, not to promote other people’s agenda.

“People are going to say what they want to say,” said Chávez, 34, from her new office. “Council members are here to represent the community. We’re here to lend a voice.”


Patricia Chávez, Chula Vista’s newly appointed City Council representative.

In mid December, Chávez, a stay-at-home mom, public relations consultant, and community activist, was appointed to serve the remainder of Patty Davis’ term, which ends in December. Davis resigned from the Council early last month due to illness.

A total of 19 candidates applied for the position. Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla and the three other council members quickly narrowed down the list to three and unanimously appointed Chávez to the vacant seat, beating two political veterans, Russ Hall and Dan Hom.

The process by which Chávez was selected and her political experience have been questioned and severely criticized by some residents and the editorial board of the Union-Tribune. Hall, a member of the city’s Economic Development Commission, went as far as calling for Chávez’s resignation.

When questioned about the criticisms, Chávez said she did not know the exact motivation behind them.

“A lot of things have been said by a lot of people, but I am not sure who they are,” Chávez said, pausing to think what her next comment would be. “They don’t think I know what’s going on. I have no political baggage and maybe that’s what we need… What they are saying gives me even more strength to work harder to get the community issues out.”

One explanation, she said, could be that her appointment breaks the political norm.

“The norm has been that in order to get to office you must have been a member of a commission. I have broken that process and change isn’t easy for people,” Chávez said.

Change is what, Chávez said, she has strived for all her life. Chavez, a native of the Los Angeles area, learned that from her parents, whose goal in life was to give their four children—three daughters and one son —Patricia is the oldest— what they did not receive: an education.

For 33 years, her parents rented a small house and slept on a mat on the floor of the living room so that they could pay for their children’s private school and save some money for college.

“That was their American dream,” said Chávez, the first one in her family to go to college. She left home to attend San Diego State University, where she earned her degree in public relations. While in college she worked several jobs and held some coveted internships, including the California Department of Transportation and Solar Turbines.

By 1994, she had married transportation engineer Richard, 40, and moved to Paradise Hills. When Jacob, the couple’s first child, arrived in 1995, Chávez decided to stay home to raise him and work as a public relations consultant. In 1999, the family moved to Chula Vista and settled in the Rancho del Rey, with Jacob and Madelin, now 10 and 7. Their youngest son, Paul, 5, was born shortly after their move.

“We wanted a neighborhood that would be diverse for the kids, a neighborhood where our kids could feel comfortable with whom they are and get to know other cultures” said Chávez.

It was in her new neighborhood where Chávez began to get involved in community issues. Occasionally, she would gather her children and the neighborhood kids and picked up trash from their local park. During their walks, they would also look for graffiti and abandoned cars and report suspicious activity to police.

In 2004, Chávez received the Mayor’s Community Service Award for helping the City shut down a brothel operating in her community. She proudly displays her plaque in her office.

With help from Davis, Chávez established Adopt-A-Park program last summer. She also recently co-founded a group called Chula Vistans for Civic Solutions, a non-profit advocacy group for residents.

Bringing community issues forward, Chávez said, was the main reason why she decided to apply for the position.

“It was never my intention to become a politician,” said Chávez, adding that she’s spent the first few days in office reading and meeting people. “I have been trying to push this (community issues) from the outside. I figured that if I was a policymaker I could make more changes.”

To achieve those changes, Chávez said she will reach out to people and encourage them to get involved.

“The community is not only built of people that belong to boards and commissions,” said Chávez, responding to those who question her ability to navigate the political system. “I am here to work on solutions. I am not here to push anybody’s agenda,” she added. Chávez called a few hours later after the interview to say whether her detractors would be criticizing the process by which she was appointed if it had been one of the other two finalists who had gotten the job.

“Would they be saying the same thing if the Council had selected someone who knew all about policy but not know anything about community? I wonder,” she questioned.

What her critics are wondering is whether or not she will run for reelection or just serve out the remaining of Davis’ term. Chávez did not answer the question during her appointment interview and she is still refusing to say what her political aspirations might be.

“I am focused on these eleven months and on what I can achieve for the community,” said Chávez.

To those who have asked for her resignation she has a simple answer: “No.”

Chávez said she anticipates not agreeing on everything with the mayor and the other Council members, but said she has a good working relationship with them.

“I said I wasn’t going to be bullied,” said Chávez, adding that she also is tired of interest groups calling her and suggesting what she should do in her new post. “I am not going to be pushed around.”

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