What does the Mayor of Chula Vista do?
Chula Vista is a charter city with a council manager system. Under this system, the city council selects a city manager to oversee the day-to-day operations.
The mayor of Chula Vista mostly serves as another member of the city council — but with a few added perks. The mayor represents the city at official events and in regional bodies like SANDAG. The city’s mayor also has more of a say in what items are on the weekly city council agenda.
What issues is the city of Chula Vista facing?
Residents of Chula Vista have been waiting decades for the Bayfront redevelopment and a four-year university. The city is finally on the cusp of completing the billion-dollar Bayfront development. The city recently announced that San Diego State University’s expansion of its film school will be in Chula Vista.
The next mayor will help guide Chula Vista through these big projects.
But the city also faces challenges. Chula Vista has a structural budget deficit that has forced a cut in services in recent years, particularly to the parks and library departments.
The three big issues KPBS is focusing on are the city’s handling of the homeless population, Chula Vista’s recent controversies surrounding its surveillance program, and the future of the city’s cannabis marketplace.
The Chula Vista City Council voted unanimously to shut down Harborside Park because of safety concerns over a growing homeless encampment near an elementary school. Advocates criticized the decision for ignoring the growing encampment and treating it as a criminal issue once the encampment got too big to manage. The city’s decision to close the camp forced dozens of unhoused people out of the area without addressing their needs. The city is currently building its first homeless shelter, which could open in early 2023.
Chula Vista has also come under fire for its surveillance program. In 2020, reporters revealed that the police department had been sharing data from its Automated License Plate Reader Program since 2018. Earlier this year, KPBS reported that experts at the Pentagon identified the Chinese supplier of Chula Vista’s police drones as a potential threat to national security. Still, the city’s police chief and elected officials have praised their surveillance tools as a key reason in crime reduction.
In response to criticism, the city council asked a task force to evaluate existing policies and propose new ones. The task force’s recommendations will be presented to the city council before the end of this year.
Chula Vista’s cannabis business ordinance in 2018 is another thorny issue for city officials. The vetting process for applicants to run storefront dispensaries was so cumbersome that companies did not actually receive permits until 2020. Three companies that were denied permits are now suing the city. One of them won, forcing the city to review the application. The city’s handling of the cannabis permitting process shows how difficult it is for some businesses to operate in Chula Vista.
Who are the candidates?
- Political Consultant
- Registered Democrat
Ammar Campa-Najjar made a political name for himself in San Diego County running two unsuccessful congressional campaigns in the East County. He previously worked in the U.S. Labor Department during the Obama administration and at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Campa-Najjar spent the 2018 and 2020 election cycles portraying himself as a moderate Democrat who was “born and raised in the East County.”
During the mayoral campaign, Campa-Najjar has been more vocal of his South Bay roots. He often mentions graduating from Eastlake High School and Southwestern College.
As mayor, Campa-Najjar said he would prioritize public safety and business development. He would use his position on the SANDAG board to eliminate the toll on State Route-125 and support the expansion of the trolley into Tijuana.
Campa-Najjar on the issues
Campa-Najjar has criticized the current mayor and city council for not being proactive when dealing with homelessness.
“There is a lot to be desired in the way they are approaching this issue,” he said.
Campa-Najjar blamed the city’s elected officials for allowing a homeless encampment in Harborside Park to grow into a bigger problem that ultimately forced Chula Vista to shut down the entire park. As mayor, he would like to work with nonprofits, state and federal agencies to address the issue.
Campa-Najjar supports more civilian oversight of the police department’s surveillance programs. He also supports recommendations to hire a chief privacy officer and create a permanent privacy advisory board.
“We cannot let the fact that we are dealing with new technologies be an excuse for why we let things fall through the cracks,” he said.
Campa-Najjar believes the Chula Vista Police Department is operating in “good faith,” and would like to educate the public on the city’s use of new technologies.
Campa-Najjar believes there should be a social equity component to Chula Vista’s cannabis ordinance. Specifically, he wants “communities of color that have been unfairly impacted by drug laws to benefit from legalization.”
Under the city’s current ordinance, companies, whose employees have criminal convictions, are barred from getting a license. Campa-Najjar would like to revise that policy
- City Councilmember
- Registered Republican
As mayor, McCann said he would like to increase the number of police officers in Chula Vista and streamline the business permitting process to attract more investment into the city. McCann said he would also like to update aging infrastructure in the western part of Chula Vista. Like Campa-Najjar, McCann also wants to get rid of the toll on State Route 125 and expand the trolley into Tijuana.
John McCann has been a Chula Vista City Councilman for 16 years. If elected, he would be the city’s most experienced elected official. He is an Iraq War veteran and owns two separate property management businesses – one in Coronado and one in Chula Vista. Each is valued at more than $1 million.
McCann on the issues
McCann says that the decision to close Harborside Park was done in the name of public safety.
“This was an issue about criminal activity and public safety,” he said. “It was not a homeless issue.”
McCann said the pandemic and “soft on crime” policies from Sacramento are responsible for the homeless encampment. He said the city’s homeless shelter, which is set to open early 2023, will help address homelessness.
He also said the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team is already doing a great job addressing homelessness in Chula Vista.
McCann supports the police department’s use of surveillance technologies.
“The Chula Vista Police Department has been an innovator in making sure they use technology and checks and balances to keep our city safe,” he said.
McCann believes that there are already multiple checks and balances to ensure people’s privacy is protected. He said the current police chief has done, “an exceptional job.”
McCann said he would review proposals to hire a chief privacy officer and create a permanent privacy advisory board before committing his support to those ideas.
In retrospect, McCann said he would have preferred the city had hired another company to handle the cannabis business license application process. He said the city went through some growing pains during the initial rollout.
“In the beginning, there were definitely a lot of improvements we could have made,” he said.
McCann does not support expanding or modifying the existing ordinance, at least not in the near future.
He declined to comment on any of the ongoing lawsuits.
Where do they stand on issues that matter to you?
Still don't know who you're voting for?
Scroll down to play an interactive quiz that will help you find out where local candidates stand on issues that matter to you. Answer four multiple choice questions covering topics from funding law enforcement to rent payments.
Note: Candidate John McCann did not respond to KPBS' questionnaire.
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