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New South Bay leaders want a louder voice in regional issues

From housing to transportation infrastructure, the newly elected mayors of National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach want the South Bay to have a bigger voice in regional politics.

National City Mayor-elect Ron Morrison won his race by only 68 votes, according to Thursday's final certification of votes in the November election.

Morrison acknowledged that he benefited because his two opponents were young, Latino Democrats who likely split the vote of the city’s progressive base. “It would have been very different if it had been a one-on-one situation,” he said.

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In Chula Vista, Mayor-elect John McCann defeated Ammar Campa-Najjar by four points.

When it comes to regional politics, McCann would like to represent Chula Vista in the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) where he’d lobby for more funding for South Bay projects.

“I think now is an opportunity for us to be able to get more infrastructure,” he said.

However, McCann and Morrison could both face obstacles in getting a SANDAG appointment. Chula Vista and National City’s city councils are divided along partisan lines.

Although the mayor is traditionally chosen as representative, Morrison, who is a political independent, said he didn’t consider that a guarantee this time. “As divisive as the council is right now, who knows,” he said.

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McCann, a Republican who's served several terms on the Chula Vista City Council, noted that this year city voters elected two first-time council members. This means Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas, who was elected in 2020, will be the only member with experience on the new council. This is why he would like to be the SANDAG representative.

“We have a new council — we went from 50 years experience with my colleagues to now only two years experience,” McCann said. “I’m the only one who has experience being a representative on SANDAG.”

National City’s Morrison said regional bodies, like SANDAG and the Port of San Diego, have not historically prioritized projects in the South Bay.

“Dickens has the tale of two cities, in our case we have the tale of two ports,” he said. “We have the port that’s north of the Coronado Bridge and the one that’s south of the Coronado Bridge.”

National City’s port land is largely zoned for industrial use, and it is the only city in the region that does not have public access to its own waterfront, he said.

Morrison said he’s proposed a land-use plan that would give National City public access to its bayfront without reducing the amount of industrial land available to the port.

“It would finally allow National City to have the opportunity to put in hotels and increase the public space down in that area,” he said.

McCann has been a vocal critic of SANDAG’s proposed mileage tax — which was voted down in September. Like Morrison, he would like to see more of a focus in the South Bay.

“Many times, we have been lacking in the support,” he said. “But I hope to work with both the National City and Imperial Beach mayors to be able to have a united front to be able to get the quality infrastructure in the South Bay.”

McCann also supports eliminating the toll on the South Bay Expressway.

In Imperial Beach, Paloma Aguirre made history by becoming the city’s first Latina mayor.

Aguirre acknowledged that the South Bay had been left out in the past. But she praised the current county leadership for being more inclusive.

“Historically the South Bay has been I guess it’s fair to say marginalized,” she said. “But I think now in regional bodies that at least I’ve served on there’s been a renewed interest, a renewed focus on equity.”

Aguirre specifically noted efforts like expanding access to public transportation through the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s “youth opportunity passes” for riders 18 and younger. Aguirre also praised the Port of San Diego’s multi-million-dollar investment in a project to renovate and upgrade the Imperial Beach pier.

The three South Bay cities have a lot in common — from demographics, proximity to the border and socioeconomic status, Aguirre said. She wants to work with the newly elected mayors to advocate for the region in one voice.

“I think it’s extremely important that the mayors of these cities work together,” she said.