Newest San Diego Councilman Chris Cate Is Young, But Not Overlooked
Freshman City Councilman Chris Cate said his family never talked politics when he was growing up.
"My parents are very apolitical," Cate said. "We didn't talk about elections or anything like that, besides reading the paper and what was happening locally."
Cate grew up in San Diego and his parents divorced when he was 6. His dad worked as a California Highway Patrol officer, while his mom worked for the Post Office. He and his mom moved around a lot, and then he landed at the University of San Diego. That's where he said he became interested in politics.
Councilman Chris Cate
Represents: District 6, which includes Mira Mesa, Sorrento Valley and Clairemont
Family: Fiancée Maria Cabuang
College: University of San Diego, majored in political science
Hometown: San Diego
Career: Interim president and vice president of San Diego Taxpayers Association, staff member for City Councilman Kevin Faulconer
Other interests: Basketball, spending time with his family, trying new restaurants.
Fun fact: Cate proposed to Cabuang last summer near the Coronado ferry landing while a professional photographer captured the moment.
"When 9/11 happened, I was still in school," he said. "After that happened, I started asking a lot of questions, 'Why? What's going on?' The policy side of things really piqued my interest, so that's when I declared my major, became a political science major."
Cate's career took off quickly. He interned for Jefferson Government Relations in Washington, D.C., and worked for the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and then-City Councilman Kevin Faulconer. At age 27, he became vice president of the taxpayers group and then three years later became interim president.
Now, at 32, Cate is the youngest member of the San Diego City Council, but said his experience means he's taken seriously by his council colleagues.
"I'd met with them all before during my time with the (Taxpayers) Association. So I had a little bit of a step ahead in terms of having that relationship, and them knowing what I was working on and what my passions have been, what I'd worked on in the past," he said.
In Cate's first council meeting in December, after being elected in November, he was part of a controversial vote that overthrew Democratic Council President Todd Gloria.
Cate, a Republican, voted with the other three GOP members to make Democrat Sherri Lightner president instead. Gloria had moved the date of the vote specifically so Cate could participate in it.
Not voting for Gloria was the right thing to do, Cate said.
"There was a time for a change, a rotation," he said. "I think there was a natural evolution of how that position comes about."
Before he took office, Cate said he met with all of the council members except David Alvarez and Lorie Zapf to talk about plans for the coming year, and that the council president vote was mentioned during his meetings with Councilman Scott Sherman and Lightner.
Sherman's calendar, obtained by San Diego CityBeat with a public records request, does not show any meetings with Cate. A spokesman for Sherman confirmed they met, but said it was an informal meeting, which is why it wasn't recorded on the calendar.
Cate and his fiancée also went to Sherman's home for dinner, but that meeting wasn't recorded because it was personal, the spokesman said.
Lightner's calendar shows she met twice with Cate, on Nov. 20 and Dec. 5. The other council members, except Alvarez and Zapf, also list meetings with him.
Cate said his discussions about the council president vote did not violate the Brown Act, which says officials can't talk about their votes unless they're in a public meeting. It also applies to elected officials who haven't taken office yet.
"I knew what I was under in terms of my position and coming into office and dealing with the Brown Act and whatnot, so I was fully aware of those issues and making sure that I didn't violate any of the Brown Act," he said. "So we made sure that we didn't talk about that with anything that would put us in a compromising position on that topic."
The City Council repeated its vote to elect Lightner president after questions were raised that they'd violated the act.
Cate said he's more focused on serving the residents in his district than on politics. He goes frequently to the Mira Mesa Senior Center, which is near the apartment he rents. One day last month he stopped in during a watercolor painting class and said he might buy some of the art for his new council office.
He has big goals for his district, including setting up the first council office page on the community website NextDoor.com and finding creative ways to engage residents in their community. He also wants to rebuild community policing programs that were cut during the budget crunch in 2006.
"One of my big asks of (Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman) was to come back and let us know what those programs were prior to 2006, what was working, what's something we can re-implement, what it's going to cost to try to put those programs forward again," he said.
Cate is planning to get married in January to Maria Cabuang, who works in corporate compliance at Scripps Health. He said balancing his council responsibilities with family time has been the biggest challenge so far.
"There's a lot to do. Everyone wants to do a lot of good things for the district and the city, but there needs to be that balance," he said.
He said he asked the other council members for advice on how they balance their lives.
"How do you find that with your family, as well as finding your groove on what you want to get accomplished in your four years?" he said.
Cate's only a few months into his job, so he's still working on that balance. Before speaking to KPBS, he'd done a KUSI interview at 6:15 a.m., then he went on to film a city announcement about the Lunar New Year, then spent the rest of the day in meetings followed by a ceremony that night.