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Chula Vista City Council strips embattled Cardenas of prominent SANDAG seat

Chula Vista officials have taken public action against Councilmember Andrea Cardenas for the first time since criminal charges were filed against her in November.

On Tuesday, Cardenas’ fellow councilmembers voted not to reappoint her to the San Diego Association Of Governments (SANDAG), the influential countywide agency that oversees regional transportation issues. Instead, the City Council decided to pass that seat to fellow Democrat Carolina Chavez.

The City Council also voted not to appoint Cardenas to any other committee seats, which are typically divided equally between all five council members.


“Given the reality of our colleague facing serious criminal charges, I believe it is inappropriate to appoint her to the outside agencies at this time,” Mayor John McCann said. “Maintaining public trust is a critical element for all elected officials.”

The Council’s decision Tuesday was its first open act against Cardenas since she was charged with stealing and laundering a federal pandemic relief loan in early November.

The decision was part of a routine vote on the city’s appointments to SANDAG. Choosing representatives is something that happens at the end of every year. Still, McCann emphasized that this was a decision meant to build trust with residents.

“I believe this approach is the appropriate reassertion to assure the public,” he said.

Cardenas was appointed to SANDAG last December — the month when cities across the county decide who they will send to the transit agency’s Board of Directors, which is largely made up of mayors, city councilmembers and county supervisors.


Last year McCann, the city’s newly elected Republican mayor, tried to appoint himself. The Council’s four Democratic members, however, blocked the mayor’s resolution and instead chose Cardenas to represent the city.

That year, Democratic-majority city councils in both Chula Vista and National City broke with the tradition of sending their mayors to SANDAG and appointed council members instead.

The moon rises over the Chula Vista City Council chambers on Sept. 19, 2023.
Kori Suzuki for KPBS / California Local
The moon rises over the Chula Vista City Council chambers on Sept. 19, 2023.

But this fall, the Chula Vista City Council has faced growing pressure to remove Cardenas from the transit agency’s board. In early November, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan charged Cardenas and her brother, political consultant Jesus Cardenas, with stealing a $175,000 federal pandemic emergency loan.

Several SANDAG officials said they were increasingly worried about Cardenas continuing to serve while facing criminal charges. At a meeting last month, the Board of Directors said they would consider sending Chula Vista an official request that the city remove her.

“I certainly respect her right to not resign from the City of Chula Vista Council,” said board member and Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz at the Nov. 17 meeting. “But service on outside boards is a privilege that is extended by the members on that council, so it is disappointing that she's here.”

A number of Chula Vista residents had also called for the City Council to remove Cardenas from SANDAG, although they were split on who should take her place.

Some said McCann should be appointed instead. Others said the representative should be a supporter of workers and robust public transit and urged the council to appoint Chavez.

Ultimately, the council decided to appoint Chavez, with McCann voting against.

Cardenas’ Democratic colleagues did vote to excuse her absence at last week’s meeting. Four missed meetings could mean Cardenas is removed from office according to Chula Vista’s city charter, but excused absences do not count toward that total.

Cardenas was also present on Tuesday, marking the first City Council meeting she has attended since the charges were announced.

At the meeting, she said she understood the council’s decision to remove her from SANDAG and joined the vote to pass her appointments to other council members.

“I want to respect the position that you are all in,” Cardenas said. “At this time, I am in agreement with not being on any outside agencies.”

Still, Cardenas did not volunteer to step down from SANDAG and has said she does not plan to resign her seat on the City Council. Last month, she asked for due process and a chance to defend herself against the charges.

On Tuesday, she also filed to run for reelection in the spring.