2022 election: Q&A with Jill Galvez, Chula Vista mayoral candidate

There are six candidates on the June 7 ballot running to be mayor of Chula Vista, San Diego County’s second-largest city. They are businessman Ammar Campa-Najjar, U.S. Army Maj. Spencer Cash, community college executive Zaneta Encarnacion, Chula Vista Councilmember/businesswoman Jill Galvez, Chula Vista Councilmember John McCann and businessman Rudy Ramirez. The top two vote-getters will advance to a Nov. 8 runoff election. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board sent each a 12-question survey and is publishing their responses here.

If you have comments or questions about the election or any of the candidates after reading this interview, please email Editorial and Opinion Director Matthew T. Hall at [email protected]

Below are Jill Galvez’s responses and a link to other responses.

Q: Rate outgoing Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. What was her biggest accomplishment? What did she most neglect?

A: Mayor Casillas Salas has served our city with distinction and integrity for decades. It’s definitely not an easy job, being a public servant. But Mary makes it look effortless.

Mary’s biggest accomplishment will be getting the bayfront groundbreaking of the Gaylord Hotel and convention center over the finish line. We are so close!

We are grateful to Mayor Casillas Salas for the new outdoor library deck at the Civic Center Library, her commitment to renovate Historic Third Avenue, all of the beautiful parks and open spaces we enjoy throughout east, west, north and south Chula Vista, and her commitment to preserve the 375 acres in east Chula Vista for our future university.

Most neglected: past councils, including during Mary’s terms on the council and her first term as mayor, had neglected to fully fund our city’s pension obligations for past employees. In 2019, Chula Vista had a $350 million unfunded pension obligation debt, owed to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, from years of underfunding employee pensions. Our city was making interest-only payments at 7 percent. We were facing future escalating payments that would have sent our city into bankruptcy in 2028. Fortunately, beginning in fiscal year 2020, we tightened our belts, employee unions linked arms and accepted a 0 percent raise for a year, and we refinanced our debt at an unprecedented rate of 2.54 percent net, with a 24-year term and a strong reserve policy.

I’m looking forward to throwing Mayor Casillas Salas a wonderful party to thank her for her years of service to Chula Vista.

Q: How would you rate the Chula Vista Police Department? What are its strengths and/or weaknesses? Would you favor increasing or decreasing its budget and why?

A: A+++. There is no finer Police Department than Chula Vista’s!

We have the absolute best officers, agents, sergeants, lieutenants, captains and police chief. The very talented employees who support our Police Department in everything from records, fleet, information technology, police technology, training, finance, forensics and more are the best in their field.

But we need more police officers. We need more boots on the ground, deterring speeding drivers, investigating smaller crimes that sometimes are low-priority, keeping our city safe at all times. We aren’t close to fully staffing public safety to the level that our community expects: 281 officers.

In 2018, our citizens passed Measure A, a half-cent sales tax, intended to increase police and fire staffing. We must not let our public down. It has been almost four years since Measure A has passed, and we need to hire more police officers.

Q: How would you approach police use of surveillance such as drones and license plate readers?

A: Chula Vista’s public safety drones have definitely saved lives. They arrive on scene faster than an officer could and provide details and intelligence to help officers make the best decisions in complicated and stressful situations.

Our drones also help in areas that police vehicles cannot easily reach or patrol, such as open spaces, canyons and places without roads. An added benefit to our community is that Chula Vista Police Department drones are relatively quiet, unlike the sheriff’s ASTREA helicopters that tend to be very loud and disruptive, alarming pets, small children, seniors and folks with sensory sensitivity.

Automated license plate reader (ALPR) technology involves cameras that are attached to a small number of Chula Vista police vehicles. ALPRs automatically scan vehicle license plates to help notify officers of vehicles that are on high alert, including stolen vehicles, vehicles wanted in connection with a violent crime, and vehicles from other parts of our very large state and region that may be flagged for AMBER alerts.

If you’ve ever accompanied Chula Vista police officers for a patrol shift, it is easy to understand how many tasks and details must be handled at once, safely, while they drive and respond to calls and reports. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for officers before ALPR technology.

Chula Vista has recently formed a Technology and Privacy Advisory Task Force to thoroughly discuss privacy issues as they relate to technology that our police and other departments use to serve our community.

Q: The median home price in Chula Vista is $732,500. How would you approach housing development in Chula Vista and encourage affordability amid the housing crisis?

A: It is very sad to see how dramatically home prices have increased over the past two years. Young families are being priced out of the market. A $732,500 loan for 30 years at 5 percent interest would mean a loan payment of $3,930 per month! Interest rates continue to rise, and for many families, getting into a home that they can call their own seems like trying to catch a tiger by its tail.

I think the dramatic escalation of housing prices in recent years was caused by a number of factors, including many people moving to Chula Vista from San Francisco Bay and other areas, very low interest rates that were available all throughout 2020-2021, the fact that many seniors didn’t feel comfortable moving into assisted living or care facilities during two years of COVID-19 (reducing the normal turnover of housing inventory), and low housing inventory to begin with.

Chula Vista could do a better job at automating and streamlining the permitting process so that the actual time it takes to build a for-purchase home is reduced. In construction, time and delays cost money, and we should always be mindful of that.

I’m hoping that new affordable senior housing projects that are currently in the works come on the market quickly, so that those of us who live in homes that are too large to maintain can downsize into comfortable spaces that fixed incomes can afford. We’re currently working towards more affordable senior housing projects on both sides of Interstate 805 in Chula Vista.

Q: What specifically would you do to address homelessness in Chula Vista?

A: Chula Vista has 792 total individuals who are considered homeless, 120 are sheltered, 672 are considered “unsheltered,” with 350 of those individuals using our housing voucher programs in local hotels.

Later this summer, we will open a tiny village of transitional housing near Broadway Avenue, south of Main Street. It is located adjacent to one of the three large areas of Chula Vista where most homeless live, known as the Otay River Bottom.

We purchased 66 climate-controlled private pallet units that can house up to 138 formerly unsheltered individuals, including small families, seniors and individuals employed by Chula Vista’s Work for Hope program, who have been restoring Chula Vista public park bathrooms and facilities.

The new tiny village will have two multipurpose facilities, real bathrooms and showers. An on-site social services agency (City Net) will assist residents, provide security and encourage residents to take on and share new responsibilities, including cleaning, gardening and other purposeful tasks.

Residents will set goals for themselves, and it is our hope that they will find the transition to permanent, independent housing easier, and have more confidence in their ability to remain housed.

We encourage our community, local churches, charitable organizations and service groups to join us in helping the residents of our first tiny village succeed. If our new tiny village is successful, we should begin immediately to consider another tiny village adjacent to the well-known homeless encampment near I-805 known as “the jungle.”

Q: Chula Vista adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2017 and declared a climate emergency this year. But progress is slow. In 2018, the city had more greenhouse gas emissions from local government-related operations than 2016. How will you ensure climate goals are realized?

A: Long commutes to work are the single biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in our region, according to the San Diego Association of Governments.

We need to stop changing zoning from industrial to residential in Chula Vista so that Chula Vistans have good-paying jobs, closer to home.

I was recently on the losing end of a 4-1 vote to rezone a large parcel immediately adjacent to the north side of the Otay Landfill south of Olympic Parkway from industrial to residential.

Our Planning Commission voted unanimously against the rezoning, but my colleagues on the council voted 4-1 to eliminate the possibility of a future jobs center.

It would have been helpful to have a “greenhouse gas” calculator to assess the impact that rezone will have on our city, with the elimination of a future jobs center and the addition to hundreds of new commuters on the road, joining the thousands who leave Chula Vista each day for work.

Chula Vista’s fleet of more than 700 vehicles should be encouraged to take the “greenest route” between points in our city — even if it means paying the toll on state Route 125.

We should offer the ability to compost organics at city facilities and parks throughout Chula Vista.

The project I spearheaded — free door-to-door electric shuttle transportation for seniors of 55 years or older in Chula Vista (launching mid-May) — can and will be replicated throughout the city when I’m elected mayor.

Q: There’s a perception that eastern Chula Vista, which is wealthier, gets more resources and attention from City Hall than western Chula Vista. How would you ensure that all neighborhoods are treated the same?

A: Eastern Chula Vista has funding sources built-in with open space fees and park development impact fees. It is newer, built after state laws required set asides for parks in new development. Eastern Chula Vista also contains more homeowners associations, with areas maintained and landscaped with fees assessed to each dwelling unit.

We’ve worked really hard to find new funding sources to renovate western Chula Vista parks. We were recently awarded $9.2 million in State Parks grants to completely renovate Eucalyptus Park and build a new pocket park (Patty Davis Park) in Northwest Chula Vista. The Rock Church and Vulcan Materials along with Community Development Block Grant grant funding helped renovate an overlooked park called Lancerlot Park in western Chula Vista. Our Measure P sales tax has funded the reconstruction of the Loma Verde Recreation Center, currently under construction, the renovation of the Norman Park Senior Center and outdoor exercise facility, and installed a new roof on the Chula Vista Woman’s Club. And the Civic Center library has a new outdoor deck that has transformed the use of our library.

Eastern Chula Vista’s fire stations were the newest in our city until recently, when we opened two new fire stations on the west side, thanks to Measure P funds.

As the next mayor of Chula Vista, I would very much look forward to working with new council members with fresh ideas on how to balance resources so that all Chula Vistans feel cared for and important.

Q: How would you have handled the Chula Vista trash strike and how would you handle municipal franchise fee agreements going forward?

A: The trash strike was one of the biggest failures of leadership we have ever seen in Chula Vista.

On Dec. 17, Republic trash haulers went on strike, three days after the last Chula Vista City Council meeting of the year on Dec. 14 and 25 days before the next meeting on Jan. 11.

Our mayor didn’t call a council meeting to declare a public health state of emergency, as Huntington Beach’s mayor did. Huntington Beach’s trash strike lasted four days compared to 30 days in Chula Vista.

I called for a public health state of emergency after realizing that city leadership was dragging its feet during the trash strike. I actively reached out to residents and businesses throughout Chula Vista to find out if their trash was being picked up or not, documenting photos, complaints and experiences. I followed through with each and every resident and business to ensure that Republic’s very small crew of temporary workers picked up the mounds of garbage that they had missed and returned to do the job.

During an emergency, a leader needs to act swiftly and decisively, in the best interests of health and safety of her community.

I commit that as mayor, I would never allow the health of Chula Vista to be at risk. I would hold our municipal franchise partner accountable at all times. I would fight for what is right for our city, and will swiftly levy fines and penalties on any company that doesn’t do right by Chula Vista.

Q: What, if any, taxes do you support increasing?

A: I do not support any more tax increases. People are really suffering under the weight of inflation and taxes. It is time to be fiscally conservative and prudent, and not make any mistakes.

Q: How would you work to develop the Chula Vista Bayfront and how important is the future of that in your vision of the city?

A: The future of the Chula Vista Bayfront is very exciting and important to the entire San Diego region.

Our Chula Vista Bayfront is the most important development on the entire West Coast! It is more than 500 acres of contiguous bayfront land, master-planned, surrounded by protected wildlife areas, beautiful parks, the sparkling San Diego Bay, clear blue Chula Vista skies above and spectacular sunsets at dusk.

Our anchor tenant, five-star luxury resort Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, will be nestled between the Chula Vista and California Yacht Marinas and the always exciting Marine Group Boatworks (a large vessel full-service shipyard, part of our working waterfront). The lobby floor of the Gaylord Hotel will be 30 feet above the existing ground at the site. Panoramic views of the bay, the Pacific Ocean, Mount San Miguel, Downtown San Diego and Mexico will be breathtaking.

Soon after the Gaylord Hotel is complete (in three years), the Pacifica project with condominiums, retail, restaurants and more amenities will begin planning in earnest.

The new Sweetwater Bicycle Path and Promenade, the Bayshore Bikeway, a new pier and existing parks, plus $25 million in new parks — the Harbor Park and the Sweetwater Park — will ensure that Chula Vistans will always have access and be welcomed at the bayfront.

High-tech employers Collins Aerospace and Raytheon remain an important and essential part of our strategic plan. Local, high-paying jobs in Chula Vista, particularly in the high-tech sector, will continue to cluster and grow in Chula Vista.

Q: Efforts to bring a university to Chula Vista have been discussed for years. Would you work toward establishing one, and how?

A: Universities are born with either federal and state support or with big endowments, big ideas and passionate leaders.

We have tried to entice the California State University system to open Chula Vista State University. There are already two Cal State schools in our county — San Diego State and Cal State San Marcos. But it is likely that the next Cal State will be in Northern California.

We have tried to convince the University of California system to launch a second UC in the same county — something that may not even be possible according to its charter.

The two most important steps Chula Vista can take today that will bring us closer to achieving our long-sought goal of a four-year university are: 1) Invest CARES Act funding and obtain grants to prepare our university parcel for development, including grading, roads, storm drains, sewer, water and utilities; and 2) Launch a university endowment and seek the highest philanthropic support from a determined group of legacy donors.

We can also build on the work we have done to ensure that the innovation district, integral to the university project, is seeded with high-tech, innovative companies looking for a work campus that is perfectly situated with housing, retail, parks and other amenities in the nearby Millenia and HomeFed villages.

Q: What would be another top priority for you, other than the ones you have discussed above?

A: My passion project over the last three-plus years has been designing, funding, and implementing a free, door-to-door electric shuttle service for seniors 55 or older in northwest Chula Vista.

Seniors in northwest Chula Vista are often isolated in their homes. If they can still drive, they find themselves unable to find parking near places they visit. If they can’t drive, they are dependent on family, friends, expensive taxis or Ubers, or confusing bus schedules.

With the help of city staff, some very committed do-gooders, and our operating partner circuit, we received a $1 million grant from the Community Congregational Development Corp. and a $1 million grant from the California Clean Mobility Options program. We purchased six electric shuttle vehicles, including one van with a ramp that can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and five sedans for traditional needs passengers.

The new service, called the Chula Vista Community Shuttle, begins this month. When called (via the Circuit app on your smartphone) it will pick up seniors 55 and older Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., within a few minutes of calling the shuttle from the app. Regular, familiar drivers called Circuit ambassadors will only be able to pick up and drop off in a three-mile radius area in northwest Chula Vista.

It is my intention to expand the service with additional grant funding to every part of Chula Vista, and in the future include people of all ages, particularly students, to help alleviate the need for multiple vehicles in a household.


https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/story/2022-05-10/2022-election-q-a-with-jill-galvez-chula-vista-mayoral-candidate