Mary Salas and Shirley Horton
An edgy Chula Vista council meeting on January 8 ended with the council’s failure to appoint anyone to the seat vacated by Mary Casillas Salas when she was elected mayor in November.
At the same time Salas was elected, voters approved Proposition B, which allows the council to fill a seat that will be vacated for up to two years. The purpose of the proposition was to avoid a costly special election.
Out of the 44 people who applied to fill the vacancy, the council selected 8 for interviews.
Shirley Horton, former assemblymember and former mayor of Chula Vista, was one of the eight who interviewed for the vacated seat.
An exchange between Salas and Horton during the interview forecast the hard lines that would be drawn on the dais when it came time to nominate; it might also suggest how the council would function if Horton were appointed.
Salas told Horton (and each person interviewed) that Chula Vista needs $600 million to upgrade and repair the city’s infrastructure.
Salas: “How do we fill the gap? We’ve been developing and developing and not really doing a good job of keeping up with the infrastructure as it ages.”
Horton: “That’s too bad. I guess I was fortunate to be here during an era when we tried to maintain the streets and tried to keep up our infrastructure.”
Horton was mayor from 1994–2000. In 2000, the city’s population was 173,000; the current population is 257,000.
In her closing comments, Horton stated that she hadn’t run for mayor or city council in the 2014 cycle but had a recent epiphany when she was attending the opening ceremony for a newly paved section of H Street, which leads to the future bayfront development:
“This city has so much potential…if we don’t have the right people at the right place, some of this won’t happen the way it should, and I realized at that moment that I wanted to be part of it.”
Horton has been closely associated with the city’s old guard — former mayor Cheryl Cox and former fallen port commissioner David Malcolm.
When councilmember John McCann served on the Sweetwater Union High School District board, he nominated Malcolm to the committee that presided over the dispensation of district property.
Salas explained to her colleagues on the dais that she would not vote for Horton because so many of the other applicants had fresher perspectives and information. She referred to Horton as “out of the loop.”
After the eight interviews were completed, only three names got any play on the dais: Salas floated the name of former port commissioner Bill Hall; councilmember Patricia Aguilar put forward the name of James Clark, executive director for the San Diego/Tijuana Smart Border Coalition.
Neither got a vote from the councilmember Pamela Bensoussan/McCann camp. Bensoussan and McCann nominated Horton twice, each receiving the other’s second. When the vote continued to be split 2-2, they pushed to recess the meeting to a later date.
After a brief kerfuffle between Bensoussan and Salas about who was running the meeting, Salas adjourned the meeting until January 13 at 2 p.m. At that time, the council will again take up the question of the vacant seat.
One candidate must receive three votes by January 23 or the process defaults to a special election.