When Steve Castaneda was elected to serve on the Chula Vista City Council in November 2004, he had priorities like everyone else.
Then, he promised residents he’d focus on getting sidewalks for Castle Park. He did. He also told the citizens he’d focus on revitalizing western Chula Vista and succeeded over time with the help of his colleagues.
“The neighborhoods are what matter in Chula Vista,” he said in a November 2004 interview. That didn’t change during his tenure.
Castaneda, 53, first became involved in politics in 1987 while helping his brother with a campaign in San Diego.
Shortly after he was hired by Ron Roberts and worked in the city of San Diego for more than eight years.
Castaneda said while serving on the Chula Vista City Council difficult choices were made.
“Probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to do is make tough decisions related to layoffs, reducing people’s pay, eliminating positions of people that I know and like and asking them to accept that,” he said.
However, he said there were also great accomplishments, among them the demolition of the South Bay Power Plant and passage of Prop. B.
“Late this year or early next year we’re going to see that structure come down and a whole new vista open up for the community,” he said.
Castaneda also credits district elections as promoting a direct democracy.
“The cherry on the icing is that two-thirds of the voters supported district elections,” he said.
Castaneda’s personal accomplishments include controversial votes such as being the deciding vote to keep funds for the southwest Orange Avenue park and library and casting the split vote to disestablish the city’s tourism and marketing district.
“I would like people to believe and to know that I tried to do what in my mind I thought was right,” he said. “I’ve lost plenty of votes in my tenure as a council member. You may not be happy but you’ve got to get over it, you’ve got to do your job.”
Castaneda said the next council will have its hands full with new opportunities for the city and must work together.
“They don’t always have to like each other or get along,” he said. “The fact is that healthy debate — spirited debate — is a part of the process…”
He also said there would be new challenges including the ability to attract and retain local jobs and make the market more viable while not weighing it down with time-consuming bureaucracy.
“From a community standpoint, when the budgets come up the council needs to remember who pays the bills and what’s most important is the focus needs to be the neighborhoods and not City Hall,” Castaneda said. “I think our bayfront is going to continue to be a political development that is gonna need to be shepherded through the importance process of trying to get somebody in to finance the development that was approved and not settle for inferior or less than the best for the people of Chula Vista.”
Castaneda was also on the Planning Commission at a time when Chula Vista was experiencing unprecedented growth.
“The Otay Ranch mall was on the drawing board, the 125 was still a pipe dream,” he said. “All these projects came over our desk and I was very, very proud and very honored to pitch in and try to represent the public.”
Castaneda said he is proud of progress that was made by the entire council.
“I think that we did a lot of things to help everyday citizens of people in neighborhoods be more involved in decisions at City Hall,” he said. “We’ve seen more community groups continue to sustain themselves and be active … we gave them more of a voice.”
As he leaves the dais, Castaneda said he hopes people consider him as someone who made decisions based on the best interests of the citizens of Chula Vista.
“I hope to be viewed as somebody that looked out for the neighborhoods — somebody that made decisions to open city government to the neighborhoods and somebody that wasn’t afraid to buck the system a little bit and the establishment when decisions had to be made that were fair,” he said.
Castaneda added that as a resident he would continue to work to get things done.
“The violence that neighborhoods in western Chula Vista is seeing coming out of these bars … we’ve seen situations where people have been killed, gang fights, neighborhoods terrorized and we haven’t been able to get our hands around how to handle that,” he said. “I will be working with the neighbors to get some justice for these folks.”
As far as the new council, Castaneda said it’s time for fresh blood.
“At the end of the day … it was a great opportunity to represent the people of Chula Vista and make decisions on their behalf,” he said.
As Castaneda steps aside for incoming Councilwoman Mary Salas, he will continue to work as president of PRM Consulting, Inc., and for another reason.
“I’m running for Assembly,” he said. “This district is going to be in Chula Vista.”
Castaneda’s last day on the council was Nov. 20.