La prensa

Disgraced Former NC Mayor Inzunza Vying for Port Post

Nick Inzunza
Author: La Prensa
Created: 12 June, 2024
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10 min read

By Arturo Castañares
Editor-at-Large

A former National City Mayor driven from office 18 years ago after being exposed as a slumlord is now vying to be appointed as the City’s next Port Commissioner, but some community leaders have raised concerns with his residency to qualify for the prestigious post.

Nicholas “Nick” Inzunza, 53, who served one term as Mayor of National City from 2002 to 2006, applied to fill the vacancy left when the City Council removed Commissioner Sandy Naranjo last month.

The City Council has scheduled a Special Meeting for this Thursday at 6:00pm to consider five applicants for the position.

Inzunza left office in December 2006 without running for re-election after a San Diego Union-Tribune story reported that he owned over 100 run-down apartments that were the subject of lawsuits, complaints, and code violations, but he then tried to blame his wife for the dilapidated units to protect his political career. 

After leaving the Mayor’s office, Inzunza moved his family to Coronado where he lived until 2016 when he changed his voter registration address to a home in National City.

When Inzunza applied for the vacancy of the San Diego Unified Port District Board of Commissioners two weeks ago, he listed his occupation as “Former Mayor of National City and Real Estate Owner and Investor” with his home and business addresses as 1441 Hoover Ave in National City.

The application clarified that applicants must live in National City, and specifically asks if the person is registered to vote and lives in National City. Inzunza answered “Yes” to both questions.

When asked on the application for his “Term of Residency”, Inzunza replied “On and Off since 1987. From 1987 to the present, I have been in residency 30 of the last 40 years.” 

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The San Diego County Registrar of Voters confirmed that Inzunza changed his voter registration address to 1441 Hoover just last week, nearly a week after submitting his application using that address.

San Diego County records show the property is owned by Beautiful National City, LLC, a company wholly owned by Inzunza that purchased the property in 2015 for $140,000.

La Prensa San Diego visited the home at 1441 Hoover on June 11th and spoke with two individuals who were inside who claimed they were renting the home as an “Airbnb” short-term rental. 

Hoover

Inzunza did not appear to live at the 480 sq. ft. home. 

The home has a FOR SALE sign in the front yard and is listed for sale online for $699,000. The listing includes the adjoining home at 1443 Hoover on a separate parcel as part of the sale. 

Before Inzunza changed his voter registration to the Hoover address last week, he had been registered to vote at 800 B Ave, #203, in National City since November 2023.

Inzunza cast a vote in the March 5th Primary Election using that address.

That address is the Parco Apartment complex which includes 127 residential apartment units, but the second-floor unit that Inzunza claimed as his residence is an office suite that cannot be used as a living space.

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According to the on-site leasing office, Inzunza could not have lived in Unit 203 where the entire floor is comprised of office suites.

State election laws require someone to live at the address where they are registered to vote, and the voter registration application must be signed under penalty of perjury that the information is true and correct.  

Several former politicians have been charged with felony voter fraud for using residence addresses where they did not live, including Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon. State Senator Rodrick Wright, and Del Norte County Sheriff Randall Waltz.

Between October 2016 and November 2022, Inzunza used 341 F Ave in National City as his voting address. That property was also owned by Beautiful National City, LLC, from July 2106 to May 2022. It is not clear if Inzunza lived at that address during that period.

Two people close to Inzunza claim he has been living in Tijuana in the past few years.

La Prensa San Diego contacted Inzunza for clarification on his residency but he did not respond.

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EXPOSED AS SLUMLORD

A December 2005 San Diego Union-Tribune article exposed that Inzunza owned more than 100 rental units in inner city areas, but that most “have been the subject of lawsuits, complaints by tenants and code enforcement investigations.” 

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“The complaints are similar: no heat, no hot water, no screens, no smoke detectors. Broken windows, broken stove, broken shower, broken toilet. Rats, ants, roaches. All of those who spoke up were evicted,” the SDUT story detailed.

When Inzunza became aware the reporters were investigating his property, he attempted to transfer some of the properties to his wife in an effort to distance himself from the controversy.

“Asked recently about the condition of the properties, Inzunza said they belong to his wife, and that he hasn't ‘stepped foot on them in years.’ The mayor's name, however, is on all of the deeds except two, one of which he transferred solely to his wife this week, after being told The San Diego Union-Tribune examination of his properties was about to be published,” the SDUT article stated.

Inzunza claimed he was not involved with the properties but, just two years earlier, he bragged to the San Diego Business Journal that he had accumulated millions of dollars worth of real estate.

"Through a seven-year period of acquiring property, I was able to make acquisitions totaling $3.2 million. I have since been able to reinvest my cash in these properties to rehabilitate them and create affordable housing in the inner city, keeping in mind when I bought these properties, most were abandoned or vacant housing structures. Today, these properties are valued at $9.4 million, 132 units, no single-family units,” Inzunza told the business publication at the time.

After being exposed, Inzunza dropped out of his nascent campaign to replace then-Assemblyman Juan Vargas who was termed out of office in 2006. Former Chula Vista Councilwoman Mary Salas went on to win the 2006 Assembly district election and served two terms in Sacramento before returning to serve two terms as Chula Vista Mayor through 2022.

Juan Vargas was later elected to the California State Senate and is now serving his sixth term in Congress. 

Inzunza later sold most of the controversial properties, but still owns several rentals, including the 1441 & 1443 Hoover homes.

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PART OF POLITICAL DYNASTY

Inzunza is part of a family of politicos who were once called “The Kennedys of the South Bay” when his father, Ralph Inzunza, Sr. served on the City Council of National City, his uncle Nick Inzunza served on the South Bay School District Board, and his older brother, Ralph Inzunza, Jr., served on the San Diego City Council.

Ralph Inzunza, Jr., who had served as Chief of Staff to then-Councilman Juan Vargas during his two terms on the San Diego City Council, won a special election to replace Vargas after he was elected to the California State Assembly.

Ralph Inzunza, Jr., won election to a full term in the 2002 elections.

But the following year, Inzunza, along with two Council colleagues, Charles Lewis and Michael Zucchett, were indicted on federal charges of extortion, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in what became known as “Strippergate” over charges that the politicians accepted campaign contributions from the owner of Cheetahs strip club and his associates, allegedly in exchange for agreeing to repeal the City's "no touch" laws that kept patrons six feet away from naked dancers.

Before the trials, Lewis, 37, died of chronic hepatic cirrhosis.

Inzunza and Zucchet were later convicted by a jury on July 18, 2005, and both immediately resigned from office. Inzunza filed multiple unsuccessful appeals and later served a 21-month prison sentence through April 2013.

Zucchet's conviction was overturned by the trial judge in November 2005 claiming the jury erred in using some of the testimony against him. Zucchett later became the leader of the San Diego City employees labor union and also now serves on the Port District Board.

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Inzunza’s younger brother, Michael, is currently running for a seat on the Chula Vista City Council. The younger Inzunza earned the most votes in a five-person March 5th Primary Election and will be on November 5th General Election ballot against Leticia Munguia, who came in second place in March. 

PORT VACANCY

Inzunza is among six candidates who applied for the appointment to fill the remained of Naranjo’s term through December of this year.

The other candidates are Dr. Gil Ungab, a retired cardiologist; Mitch Beauchamp, a former City Councilman; Alexander Fernandez, a Longshoreman; Cheddy Matthews, a Leadership and Executive Coach; and Mike Dalla, a former City Councilman and former City Clerk. Dalla withdrew his application last week.

The vacancy occurred after the City Council voted 3-2 to remove Naranjo before the end of her term.

Naranjo had been the subject of a report issued by the Port detailing allegations of inappropriate behavior they claimed she engaged in after she raised concerns with the Port's General Counsel, Thomas Russell.

During a closed session Port meeting to review Russell’s performance, Naranjo raised concerns she had about outside business interests and potential conflicts Russell may have had.

Russell dismissed the concerns and Naranjo ended up voting to approve Russell’s new contract and pay raise.

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But after the meeting, the Port spent $150,000 on outside lawyers to investigate Naranjo and her colleagues later voted to censure her, a move that had never happened since the Port was created in 1962. Naranjo was removed as the Board’s Vice-Chair and barred from becoming Chair in December. 

Last month, the City Council voted 3-2 to remove Naranjo with Mayor Ron Morrison and Councilmembers Jose Rodriguez and Ditas Yamane voting in favor, and Councilmembers Luz Molina and Marcus Bush opposed.

Naranjo was immediately removed from her position. 

POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS

Inzunza has donated $2,000 to campaigns of National City Councilman Jose Rodriguez through a company named Inner City Redevelopment LLC, a company solely owned by Inzunza.

On June 30, 2022, Inzunza’s company gave $1,000 to the Rodriguez for Mayor 2022 campaign using an address in San Diego, then on December 30, 2023, gave another $1,000 contribution to the Re-Elect Jose Rodriguez for City Council 2024 campaign.

Rodriguez, who was elected in November 2020, ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 2022, and is now running for re-election to the City Council on the November 5th ballot.

Before being elected in 2020, Rodriguez ran for unsuccessful for Council in 2016 and 2018.

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Inzunza has not contributed to any of the other four members of the City Council who will consider his appointment.

During the 2020 election cycle, Inzunza made personal donations to the campaigns of then-State Senator Ben Hueso and Terra Lawson-Remer for County Supervisors. Inzunza used an address in Coronado for reporting the contributions.

Last year, Inzunza made two personal donations to Lawson-Remer’s campaign using a San Diego address for both of his contributions.

On January 31st, Inzunza again made a personal contribution to Lawson-Remer’s campaign but used a National City address for the donor disclosure.

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