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Robert Castaneda for Chula Vista City Council

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Created: 27 April, 2012
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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11 min read

Robert Castaneda.

The race for Chula Vista city council seat 3 is not your usually city council race! Not only does the incumbent have to face her challengers, but for the first time in memory a political action committee was created calling themselves “Anybody But Pamela Bensoussan.”

Bensoussan ran afoul of her initial support base on her first day in public office when she recommended a sales tax while many Chula Vista residents are facing foreclosure, a loss of jobs, and depressed income. Her support of this tax caught many of her supporters by surprise. Then Bensoussan aligned herself with Republican mayor, Cheryl Cox, often siding against fellow Democrats on the council. She was involved in clandestine negotiations regarding Chula Vista’s bayfront and a possible city contract to clean up of the South Bay power plant with Republican David Malcolm. This alignment with Cox and Malcolm was to be rewarded with the endorsement by staunch Republican organization, the San Diego Log Cabin which for many was the proverbial last straw. In essence Bensoussan was a democratic in name only. Then there was the whole debacle with the city’s centennial, that Bensoussan tried to manipulate to her benefit.

The question was who would challenge Bensoussan?

Early on there was Republican challenger Larry Breitfelder, who lost a close race to Bensoussan four years ago. But for Democrats and the progressive base, options were limited. There was, in the community, a desire for an alternative candidate to the Republican option and for a while there, it appeared as though no one would step up leaving a huge void in choice.

Into this void stepped Robert Castaneda.

The Castaneda name is a well-known in Chula Vista with his brother Steve Castaneda being a Chula Vista City council man for the past eight years, this year is his last year with term limitations, which in one sense is good that it gives Robert instant name identity and at the same time it will be viewed as political nepotism.

Robert Castaneda does not come into this political race without credentials and this is not his first political race. Robert Castaneda has worked on the staff of three governors, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Grey Davis. He has worked in State Government with the State Lottery as director of community &and legislative affairs and with the California Public Utilities. At present he is president of Castaneda Communications specializing in government affairs, community outreach, media and strategic planning. In 1987 he ran for San Diego city council.

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I am running to replace Pam Bensoussan. I, like many other Chula Vistans, when Pamela first ran supported her, wrote her a check, walked precincts, and called voters. And I, Like many of these other supporters, were misled. Now we have a candidate seeking re-election that has embraced every issue that either we were opposed to, or she made promises that she didn’t keep, or has directly connected herself with special interest.

Can you give us an example of some of these promises she broke?

The issue that came up first was a deficit the city faced where Pamela did two things that were diametrically opposed to what she told people that she would do. She joined forces with the mayor to strongly support a sales tax increase to which she announced her support at her inaugural speech when she was first elected to office. She authored and signed the argument for the sales tax as presented to the Chula Vista voters. The Chula Vista voters were smart enough to reject that sales tax by nearly 60% of the vote.

Pamela has also tied herself to special interest, especially on the bay front. Pamela tied her interest to a specific individual (David Malcolm) who sought to co-opt the development and the tearing down of the power plant.

But I think what concerned many of us was the ongoing negotiation that the City Council was involved with, with police, firefighters, and municipal employees. Police and fire-fighters were asked to take cuts and frankly with Pam’s unwillingness to support public safety our police to citizen ratio is the lowest we have had in the city since 2004. Pam’s lack of support and direct opposition to firefighters has resulted not only in increased response time for both police and fire, but the fact we don’t have trained medical response personnel on our fire trucks that would function as first responders in the case of tragedy, a heart attack, a car accident, where lives are on the line and minutes are precious. Pam did not support those budget appropriations for those public safety measures. However what she did support were increased pay raises for city bureaucrats.

Couldn’t you say that the police and fire funding was just a result of the general overall bad economy that the city was going through?

I think you can make a case for that, but that is where you end up. What I am talking about is where you begin. How do you negotiate as a city councilmember, like Pam tried to do, in good faith and have trust with other stake holders in the city when you continue to take your car allowance? How do you negotiate in good faith when you are expecting fire fighters, police, librarians, and other city staff to take cuts, while executives and managers are given raises and car allowances?

Budgets in tough economic times should be about what we value!

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What would you do different?

My view of public service is that it should be one of sacrifice. What I have committed to do is to not only refuse the car allowance, but also take 10 percent of my city council salary and give it directly to the Norman Park Senior Center here in Chula Vista.

Budgets should represent, especially in tough times, shared pain. I don’t believe that there should be winners or losers when it comes to tough budgets. Everybody has to give up something. Tough budgets, in tough economic times should be about what we value. In my opinion paid should be share equally and that has not been the case with Pam Bensoussan.

As a city council candidate what would you bring to the city council?

What I would bring to the council is a new brand of leadership. I think it’s important for people to engage in public and political service in the sense that they are not looking to be professional politicians. They are not looking at an initial term as a way and a means to support future endeavors in politics. I felt it was important for me to stand up and bring that type of leadership and that commitment to the people of the city which I live.

You defined your brand of leadership, but, how does this translate in office?

That is really the key. In political office if you are going to be effective two things have to happen. You need to listen to the community and know the issues. The other thing you need is a wealth of experience. I think it is important for people to get involved in public office that have a background in government, that have a background in public purpose programs, that have a background in public budget, at that point you can melt, you can mold, you can combine the community message, the community need, together with the experience and the practical know how, to get that agenda moving forward at city hall and it allows you to build consensus.

You talked about bring experience to the office. One of the issues with your campaign is that you recently moved to Chula Vista to run for office. What kind of Chula Vista experience do you bring to the office?

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I, as a teenager, worked in Chula Vista on north Broadway at an auto part store. I have relatives in Chula Vista. I have worked with Crossroads II and with Earl Jentz in the past when they opposed the twin towers project on H Street. But I think the most important aspect of my running is my willingness to sit, listen, and talk with the community.

The second issue in your campaign is the fact that your brother now serves on the city council. People are going to raise the question of dynasty building. How do you respond to that question?

I am glad that you asked that question, I look to respond to that every time I am asked. I don’t believe in any sort of dynasty. What I do believe is that Steve Castaneda has represented a legacy of public service, has represented eight years of not only leadership, courage. There is many in this community what he was up against. There are many in this community that know not what Steve had to sacrifice to continue to serve the people of this community, but what our family had to sacrifice. So public service, either at the city level or at the state level, is not new to the Castaneda family. This is something that we have always done and we have done it for nearly three decades now. So when people ask me about Steve or they ask me my connection to Steve Castaneda what I tell is this: If elected, if the people of this city choose to have me represent them on their city council the one commitment I have, not only to them but to myself and my family, is to work towards the legacy to try to be least 70% of what Steve Castaneda has represented.

If elected I don’t have problem telling anybody that Steve will be the first person I call to get his council, ask his opinion, to seek out his assistance in getting things done. In the final analysis Steve and I just about agree on everything.

One final question, do you see yourself as the underdog in this race?

Yes. Anytime you run against an incumbent in the City of Chula Vista you are an underdog. If history tells us anything in Chula Vista is that underdogs in terms of anyone seeking to challenge an incumbent is running up hill. I knew that before deciding to get into this race. But this is not about having a comfortable campaign with an assured of victory at the end.

This is about work, it’s about talking with people, it’s about giving the people a choice. I believe at the end, elections are about choices.

If you are happy with $240,000 going away from the city’s general fund, in terms of lawyers and putting the city on the hook for liability with an sort of toxic issue that we would have with the power plant, Pamela Bensoussan is your candidate. If you want some of the lowest responses times in connection with police staffing, if you want to continue to support those cuts to public safety, Pamela Bensoussan is your candidate. If you don’t want medical teams operating as first responders then Pamela Bensoussan is your candidate. If you want candidates who tell you one thing and once they are elected do something else Pamela Bensoussan is your candidate.

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So in my mind I recognize I am the underdog, but I also recognize that I provide the people of this city a crystal clear choice of the type of representation on the city council and in the end I hope to get their support.

You can meet Robert and the other candidates April 30th at Southwest Chula Vista Civic Association, Candidates’ reception at South Branch Library 389 Orange Ave. 91911, room B-Literacy center, back entrance near 4th

Meet the candidates, read their answers to questionnaire and ask them questions yourself. There will be tables on each side of the room-one for each candidate. You can go from one to another talking with each one and have a piece of cake to much on. All candidates, EXCEPT Pamela Bensoussan have agreed to come.

Voters can contact Robert Castaneda at BobCastanedaforCouncil@gmail.com

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