Downtown Chula Vista
Downtown Chula Vista. Photo by Chris Stone

A new day is dawning in Chula Vista. Our current mayor is retiring after serving our community well, we’re transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic where businesses and schools will stay open, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our city stronger than ever with new leadership.

Like so many of us who grew up in Chula Vista, my story is shaped by people like you: A loving community of neighbors, teachers, community leaders, and family members who worked hard to give my generation a better life. My vision for Chula Vista comes from seeing our city through the eyes of working families, like mine.

I was born in East San Diego County and raised in Chula Vista by my mother, the child of Mexican immigrants. Growing up with a single parent, we lived on both sides of the 805, searching across West and East Chula Vista for housing we could afford. I worked as a janitor and groundskeeper at Eastlake Community Church while attending Eastlake High School to help make ends meet.

My mom and mentors inspired me to graduate from Southwestern College and San Diego State University, and pursue a life of service. What began as a community organizing job in Chula Vista turned into an opportunity that would change my life — working for President Barack Obama at the White House. After the White House, I served as an executive at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce advocating for small businesses, and as a federal official at the U.S. Department of Labor serving working families like the ones I grew up with. 

It’s from this improbable journey, that I write to you today, humbly asking for your support as the next Mayor of our city.

As a third-generation Chula Vistan and small business owner, I’m offering new leadership for a city on the verge of new possibilities as we hopefully transition into a post-pandemic economy. A new bayfront development and new university that will unleash new industries, jobs, housing opportunities, and new revenue to invest in long-neglected services like our roads, public safety, schools, housing, homelessness and small businesses. 

Ammar Campa-Najjar with President Obama. Campaign photo

We won’t get there by recycling the same career politicians, who for decades, have failed to deliver long-overdue projects. We can’t wait 20 more years for these opportunities, we need a new mayor who has the energy to work hard, deliver results, and meet this moment with a vision to innovate and rejuvenate Chula Vista from Broadway to 3rd Avenue, Otay Ranch to Millenia, east to west of the 805.

Chula Vista’s population is approaching 300,000, compared to San Diego’s nearly 1.5 million. Chula Vista city’s operating budget is $475 million a year, while San Diego City’s is $4.6 billion. Why does a city only five times our size have ten times the budget of our city? One big reason is that everyday, Chula Vistans commute to San Diego to work, shop, and dine.

We are a bedroom community with a housing problem, and an even bigger problem when it comes to keeping our residents spending dollars in Chula Vista — much less attracting the rest of the county to invest here. The daily drainage of sales tax from Chula Vista to San Diego is a big part of why we have a small city budget for our growing city, and why our City Manager projects our city will be millions of dollars in debt in the coming years.  

How do we get more Chula Vistans, and the region for that matter, to spend, shop and play in Chula Vista? Here’s part of my master plan to make Chula Vista a self-sustained city with the public amenities of a growing city with a small town heart: 

$1.3 Billion Bayfront Development 

The bayfront, if maximized properly, will revitalize West Chula Vista, boost local businesses with new customers from across the region, and serve as a launching pad for “blue tech” innovation and “new collar” jobs. I’d like to see us build out a wind-powered desalination plant to provide clean water and energy for residents that’s carbon and cost-neutral. 

And, without raising taxes, the economic activity generated by the bayfront will generate $11.5 million in annual revenue. This will enable our city to invest in long-neglected services to address homelessness, hiring the additional public safety personnel we desperately need, road repairs, youth services, and hiring full-time grant writers to help our city compete and secure outside funding for ambitious future projects such as a university, stadium, airport, high-speed rail, and other public amenities to make Chula Vista a bi-national, self-sustaining, neighborhood-focused city. 

South Bay University

A university in East Chula Vista’s Innovation District will create a pipeline of highly skilled talent, attract new industries, and provide research and development that will allow us to lead in a changing world. Imagine if our new university was on the front lines of addressing climate change by researching and developing studies and solutions to clean up the Tijuana River Valley, addressing trans-boundary air pollution, and expanding eco-friendly technology such as carbon capture, utilization and storage.

Bi-National, Cross-Border Commerce

Many bi-national business leaders live in Chula Vista but do business elsewhere. We can become the economic epicenter of a 7 million person bi-national mega-region — spanning from South Bay San Diego to Baja California — and attract more international trade. There are limitless opportunities if we harness the unique cultural and business ties of our residents, and our burgeoning biotech and traditional industries, with a state-of-the-art university serving as a hub for innovation, art, and commercial activity. 

Sports Arena/Stadium

This is the most ambitious of all plans, but if the bayfront will serve as the first domino to top over and create the momentum for a university, it’s easy to imagine the pool of talented bi-national athletes our Chula Vista University would attract. It would only be a matter of time before this university would develop a competitive soccer or football team, which then would create a demand for a sports arena or stadium. 

I would conduct a feasibility study on re-purposing the amphitheater into a fully functioning stadium that can house major sports teams, symphonies and concerts. We would need to redevelop surrounding infrastructure and create roadways  to ease access for residents. I would also explore building the stadium out further east in Chula Vista by the current Olympic Training Center, which will be playing a leading role in the 2028 Olympics already. 

The revenue collectively generated from the bayfront, university, and sports arena would give our city the resources to finally make serious progress on longstanding issues such as the following.

Housing

There’s only three ways to address our city’s housing issue: build more housing, rent control which I believe will drive away investors and add insult to injury, or increase the buying power of residents by attracting industries with good paying jobs to our city. My approach will be focused on investing in options one and three. 

We can increase housing inventory by re-purposing ghost parking lots into middle-income housing that is affordable, turning two-story apartments into denser residential mid-rises and high rises, lowering costs for ADUs, and building more workforce housing for teachers, police, firefighters, and other public workers so they can have a personal stake in the communities they serve. 

Public Safety

Chula Vista has been ranked among the 10 safest cities in the United States. Still, we’ve seen crime on the rise in recent years. My economic growth plan will allow us to invest in making our neighborhoods safer by reducing traffic with road development, addressing homelessness, hiring 40 well-trained police officers to reduce crime, and providing fair pay for firefighters. We can also fund additional senior services for the elderly, and programs to empower our youth and get deadly drugs like fentanyl off our streets and away from our children.

Transportation

No growing, modernizing city is complete without some efficient public transportation. There’s been much debate on whether our state’s geography is conducive to underground high-speed rail, or if the above ground model adopted around the UTC area is more feasible.

When it comes to Chula Vista, my end goal is to develop transportation that will interconnect our city and encourage use by riders across all income levels. I don’t support expanding half-measure approaches to public transportation in Chula Vista like inefficient bus routes or low-speed trolleys that only 3% of San Diegans ride throughout the county. Efficient public transit like the Bay Area’s BART, New York City Subway, or the Washington DC Metro are the models we should be aspiring to. 

Revitalize Shopping Centers

The Chula Vista Center shopping mall was built in 1961 as “one of the country’s earliest regional malls.” This historic location has attracted the likes of world renowned boxing superstar Canelo Álvarez, who is starting a taco restaurant in the area. We can revitalize this shopping center to become an epicenter for bi-national retail and Mexican cuisine by empowering Latino-owned neighborhood markets and selective brand names to maintain the authentic culture of old Chula Vista that makes us a regional attraction. This effort will attract customers around the region and country, bring in more sales tax, and help our city flourish. 

On the east side, I would urge the empty Albertsons in San Miguel to use or lose its lease for other grocery stores like Northgate market to bid. We also need to breathe new life into the Otay Ranch Mall, which I believe a new university nearby will help achieve.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this exciting vision for Chula Vista. I’ve talked to business and labor advocates, university leaders and development experts, lifelong residents and young families hoping to make Chula Vista their forever home. 

I’m giving my whole heart and soul to Chula Vista. I’m running to use my experiences and relationships to build partnerships to improve our city’s economy and way of life. I’m running because I believe in the transformative power of turning our collective pain into collective purpose, to build a beloved community where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Where every child, regardless of their circumstances, has the love and support they need to believe in themselves and chase their dreams.

That’s what Chula Vista gave me as a son of an immigrant, a single parent, and a working-class kid with dreams of helping change the world — that’s the city I hope to build for your children as Mayor.

Ammar Campa-Najjar is running for Mayor of Chula Vista. If elected, he would be the first Latino-Arab American to hold elective office in the United States.