BY TAMMY MURGA
National City residents on Tuesday celebrated the swearing-in of their first-ever City Council district representatives.
Luz Molina, who is the District 1 council member, had an especially momentous evening. The former city clerk was selected to serve as vice mayor and as the official to represent the South County city on the board overseeing the San Diego Association of Governments, the region’s planning agency.
Her district, which includes Old Town National City and portside communities, has evolved from a primarily residential area to a mix of homes and industries, such as body shops, known to emit air toxins and affect residents’ health. Residents have a long history of advocating for environmental justice. The area has also not had a council member reside there for years.
“It is an honor to take this seat. I feel the weight of the responsibility that I have as a representative of the people in District 1 and the voters and the residents,” said Molina, who ran unopposed. “I want you to know that it is my intention to carry your voice on this dais with me.”
In 2020, she was elected as the city clerk. Voters in November approved a measure that changes the city clerk and city treasurer roles from elected to appointed positions.
Jubilant cheers followed when Ditas Yamane, a longtime Filipino-American resident elected to represent District 3, spoke from the dais. She, along with other Filipino Americans, led the effort to have National City switch from at-large to district-based elections.
“We were driven by the desire to have a better and fairer representation in our local government, making sure that it is more reflective of the cultural diversity in the community and its community of interest,” she said.
Her district includes the northeast portion of the city and has the largest concentration of Filipino and Asian Pacific Islander residents. They make up nearly 20 percent of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census. While some Filipino Americans have run for office in the past, Filipino/API representation on the council has been absent over the past two decades.
She cautioned her District 3 constituents to “not put blinders on and solely focus on our own needs.”
“We have to work with our mayor and the rest of our City Council to get National City stronger moving forward,” Yamane said.
Councilmember Marcus Bush represents District 4 and Councilmember Jose Rodriguez District 2.
After having served for three decades as a National City council member and mayor, Ron Morrison took the center seat once more as the city’s mayor. He called for a more united city and council while embracing the differences each official might bring to the dais.
“This is a city that is extremely resilient, pulls together when it needs to pull together. And I’m telling you right now there is opportunities beyond belief for our city and for our region. But to do that we have to pull together,” he said. “And what that means is unity. … That does not mean uniformity. We are all different.”
The council’s first look at their differences came when appointing council members to regional boards, including SANDAG.
Morrison,an Independent, suggested appointing Yamane, with Molina and himself as alternates. But his motion failed after receiving support from only Yamane.
Democrat Bush pushed for Molina, also a Democrat, to be appointed, with Democrats Rodriguez and Yamane as alternates. His motion passed 4-1, with Morrison opposed.
Bush argued that Molina would best serve on SANDAG for representing a district with “a long-proven track record of fighting for environmental justice, of recognizing environmental racism.”
Molina said the divided votes were not “an intention to cause divisions,” but rather methodical decisions that had to be made because “this is representation of National City at the regional level.”
The city also paid farewells to Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, the outgoing mayor, and Councilmember Mona Rios, who is retiring after more than a decade of public service.
Sotelo-Solis spoke to several efforts the City Council accomplished during her tenure, including helping the community through the pandemic, growing downtown, starting an urban village and advocating for the Port-approved plan to improve the waterfront.
She hopes that “as we look to the future, we keep that intensity. And we can become that destination for so many people.”
After a holiday recess, the council is expected to resume Jan 17.