Steve Padilla

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38th Mayor of Chula Vista
In office
Preceded by Shirley Horton
Succeeded by Cheryl Cox
Personal details
Born 1967 (age 49–50)

Steve Padilla (born 1967) is a public policy, advocacy and communications consultant and a noted California politician. He served as Mayor of the City of Chula Vista, CA (Pop. 240,000) from 2002 to 2006 and as a member of the California Coastal Commission from 2005 to 2007. He most recently served as a member of the Board of Port Commissioners of the Unified Port of San Diego, as Board Secretary and Vice Chairman-Elect from 2009 to 2011.

Chula Vista is the second-largest city in San Diego County, after San Diego proper. The Coastal Commission is California's powerful coastal protection authority which regulates land use along all 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of California's coastline. The Unified Port of San Diego governs the tidelands trust lands of San Diego Bay which span the five bay front cities of San Diego, Coronado, National City, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. Mr. Padilla served two terms on Chula Vista's City Council from 1994 to 2002 prior to being elected Mayor, and held numerous local, regional, state-wide and national posts during his term as mayor and since including; the board of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the League of California Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. Padilla lost his bid for reelection to Republican Cheryl Cox in November, 2006. A Democrat, he is also noted for being one of the state's increasing number of openly gay political leaders. Padilla remains active in local, state and national public affairs. He is President of Aquarius Group, Inc. a consulting business he began in 2007, and has been a published public affairs columnist for various local publications in San Diego. He was asked to serve as a member of The Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2008-2009.[1]

Early life[edit]

The eldest of four children, Steve Padilla was born at the U.S. Naval Hospital, San Diego. Raised in Chula Vista since age 5, Padilla showed an interest in community at an early age, becoming active in organizations throughout his early life, which would later lead him to seek public office.

Padilla's first career venture was into law enforcement. After graduating from Bonita Vista High School, he became the youngest cadet accepted into the Southwestern Police Academy. A police officer for thirteen years, he served as a Detective, specializing in domestic violence and child abuse before entering the public arena.

While a police officer, Padilla returned to school, and received his bachelor's degree in Public Administration. Between 1989 and 1990 he was appointed by the City Council to various city boards and commissions including the Board of Ethics, and Safety Commission.

City Council[edit]

Padilla was elected to the Chula Vista City Council in 1994. He was the first person of Latino descent elected to that office in the city's history, despite the city's diverse population. During his early tenure, he was noted and criticized for his harsh criticism of the existing City Manager. Padilla was instrumental in bringing about the hiring of a new City Manager and the implementation of city-wide ethics training. He won re-election by a large margin in 1998.


Padilla was elected the 38th Mayor of Chula Vista on November 5, 2002, defeating Mary Salas, a colleague and political ally. The race between the two democrats was hotly contested and closely observed given the nature of the candidate's past relationship and the historic nature of the election.

During his tenure as mayor, he is credited with re-energizing efforts to bring a four-year university to Chula Vista and building a diverse coalition of interests around a large waterfront development project for the city.

Padilla sought to focus on revitalization for the city's aging downtown area and the addition of parks and open spaces. His focus on downtown redevelopment earned him both allies and strong critics, who feared redevelopment of the city's downtown area would bring larger buildings and population. He gained significant attention in the region while leading the city in an evaluation of options for energy independence, resulting in a very public battle and debate with the area's public utility, San Diego Gas & Electric. Working with the San Diego Unified Port District, Padilla was instrumental in initiating the Bay-front Master Plan, an effort to develop 500 acres (2.0 km2) waterfront to accommodate public parks, hotels, restaurants, shops and new housing.

In July 2005, Padilla was appointed by then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to the California Coastal Commission. In August, 2005 while speaking at a rally on civil rights for gays and lesbians, Padilla acknowledged publicly what many had known privately for a few years – that he is gay. His "coming out" at the time gained him both national attention and political opponents. At that time, Chula Vista became the largest city in the United States with an openly gay mayor.

Padilla has been featured on the cover of San Diego Metropolitan magazine (July, 2003); named one of the "25 Leading Men in North America" by Instinct magazine (Nov, 2005); and one of "50 People to Watch" by San Diego Magazine (Jan, 2006).

In 2006, Steve Padilla lost his re-election bid to Chula Vista Elementary School Board member Cheryl Cox, the wife of a popular former mayor and current county supervisor with 45.76% to Cox's 54.24%.[2] Cox's campaign against Padilla focused on the drop in City reserves from $40 million to $10 million while Padilla served as Mayor and largely on the fact the city had hired security for Padilla in the wake of anonymous threats.[3][4]

Post Mayoral Career[edit]

Padilla served on the Governing Board of Walden Family Services, a private non-profit foster family agency serving special needs children in six California counties from 2007-2009. He completed service on the Independent Task Force on U.S. Immigration Policy for the Council on Foreign Relations in early 2009, when the Task Force findings and recommendations were released.

Destroying rumors of his withdrawal from politics, Padilla surprised many when in late 2009 he successfully applied for appointment to the Board of Port Commissioners. Padilla was appointed to fill the remainder of the term of Commissioner Mike Najera, who had been removed by the City Council a few months earlier. During his tenure, he won praise from both allies and critics alike for helping to move Chula Vista's bay front planning efforts forward after a period of stagnation.

In early 2011, Chula Vista’s City Council failed to appoint Padilla to a full 4-year term in his own right in a 3-2 vote, just hours after he was sworn in as vice chairman at the commission’s annual luncheon.[5]

In 2014 Padilla sought to re-enter elective office and sought a seat on the Chula Vista City Council. In what became the closest election in city history, his campaign received broad organizational and political support, but lost the bid by only 2 votes out of nearly 39,000 cast. Padilla is widely expected to make another bid in 2016.