BY PALOMA AGUIRRE
JAN. 18, 2023 6 AM PT
Aguirre is the first Latina mayor elected in Imperial Beach.
Serving Imperial Beach has been the greatest honor of my life. Fighting against its existential threats has been the focus of most of my professional life. I’ve done it because it’s the city I fell in love with over 20 years ago when I moved here from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I still remember the very first day I surfed Imperial Beach as if it were yesterday: a cold, cloudy day in October 2001 with 6-foot waves. As I enjoyed an empty lineup, I found myself taking off on one of the largest waves of the set and getting barreled. At that moment, I was hooked. I knew then and there that IB was my new home. I did everything I could to afford to live close to the beach, even working two jobs as a retail associate and a video rental shop employee, just so I could wake up and go surfing every day.
It would be years before I knew that despite the waves being so good, they were not always safe. Sewage from Mexico affecting Imperial Beach is one of our nation’s most egregious and profound environmental injustices. It is a decades-old problem that, for many people, seems irreparable and hopeless. But it’s not. We’ve made progress. We are closer than ever to real solutions that will reduce our beach closures. Our congressional delegation has secured $300 million to upgrade the sewage treatment plant at the border, which will reduce beach closures by an estimated 50 percent. Mexico committed $144 million last summer to improve wastewater infrastructure. Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda has stated she will prioritize the upgrade of the San Antonio de los Buenos Sewage Treatment Plant, one of the main sources of pollution to our beaches. Fixing this plant will reduce our beach closures by 95 percent during summer months, when the Tijuana River is not flowing. But more needs to be done. We need stronger funding commitments from the state of California and a clear timeline from Mexico to complete the promised infrastructure improvements. As mayor, one of my highest priorities will be this issue: advocating for state funding, ensuring Mexico holds true to its commitments and securing additional funding for the second phase of improvements to sewage infrastructure to help keep our beaches open in IB.
In addition to the water quality issues, one of our residents’ growing concerns has involved rising rent costs, landlord harassment and displacement due to renovations. Over 70 percent of households in Imperial Beach are renter-occupied. State laws passed in recent years offer rent stabilization and provisions to protect tenants from evictions without just cause. However, exceptions in these bills leave many people vulnerable to evictions through no fault of their own. This poses a serious problem for our residents, and it’s an issue we need to address right away. I am proud of having led the creation of Imperial Beach’s Housing Department back in 2018 as a City Council member.
Our housing staff works to help renters and homeowners find, maintain and remain in housing. Our staff also works with tenants and landlords when disputes arise and assists Imperial Beach’s unsheltered residents find permanent housing. As mayor, I will ensure we do even more. I believe the strongest weapon we have in our arsenal to combat homelessness is to keep people housed. In order for us to do that, I will work for stronger protections for tenants, particularly around wrongful termination. It is important that our residents have enough time and the means to relocate when they are being displaced through no fault of their own. I will expand access to additional housing resources for our residents — and strengthen our partnerships with regional housing stakeholders and, most importantly, work with rental housing providers to make sure we enact measures that are equitable and fair to all parties.
Imperial Beach is the safest coastal city in the county. As mayor, my goal is to make our city the safest in the county. We’ll do this by investing in public safety. In 2020, city voters approved Measure I with the goal of increasing funding to keep our neighborhoods safe and clean, to maintain 911 emergency services and to maintain local paramedic services. I will make sure we are investing in crime prevention such as rapid response to gang-related graffiti, increasing lighting in poorly lit areas of our community, and expanding our community resource officers and park rangers so that our deputies can focus on serious and violent crimes.
My priority as mayor will always be to work for the people of IB, and to ensure we have community-driven solutions to issues that residents care about and raise. I am ready to lead, to work with our council and to get things done to make sure our city continues to be, as the city of Imperial Beach’s mission statement says, “Classic Southern California; a beach-oriented community with a safe, small town, family atmosphere, rich in natural and cultural resources.”