City Attorney and D7 debates to highlight February meeting

By Linda Armacost and Jeff Benesch | Original Article

Posted: January 22nd, 2016 | ColumnsFeaturedLa Mesa Foothills Democratic Club 

Coming off a sensational clash at our January meeting between progressive champions Senator Marty Block and Speaker Toni Atkins, each running for the 39th state Senate seat, the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club will be back at it Feb. 3 with another outstanding set of debates and endorsement votes. Featured will be three of the four Democratic candidates for San Diego City Attorney: Rafael Castellanos, Gil Cabrera and Mara Elliot (Bryan Pease entered the race on Jan. 11, after the debate was scheduled). All are lawyers with extensive and diverse backgrounds in public service.

Attendees will be equally pleased by an exchange between two enthusiastic Navy veterans running for the city’s District 7 seat, Jose Caballero and Justin DeCesare. Both debates will be followed by club endorsement votes. Candidates to get 60 percent support get the LMFDC endorsement. We’ll also be voting on an endorsement for the Citizens’ Plan for San Diego as presented in January by local attorney Cory Briggs.

The La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club, representing hundreds of like-minded progressives in San Carlos, Del Cerro, Allied Gardens, College Area, Mt. Helix, La Mesa, Santee, and other East County communities, meets the first Wednesday of each month at the La Mesa Community Center, 4975 Memorial Drive.

Our agenda will begin with a social at 6:30 p.m. with snack and beverages, followed by the formal meeting starting at 7 p.m. The City Attorney Debate will kick-off shortly thereafter, with the District 7 forum following at 8 p.m.

Both debates will feature a series of questions on issues that concern city and county residents. You can depend on questions touching on the Briggs/Frye measure; stadium/convention center funding; infrastructure and traffic concerns; the Chargers; growth and development; environmental issues; climate action plans; SANDAG planning; medical marijuana; and other topics that concern our membership.

The candidates in brief:

Rafael Castallanos

Rafael Castallanos

Rafael Castellanos received his college degree from Arizona State University and a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School.

He is a member of the Board of Commissioners of the Unified Port of San Diego and chairs the port’s Environmental Advisory Committee. Castellanos has served on the Board of MANA de San Diego, the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and Teach for America – San Diego. He has worked with the San Diego Foundation to address climate change preparation and has worked at the port to address the issue of chronic homelessness on the waterfront.

During his career, Gil Cabrera has represented a broad spectrum of clients – from large companies to small local businesses — as litigation counsel and outside general counsel. In 2007, he started the Cabrera Firm – where he provides legal advice to small and growing companies. For seven years, Cabrera served as an appointed Judge Pro Tem of the Superior Court, hearing hundreds of small claims and traffic court trials.


Gil Cabrera

Gil Cabrera

Since 1999, Cabrera has been involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation San Diego and became chairman of the board in 2002. In 2003 he was appointed to the charity’s national board of directors.

In 2005, Cabrera was appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council to the San Diego Ethics Commission –– which monitors and enforces the city’s campaign finance and ethics laws. Between 2007 and 2009, he served as the Ethics Commission’s chairman and oversaw a complete overhaul of the city’s Lobbying Ordinance, which created greater transparency of lobbying activities in San Diego.

In February 2014, Cabrera was appointed to the San Diego Convention Center Corporation’s Board of Directors by interim mayor Todd Gloria and the City Council. He presently serves as Chair of the Board’s Budget Committee overseeing the convention center’s $33 million budget.

As Chief Deputy City Attorney, Mara Elliott leads the city’s legal team responsible for reforming city contracting practices, strengthening city audits and enforcing environmental protection laws. Elliott advises the city’s influential and independent Audit Committee and the City Council’s Committee on the Environment.

Mara Elliott

Mara Elliott

Previously, she served as general counsel to community college and K-12 school districts as well as counsel to the County of San Diego and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board. Elliott serves on the League of California Cities’ Public Records Act Committee and was an editor of the California Municipal Law Handbook.

Elliott also chairs a committee of the San Diego Lawyers Club working to advance the status of women in the law. She is a leader on her sons’ local School Site Council; serves as trustee of the San Diego County Law Library; and was recently honored as Advocate of the Year for her work for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Elliott graduated from UC Santa Barbara and University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

Jose Caballero

Jose Caballero

Jose Caballero was accepted in to the prestigious Naval Nuclear Power School where he became a nuclear engineer for the United States Navy. He served the Navy for six years. Four of those years were spent here in San Diego when he was a reactor operator for the USS Ronald Reagan. He did four deployments supporting operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Caballero has a degree in political science from San Diego State University. He has been a mentor for underprivileged youth and has organized multiple cleanups across the city.

Justin DeCesare is a real estate broker; president of the Tierrasanta Community Council; father of two; and an eight-year veteran of the United States Navy. He believes that a strong middle class builds a strong regional economy.

Justin DeCesare

Justin DeCesare

He is proud of his experiences in the Navy and would like to continue that service in the community as the San Diego City Council representative for District 7.

The La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club March meeting will continue its series of candidate forums and endorsements and will give everyone a chance to weigh in on the presidential race. Please visit our website and like us on Facebook.

––Linda Armacost is president and Jeff Benesch is vice president of programs of the La Mesa Foothills Democratic Club.