CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Residents of Chula Vista will soon get to vote in a new city attorney after the unexpected death of the previous candidate elected left the position vacant.
Three candidates are currently vying to fill the role initially won by the late Simon Silva, who passed from cancer during the November 2022 race after his name could be removed from the ballots. He beat his opponent by 756 votes.
After Silva won, Chula Vista officials started planning for a special election, as the city charter requires. However, the move drew some controversy, given encouragement from local leaders to cast their ballot for Silva anyways despite his passing and the high price tag for the election.
The last day for registered voter to cast a ballot in the upcoming special election will be on Nov. 7. A candidate will need to receive more than 50% of the vote to win outright.
If none of the candidates meet the threshold, the top two vote-getters will move to a runoff election on Mar. 5 next year. Whoever is elected will serve out the remainder of the term, which runs through December 2026.
Official ballots for the special election were mailed out to registered voters during the week of Sunday, Oct. 8, according to county election officials. Early voting is already well underway at the Registrar of Voters Office in Kearny Mesa and drop boxes across the county.
Starting on Saturday, select vote centers will also open to expand early voting options. The vote centers will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
While some may already be bubbling in their ballots, for those Chula Vista voters that have not yet decided who they want to cast their vote for, below is an introduction to the job of the city’s top lawyer and the three candidates for the role.
What does the City Attorney do?
The Chula Vista City Attorney is the city’s highest ranking lawyer, leading an office that provides legal services and policy guidance to other elected officials. The primary goal of these services is to help the city develop and implement policy, according to the city’s website.
The office works with all the city’s boards and commissions. It also works with each of the Chula Vista municipal departments, including the city clerk’s office, public works, and police and fire departments.
Who are the candidates?
Here are the candidates, listed in alphabetical order:
Dan Smith Diaz is a federal criminal defense lawyer and business owner. The longtime Chula Vista resident previously ran against Silva for the role of City Attorney in 2022, losing by more than 670 votes or roughly 1%.
Smith Diaz was born and raised in Arizona to multi-ethnic parents. At 18, he became a real estate broker to help with his college tuition. After graduating, he moved to San Diego County to attend California Western School of Law.
He worked as a federal public defender with Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. after earning his juris doctorate. He later shifted to business ownership in 1995, founding a pedicab enterprise in the Gaslamp District and his own law firm, San Diego Defenders, in Chula Vista.
Aside from this work, Smith Diaz also served in an elected position on the Board of Directors of the Gaslamp District around the time that development in the area was still underway.
On the issues:
On his campaign website, Smith Diaz says that his top priorities would be reducing red tape for local businesses, creating safer streets and schools and representing job-creating projects that help “build a new future and new respect for Chula Vista.”
He also said he would launch an investigation into the closure of Harborside Park due to homeless encampments in the area, and voiced opposition to more affordable housing development in Chula Vista, reducing police funding and the now-defunct mileage tax proposal.
Smith Diaz has no listed endorsements on his website. He says this is because he does not have a “political axe to grind” and does not place importance on political endorsements.
Dan Smith Diaz appeared on FOX 5 on Nov. 1:
Bart Miesfeld is a private practice lawyer, who previously served as an appointment to the position of city attorney from 2008 to 2010. Prior to his tenure as city attorney, he worked in varying roles at the office for nearly two decades.
Miesfeld joined the City Attorney’s Office in 1998 as a deputy city attorney. Over the two decades he served in the office, he rose through the ranks and was later appointed city attorney in 2008. However, he opted not to run for the position in 2010 after voters in the city decided to change the position to an elected one.
During his tenure with the City Attorney’s office, he also worked closely with Silva, saying on his campaign website that he feels “a sense of obligation to continue his bright legacy of providing exceptional services to the city and community of Chula Vista.”
Outside of his work with the City Attorney’s Office, Miesfeld has taught trial practice, civil procedure and evidence courses as an adjunct Professor at the University of San Diego School of Law. He has also served in leadership positions with various local legal associations.
On the issues:
In a candidate filing, Miesfeld said he would bring his experience working in the City Attorney office to the position to “make Chula Vista safer and more prosperous” by holding city leaders accountable, supporting working families, advancing public safety and serving as an advocate for first responders.
In interviews with other local news organizations, he has also said he hopes to make the office more transparent and public records more accessible.
According to his campaign website, Miesfeld has received a number of high profile endorsements including: Senator Steve Padilla, former Assemblymember Mary Salas, former Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, former Supervisor Greg Cox and a slew of former City Attorneys for the city. Local Latino news organization, La Prensa, also endorsed his candidacy.
Miesfeld appeared on FOX 5 on Oct. 30:
Marco Verdugo is an attorney with the practice Burke, Williams and Sorensen, LLP, a law firm that advises the cities of Coronado and Solana Beach. The lifelong Chula Vista resident previously has worked as a deputy city attorney with the city of San Diego.
Born to Mexican immigrants, Verdugo lived most of his life in San Diego County, earning both his Bachelor’s and juris doctorate from San Diego universities. During his law school career, he spent some time as an intern for the Chula Vista City Attorney’s Office.
After graduation, he worked as a public agency attorney, advising officials in San Diego, Coronado and Solana Beach. On his campaign website, he says he has worked closely with elected leaders in this cities for drafting and revising various ordinances to proactively meet the community’s needs.
Outside of his legal practice, Verdugo has provided pro bono legal assistance to low-income San Diegans and spent time volunteering at Casa Cornelia to help refugees and asylum seekers.
Marco Verdugo appeared on FOX 5 on Oct. 31:
On the issues:
In a candidate statement, Verdugo says he would use his legal experience to create a safe, livable and affordable Chula Vista.
He emphasizes that he will work towards gun safety laws for crime prevention, supporting community policing, cutting down on wasteful spending and red tape around affordable housing development, and helping Chula Vista “stop downtown San Diego’s homeless crisis from taking root here.”
He also says he would help craft new city laws that are “just and fair,” serving as an independent voice to ensure that city officials comply with the law.
According to his campaign website, Verdugo has also garnered a number of key endorsements including: the San Diego County Democratic Party; San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliot; County Supervisor Nora Vargas; and Chula Vista City Councilmembers Carolina Chavez, Alonso Gonzalez, Jose Preciado and Andrea Cardenas.
The candidates for Chula Vista City Attorney will be appearing on the FOX 5 evening news next week to discuss their bid for the role. Videos of their interviews will be added as they occur.