CHULA VISTA, Calif. — The City of Chula Vista will once again become a certified “Welcoming City.”

The city council voted 4-1 during its Tuesday meeting to regain its designation.

Being a certified welcoming city is a designation through an Atlanta-based, national nonprofit organization, Welcoming America. The organization works with communities to create and ensure cities and communities have welcoming and inclusive policies for immigrants.

“Being certified welcoming is not an easy bar to achieve,” Lola Pak, communications director for Welcoming America, told FOX 5. “Cities and county governments will undergo this and they evaluate their programs and policies to ensure that they are inclusive of newcomers including immigrants and refugees.”

Map of "welcoming cities" (Courtesy: Welcoming America)
Map of “welcoming cities” (Courtesy: Welcoming America)

“I think it’s important for us to pursue the values that have made this city great and I believe pursuing the welcoming America certification is part of our values,” Jose Preciado, Chula Vista District 2 councilmember said.

However, Chula Vista Mayor John McCann was the lone vote against becoming a certified welcoming city again.

“Chula Vista has always been a welcoming city, and we have always welcomed people to be here,” McCann said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Having a situation where we were the welcoming city, all it did was lead to complaints and criticism, which just took up tremendous amount of staff time and money.”

He said he does not believe an out-of-state organization should dictate the city’s policies and procedures.

Pak said the organization will work with cities or counties who want to become a certified welcoming city over time to identify areas of improvement and once they fulfill the criteria from the organization, they are given the designation.

“We think it’s great they reconsidered and we’re really grateful to the community advocates that really saw the value of the certified welcoming designation and we’re just really looking forward to working with them on getting them back on track,” Pak said.

The program can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months or longer and the cost is around $9,000.

“We still offer a sliding scale and work with communities to make the program financially viable,” Pak said.

The program starts with a pre-assessment where the organization will evaluate the staff, the way the government is set up and how well it is connected to local community groups. Then, the nonprofit looks at criteria based on seven frameworks including: education, safety, civic engagement, government and community leadership. There is an audit completed on-site and interviews. After, Pak said there is an assessment completed on where the city stands, and then the nonprofit creates an action plan to fulfill all of the requirements to become a certified welcoming city.

“We think it’s a way cities can put their values into practice,” Pak said.

Chula Vista was the first to achieve this designation in the state of California. Once it recertifies, it will join San Jose as the only two cities in California. There are 18 U.S. cities with the designation.

“Being along the border certainly has an additional urgency for communities to form up those welcoming values and ensure that everything they are doing programmatically, and through policies are matching up,” Pak said.