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Imperial Beach's first Latina mayor talks tackling sewage, housing, keeping coastal town safe

The city’s new leader and first Hispanic woman in power, has made tackling the pollution from sewage spills one of her top priorities.

IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. — Tackling sewage spills, addressing housing and keeping communities safe are among the top priorities for Imperial Beach’s new mayor, Paloma Aguirre.

Aguirre says some of these issues have plagued the small coastal town for decades and wants to move the city a new and positive direction.

Aguirre is no stranger to the public eye. Her work began in 2018 when she was first elected to the city council.

Now, two months to the day since taking her new seat as mayor, she has a long road ahead.

The city’s new leader and first Hispanic woman in power, has made tackling the pollution from sewage spills one of her top priorities.

"Ultimately, it costs us tremendously. it costs us in our in our public health, right, about the health of our community and environmental health and our economy," says Aguirre. "We're making a lot of progress economically. And every time our beaches are closed, everybody is impacted. We need to make sure that that funding is spent well. That the the timelines and the work plans are you know, on schedule, and, most importantly, that we're working with our partners across the border."

Federal money allocated to address the issue, will go to rerouting waste water, fix sewage pipes and make other infrastructure improvements, but many who live in Imperial Beach say that will do little to fix the issue in the long-term.

"The water issue is huge. It effects real estate prices, it effects every day users. I’ve seen the plan that they have, but I don’t believe it’s really going to fix the issue," said longtime Imperial Beach resident, Dane Crosby.

"People don’t want to move here when they say, hey the last times I’ve been there’s been contaminated waters, there’s no swimming. So it effects 100% of everything so we want this to get fixed once and for all," added Deborah Vance.

Aguirre acknowledges it won’t eliminate the problem all together.

"It’s not the end all solution, there’s no silver bullet solution, that’s the challenge. There's going to be additional funding needed that I and many of us are going to continue to advocate for from the federal government," Aguirre said.

Working with her Mexican counterparts will play a critical role in addressing these issues, but she believes her Mexican background will help facilitate talks.

"At the end of the day, we share a coastline, that’s how intertwined we are. We have to figure out how to work together," Aguirre said.

Aguirre was born in the United States to immigrant parents. Her family later moved back to their hometown of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where she spent most of her early years.

A bodyboarding competition brought her to Imperial Beach, it’s what made her stay ever since saying, "I knew this was a place I never wanted to leave."

Fueled by her desire to conserve coastal ecosystems, she went on to get her master’s in marine biodiversity and conservation from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, making her the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

Now, she’s the first Latina woman to serve as mayor.

It's really special. It's an incredible honor. IB has been, for a long time, predominantly Hispanic, and we’ve never had representation on council. I’m very grateful to have been the first Latina in general to serve on council but to be the first Latina mayor, to me it's very special," added Aguirre.

As mayor, she plans on maintaining Imperial Beach a safe coastal community. Part of the plan, includes big changes already in the works on Palm Avenue, which connects South San Diego and Coronado. The plan would add more lights, tree coverage, bike paths, and pedestrian friendly walkways.

The mixed-used development plan is also set to bring more residential units. which Aguirre says is desperately needed.

WATCH RELATED: Imperial Beach improvement plan to bring new life to the city (Jan. 2023). 

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