By Megan Cole
After walking across the commencement stage last June, Manuel Chavez hit the ground running in Orange County’s political arena. The political science and religious studies grad is campaigning to become one of the youngest UCI alumni elected to public office, vying for a seat on Costa Mesa’s City Council representing the newly formed fourth district. The Westside native, who led UCI’s College Democrats from 2015 to 2017, sat down with the New University to talk policy as he looks forward to the November elections.
New U: What inspired you to run for city council so soon after graduating from UCI?
MC: I love my home of Costa Mesa, and even after graduating from UCI, I did not think of leaving Orange County. After Costa Mesa moved to district elections in 2016, for the first time there was an opportunity for the Westside to actually have representation on city council. I’ve had a passion for political activism since high school, and I saw this as an opportunity for me to give back to the community that raised me.
New U: Do you think that your youth and your status as a recent college graduate gives you a political edge?
MC: Absolutely. People in my district and across Orange County are tired of a political status quo that is not addressing key issues like affordable housing and homelessness. I think that it’s time for new ideas and a new perspective in our local government. Politicians who have been a part of the Republican establishment in Orange County have been rotating seats for too long, and the Westside needs a voice on city council. It’s clear that older generations of political leaders do not have all the answers to our society’s problems, and I would encourage other activists my age to step up and run, too.
New U: What are your stances on your key issues: community safety, affordable housing, and acting on homelessness? In other words, what would you do to alleviate these issues?
MC: On community safety, I will work non-stop to support our city’s police and first responders. On city council, a huge priority of mine will be improving trust and safety in the Westside community by keeping police and fire departments local and restoring depleted department staffing. I will oppose efforts to contract out these key city services. On affordable housing, it is vital for our city that future generations can afford to live here. I will work with members of the community and developers in future building projects to increase the supply of affordable housing. While there is construction in some areas, we’re not building enough housing that the middle and working class can actually afford. As for homelessness, it has been proven to have a significant financial cost to local governments and businesses in Orange County. In research done by United Way Orange County and UC Irvine in 2017, it was documented that leaving the homeless on the streets is more expensive than providing housing. Costa Mesa already plays a role in the housing-first approach to solving homelessness, and I believe in furthering our city’s programs to address the housing needs of homeless individuals. I support further investment in rapid re-housing and permanent supportive housing with wraparound services to alleviate homelessness in Orange County.
New U: Of the Orange County issues you hope to tackle as a council member, did you or your close peers experience any firsthand as a student at UCI?
MC: Though it has not affected me personally, homelessness and a lack of affordable housing were issues that I saw up-close as a student at UCI, and my friends were always talking about their high rents or trying to figure out their living arrangements for the next year. I even had one friend who left home because of an abusive family environment, and I can’t imagine what was going through her head every night staying away from home. It’s important to me that we have policies in place to protect folks like her or anyone else from going even one night without a roof over their head.
New U: Overall, how did your time at UCI contribute to your decision to campaign for this position?
MC: While at UCI, I spent all four years involved with the College Democrats at UCI and as an active member of the Orange County Young Democrats. In my final year at UCI, I even had the opportunity to serve as outreach chair for the Democrats of Greater Irvine and as a Delegate to the California Democratic Party for our district. These experiences opened my eyes to the world of politics, where I saw firsthand some of our elected leaders put their own political careers before the fight for meaningful change in our community.
New U: Any long-term visions for the city of Costa Mesa, or Orange County as a whole?
MC: My vision is a more inclusive Costa Mesa where every resident has a stake in our city regardless of their background or income. I believe that we need a city council focused on investing in Westside Costa Mesa to make sure that our city is better for future generations, with parks our kids can play in and homes they can afford. Every kid growing up in Westside Costa Mesa should have the same opportunities that I did.