SALINAS, Calif. (KION) A three person race is underway for the Salinas City Council seat in District 6 after sitting councilmember Tony Villegas decided not to run for re-election.
Salinas Union High School District Board Member Anthony Rocha, Salinas Planning Commissioner and businessman Mars Rocamora Jr. and elementary school teacher Vanessa Robinson are vying for that seat.
Salinas' District 6 in the northern part of the city faces a myriad of issues: thousands in new housing that will replace farmland over the next decade or so, public safety and traffic concerns and having a large majority of COVID-19 cases in Salinas, accounting for about half of Monterey County's total cases combined with the east side at one point, according to county health data.
The only female candidate who is looking to take the helm against those issues: fifth grade teacher Vanessa Robison, who was born and raised in Salinas. She went to Washington Middle School and attended North Salinas High and Monterey High. She is endorsed by the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Robinson says her background as an educator, connecting and listening to students and families, will empower her to tackle local issues.
"The things that I've thrown myself into over the last nine years have given me such a regional perspective of how things are done on local city levels. And that information, that knowledge and that experience, my proven commitment to education and organizing is something I think that I hold uniquely amongst the two. Ability to connect and listen and really do the day in and day out work," said Robison.
The youngest candidate running for the District 6 seat, Anthony Rocha, already has served the public as a Monterey County Mental Health Commissioner, a Salinas Library and Community Services Commissioner and currently as a board member for the Salinas Union High School District.
He attended Harden Middle School, graduated from Alvarez High and is currently going to UC Santa Cruz and has endorsements from current city and county leaders like outgoing Supervisor Jane Parker. Rocha believes his experience in the public square equips him to serve Salinas as a councilmember.
"I'm the only candidate that's served in elected office. I've overseen a budget of $200 million and 1,600 employees at the Salinas Union High School District, I'm the only candidate who has served as a county and city commissioner, I'm the only candidate that has really been in nonprofit leadership roles," said Rocha. "I know government and I know leadership roles and I'm the only one that has a proven track record of delivering in these roles."
Voters also have an Asian American candidate to choose from. Mars Rocamora Jr. is a retired automotive technician and now works as an insurance agent in Salinas. He also sits as a city planning commissioner.
He says he took on the race after the late Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter encouraged him to run and boasts endorsements from the fire and police associations, as well as current city and county leaders, including Councilman Tony Villegas.
Rocamora is very involved with the Filipino and Asian communities in the city, serving as one of the clubs' president.
He says as the oldest candidate, he brings a lot of life experience for constituents.
"You have to feel where they came from. You can't just go by saying… well I know how you feel. Well, you don't know how they feel unless you've been through it. Because your way of thinking when you've been through that is different. So when people say I worry about my home, I worry about property tax, I worry about my family. I've been through all that," said Rocamora. "And from there, I'm not a politician, I'm an ordinary person just like everybody else."