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San Leandro Mayor Creates Dialogue with Latino Community

Natalia Aldana, The Pioneer

Natalia Aldana
Editor-in-Chief and Natalia Aldana
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Mayor Stephen Cassidy speaks to the Latino community.

In efforts to bridge cultural communities and facilitate a receptive arena for discourse in the city of San Leandro, Mayor Stephen Cassidy held a “Coffee with the Mayor” event this weekend to hear from and speak to the Latino community.

“I want to hear from everyone,” said Cassidy. “I want our government to serve the needs of the people. I think I have a good idea what the needs are, but I don’t have a complete understanding, so if people come and share with me their concerns or what their top priorities are, then I can take that into account as I make my decisions.”

In a city where Latinos make up an estimated 37.6 percent of the over 85,000 population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, efforts made by the city of San Leandro to facilitate an open environment for political discussion, some noted, is indicative of democracy at work.

“I don’t see a lot of cities, even in the Bay Area, who do things like this for specific groups, like Latinos,” said San Leandro resident of 10 years Marina Cardoza. “It tells me my government cares about me for who I am specifically as a Latina and wants to see how they can help me. That’s really great.”

An estimated 50 people gathered Saturday in the Lecture Hall of San Leandro’s Main Library for an hour-long discussion and question and answer session amongst coffee and snacks, the second annual event for Latinos in the city of its kind.

Mayor Cassidy, as well as San Leandro’s new City Manager Chris Zapata, addressed concerns from a host of different issues, as each question and answer was translated into Spanish so as to extend information provided and questioned in both languages.

“Thank you for putting this event together for the Latino community and the residents of San Leandro. We respect and love your commitment,” said one attendee to the mayor, which resulted in applause from the room.

Though issues particularly addressing Latinos or issues primarily affecting the population were not asked until the very end, the issues that were addressed exemplified a community with concerns that transcend culture and language and simply express concerns citizens would raise.

Cassidy displayed a genuine concern to issues about infrastructure, schools, cuts to city programs and a lack of development in streets and roads, as he answered each question at length and appeared to address them to the fullest of his knowledge.

Yet, the majority of issues raised concerned the budget, and to that Cassidy provided a clear yet customary answer.

“The reality is we want to maintain our programs, we want to maintain the programs that create a great quality of life here in San Leandro,” he said. “But we live in a time of strained fiscal resources. […] We have to make difficult decisions.

“When we create the budget, it’s done in open session, in council workshops, in council meetings, you’re welcome to provide your input as we go along, and judge our actions and see how we are doing,” he said.

Zapata was thoroughly enthusiastic and resolute, as he told those in the Lecture Hall when it comes to his new position as city manager, he “just want[s] to make it better.”

“I just want to make it better. If you want better schools, how can we make it better? If you want better public safety, I’ll help you with that. If you want a better business environment, how can we, together, make it better?” said Zapata. “That’s what my role is here, help you make it better.”

One question was over the conditions of the streets, which Cassidy did acknowledge as “sub-par.” In response, Cassidy mentioned Measure B, a measure from Alameda County which will appear in the elections in November, where a portion of sales tax in the county for all cities goes to pay for transportation needs. If passed, will significantly “upgrade the conditions of our streets in a short period of time.”

Finally, at the very end a question was asked about a “promise” Cassidy made to voters when running for mayor, that in his second year he would hire someone who would help the Latino community have a relationship with the city and help them solve their problems.

Cassidy said that as mayor, it’s something he is working on and cannot guarantee within the time and financial restraints, but affirmed his desire to be able to reach all ethnic and language groups as best as he can.

At the end, Cassidy asked for direct suggestions and responses from individuals, saying he is open to hearing anything that can help make things in the city better.

Cassidy mentioned he regularly hosts “Coffee with the Mayor” events throughout the year, and additionally he is the first mayor to do forum events targeting different language groups in the city, such as Hispanic and Chinese communities.

The gratitude was clear in the room Saturday, as many of the attendees from Latino backgrounds expressed appreciation for simply having the opportunity to make their voices heard.

“No one has invited us as much as you have,” said one attendee to Cassidy after the event. “This is fantastic. In the 16 years I have been here in San Leandro never have we, my husband and I, felt so valued.”

California State University East Bay
San Leandro Mayor Creates Dialogue with Latino Community