Federal attorney and small business owner Dan Smith is running for the soon-to-be vacant position of Chula Vista City Attorney, currently vacated by Glen Googins, whose term limit is ending.
Smith, a Republican, is set to oppose Simon Silva, a democrat and longtime deputy in the Chula Vista City Attorney’s office who succumbed to cancer in early September. According to City Clerk Kerry Bigelow, Silva’s name remains on the November ballot because his death came after the deadline to make changes to the ballot.
Smith said he has "no political axe to grind", and is running for city attorney because he sees areas that need improvement. His priorities include public safety, reducing red tape for Chula Vista businesses, public works, and safer streets, parks, and schools.
“Chula Vista is a wonderful community that so many people underestimate—we have a hidden gem here. The city has some areas that can be improved on. It has so many things that we need to shine a light on,” Smith said.
Smith said he advocates for ethics, transparency, open meeting, and full and fair disclosure in the Chula Vista government. In 2014, he ran for City Council, but said that he is "an unbiased professional and not a politician".
“As city attorney, you are looking at laws that are in place and how they’re applied. You are advising the council, and the mayor and helping the city of Chula Vista because they are your clients. It's about moving the city forward," Smith said.
Smith moved to Chula Vista with his wife, Layla Villegas Smith, and three children in 2004, who completed their schooling within city limits. He was born in Arizona to Elba Diaz of Puerto Rico and Judge Ralph Smith of Iowa and grew up on his family’s ranch. Smith noted, “I have been around law all of my life”, adding that his grandfather was also a lawyer.
“I became a lawyer after I had experienced a lot of life, a lot of different occupations. Whether it be digging ditches, hard labor, operating machinery— all those things that help you to understand just what other people have to do to make a living,” Smith said.
At the age of 18, Smith became a real estate broker to pay for college. He obtained a degree in economics from Arizona State University. In 1988, he earned an academic scholarship from the California Western School of Law in San Diego, where he earned an American Jurisprudence Award. He began his career at Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.
“I’m a well-rounded attorney who practiced a lot of different areas of law. I have a good feel for the business," Smith said. " I have a good legal mind, but also a terrific mind in understanding business, what it takes to start one, to keep it going, and the things you have to overcome obstacles to operate a successful business,” Smith said.
After working as a Federal Public Defender, Smith founded the first pedicab business in the Gaslamp District of Downtown San Diego in 1995 with four pedicabs. His business eventually grew to become the most successful pedicab company in the united states, expanding from San Diego into San Francisco, Denver, and Houston.
Smith notes he was elected to the Board of Directors of the Gaslamp District from 1997 through 1999, which worked closely with the Center City Development Corporation.
He eventually sold his pedicab business and moved to Chula Vista to open a criminal defense law firm, San Diego Defenders, that sits across from the Chula Vista Courthouse.
If Smith wins the majority of votes during the Nov. 8 general election, he would be sworn into office during a Dec.13 City Council meeting. If Silva was to receive the majority of votes, he would technically be elected. Since he is unable to take the position, the council would then need to take action to declare the vacant seat.
In the event of a vacancy, City Attorney Glen Googins would remain in office until after a special election when his successor takes the oath of office. The Chula Vista City Charter mandates a special election to take place to fill the vacant seat. According to Bigelow, a standalone city-wide election to fill the vacancy cost the city up to $2 million.