By Barbara Zaragoza
While campaigns in Imperial Beach generally begin on Labor Day, Serge Dedina, co-founder and executive director of WildCoast, has been walking the streets of IB since last May. His run for mayor also happens to be the most comprehensive grass roots campaign in Imperial Beach history.
“No one has ever had more volunteers. No one has integrated the door-to-door campaigning with social media and email blasts. We have a list of 80 volunteers and on a weekly basis we are getting 10-12 people to walk,” said Dedina.
His campaign is gaining traction thanks to his unusual approach.
“My volunteers and I started walking throughout the summer between 5 and 7 days a week. Volunteers will be walking every Saturday until Election Day. That’s the difference with my campaign. It’s really fueled by walking and our volunteers and then the enthusiastic reception in the community.”
“We have the lowest level of civic participation in any city of San Diego County. … We need to expand democracy in Imperial Beach and get more people, especially more of our diverse community, involved in helping build a vision.”
Dedina has knocked on over 1,700 doors and spoken to more than 1,000 people. “I’m running because I’m really passionate about IB. I’m not running to be a politician. I’m running to make sure I can do a public service.”
Dedina’s Jewish father escaped the Nazi occupation of France in 1939. As a young man, his father joined the American Air Force. He was stationed in England where he met Dedina’s mother, who witnessed her house being bombed during WWII. Dedina said, “Both my parents have a tremendous reverence for treating people with respect and making sure that everybody is treated the same.”
Growing up in IB, Dedina lived on the east side, which was a diverse blue collar community. His neighbors were originally from Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Guam, and El Salvador. Dedina went to Mar Vista High School and he spent most of his young life civically engaged in the city.
“We have the lowest level of civic participation in any city of San Diego County. One of the hallmarks of American democracy is civic engagement and civic participation. We need to expand democracy in Imperial Beach and get more people, especially more of our diverse community, involved in helping build a vision.”
“The Mayor has to be the principal advocate for clean water and clean beaches. … The Mayor has to work with the International Boundary & Water Commission, the City of San Diego, the Regional Water Board and agencies across the border.”
Dedina grew up during a time when Imperial Beach had 15 citizen commissions. At the age of fifteen, he was appointed to the Youth Commission. In 1987 when he graduated college, he lived near the beach and one day started to complain about local politics. A woman overheard him and said he needed to be on the Tidelands Advisory Committee. He was immediately appointed to it.
“There was a real tradition of getting people on boards and commissions,” Dedina said. He studied political science at UCSD and then went on to get a Ph.D. in Geography. He lived in Mexico for two years and his thesis was about the U.S.-Mexico border. As a consequence, Dedina gives high priority to the problem of cross-border sewage, sediment and pollution at the beach.
“The Mayor has to be the principal advocate for clean water and clean beaches,” Dedina said. “The Mayor has to work with the International Boundary & Water Commission, the City of San Diego, the Regional Water Board and agencies across the border. The fact that I speak fluent Spanish is going to be a big help in communicating with elected officials and agencies on both sides of the border and looking for a common vision of having a clean border in which people and kids from San Ysidro to IB can ride their bikes through the River Valley and go to the beach and not have to worry about contact with trash and polluted water.”
“We need to invest in neighborhoods from Seacoast Drive all the way to 15th Street, the eastern limit of IB, so that neighborhoods are treated equally and fairly in how we invest in city infrastructure.”
He thinks that if agencies did a better job, we could reduce beach closures by twenty to thirty-five percent. He also wants to reach out to the Hispanic community that constitutes forty-nine percent of IB residents and yet zero percent of the city council representatives.
“I want to reach out to the Latino population in IB, but also everybody in IB. Whether it’s younger folks and making sure that everybody gets a chance to participate in City Hall and our civic life.”
To do this, Dedina explains, “We need to do a lot more to invest in neighborhoods in Imperial Beach. That’s because historically and even now most of the investment, energy and revitalizing of the city is only occurring along the beachfront. We need to invest in neighborhoods from Seacoast Drive all the way to 15th Street, the eastern limit of IB, so that neighborhoods are treated equally and fairly in how we invest in city infrastructure.”
Most importantly, Dedina says, “ I grew up on the eastern side of IB, east of 13th Street, which is an underserved community. I am very cognizant of the fact that we need to make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly in how we spend our tax dollars.”