From student to leader: alumni elected into local office

Monterey County locals had many decisions to make when viewing the dozens of city-level positions on their 2020 general election ballots. After over 162,000 residents cast their vote, two new officials were elected to represent the county – both of them California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) alumni.

Veronica “Ronnie” Miramontes and Alexis Garcia-Arrazola won their races and are joining fellow CSUMB alumnus Tyller Williamson in local office, who was elected in the 2018 primary election as a city councilmember of Monterey. All three of the officials graduated from the college of Humanities and Communication.

Miramontes will be serving the community as a Monterey Peninsula Unified School District Governing Board Trustee in Area 3 and Garcia-Arrazola as a city council member of Seaside.  

Williamson was thrilled other members of the CSUMB community would be joining him in local government. “To see new, fresh faces – people that are younger than I am when I was considered to be the youngest person to ever run for Monterey City Council – is super inspiring and it’s exactly what we need to have that representation within the community.” 

Before becoming the first LGBTQ+ and African American city council member of Monterey, Williamson was chosen to work for the Obama campaign in San Francisco. He was unsure about taking on the positron at first, as it would take his attention away from his studies, but his experience eventually led him to become interested in running for local office. 

Williamson speaks with Monterey locals during his campaign back in 2018. Photo courtesy of Tyller Williamson

Williamson continues to focus on affordable housing and the housing shortage in Monterey, as well as creating political transparency and affordable water sources. He believes housing costs are very high in Monterey and there are a disproportionate amount of older home-owners in town than working-class or young renters. “The leading cause of the high cost housing is the lack of housing development,” Williamson said.

As for transparency, he created a campaign finance reform that changed the policy of giving unlimited donations to local campaigns to now be limited to $500 per individual. “It was a way of controlling the mounds of funding coming into political campaigns,” Williamson said, “which is really important to the city of Monterey because business interests are huge, especially given the hospitality industry.” 

He also wants to mentor someone to take on his position when it’s his time to step down from city council who is “hopefully a young person, somebody in the working class.” 

He graduated in 2013 with a concentration in pre-law and felt the interdisciplinary teachings under the HCOM department helped him, as well as Miramontes and Garcia-Arrazola prepare for their campaigns and official positions. “I think it says a lot about the program we go through … the interdisciplinary [teachings] really create a foundation for us to go out there and be leaders within our communities,” Williamson said.  

He advised CSUMB students interested in law and policy to go for the political or civic positions they desire no matter what and to maintain good career relationships. “Even if it doesn’t work out in the end, at least you can say you tried it,” Williamson said. 

According to the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District’s official website, Miramontes is “a Latina mother of three, a restorative justice practitioner, former Monterey High soccer coach and an active member in community development and volunteerism.”

The website also stated Miramontes’s works closely with Restorative Justice Partners Inc. to allow victims of harm to have a voice and can use skills learned from that relationship to establish restorative justice and train teachers on “effective communication conflict resolution” in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. 

Miramontes graduated with a double-concentration in journalism and media studies and creative writing and social action in 2012 and said her father, a dedicated farm worker, for being her main “aspiration” to attend college as a first-generation student on the same site. Her husband and three children have also influenced her to dedicate her life to helping and educating those in need.

“As a family, we strive to lift each other up to achieve our goals and hold each other close to overcome any adversities,” Miramontes said on the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District’s official website.

Gracia-Arrazola graduated just last year in May with a double-concentration in journalism and media studies and pre-law. He began civic work as a journalist while working as an intern at a Univison Noticias Costa Central and soon after became a producer and full-time news reporter. 

He worked in news throughout the 2016 election, which led him to interview Hilary Clinton and become more interested in politics. He was also mentored by congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano at the time after being picked for the CSUMB Panetta internship program in Washington D.C. 

“I didn’t know anything about law,” said Gracia-Arrazola, “little did I know what I would come into.”

Returning to CSUMB from his internship, he was approached by Professor Lisa Watson who “reignited that political match” for him and encouraged him to run for office in his hometown of Seaside. Gracia-Arrazola said Watson told him to run for office and on the last day of class said “You want this more than you think you do.” After sitting on the idea for some time, Gracia-Arrazola decided to begin planning his campaign a year in advance from general election day with 95% of his team being women.

“Our win this election cycle was a testament of the dire need that community members need.” said Gracia-Arrazola. “Because for once they’ll have a voice that is a Latino voice, which we’ve never had in Seaside.”

He said that demographically, Seaside is 43% Hispanic and his campaign also supports “all minorities that haven’t been brought to the forefront.” Gracia-Arrazola also said he was glad to see the rise in Latinx and Asian American voters under his team’s campaign.

Gracia-Arrazola said being a native to Seaside and the “first elected official living in one of its most marginalized areas,” he wants to give the people of Seaside the “basic necessities that community members need” like paved sidewalks and road-repair crews. 

When working in the news industry, Gracia-Arrazola said he received lots of training on how to stay objective when observing policies and to negotiate with others. When working for Univision, he was mentored by Maria Elena Salinas who told him to “always look for the truth behind the truth.” He took that statement to heart over the years and wanted to contribute that to the citizens of Seaside. 

“I’m going to continue spreading that around – always look for the truth behind the truth,” he said. 

For the outlook to Seaside’s future, Gracia-Arrazola desires a more enriched campus-to-city connection. “We need to start prioritizing how we make connections to CSUMB and the city that they live in because we need to prepare them for success,” he said. “We want people to contribute to our economy, we want them to contribute to our city and we have to make use of what we’ve created.”

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