Calling for more affordable housing and better job opportunities, nonprofit development manager Gloria Soto announced  her candidacy for the 3rd District City Council seat on Thursday.

A lifelong Santa Maria resident, Soto graduated from Pioneer Valley High School and Hancock College. She also earned a degree from Chapman University and currently works as development manager at Planned Parenthood.

The 29-year-old candidate spoke to a crowd of around 50 supporters at the Minami Community Center, becoming the first candidate to enter the 3rd District race. Incumbent Councilman Jack Boysen — who lives in the 3rd District — announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election.

“If I’m your district representative, I will work to bring more tech companies like Mindbody — as well as businesses serving agriculture, tourism, engineering and aerospace — to our city,” Soto said, adding that it could encourage college-educated Santa Marians to return to the city.

Soto discussed the rise in student homelessness and called for the city to do more to promote affordable housing — like adopting inclusionary housing ordinances that would encourage developers to include low-income housing and make it easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units.

“Today, at Robert Bruce Elementary — where I went to school — 40 percent of students are defined as homeless,” Soto said. “This means that nearly 400 students at my former school are either living in shelters, motels, cars or temporarily doubling up with one or more families. This is why affordable housing will be a key issue of my candidacy.”

Soto praised former City Council candidate Hector Sanchez — who attended Soto’s campaign announcement — and his actions, which spurred the city’s transition to district elections starting this year. In late 2016, an attorney for Sanchez sent a letter to the city claiming the city's at-large council elections violated the California Voting Rights Act and threatened a lawsuit. In response, the city adopted council districts. 

“Santa Marians will now get a chance to vote for candidates who live near them, who know their neighborhoods and who will advocate for them,” Soto said.

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Santa Maria Joint Union High School board member Diana Perez spoke in support of Soto’s campaign.

“I want to ask Santa Marians today to take a bold step to support a new perspective, a youthful voice, new energy, a renewed spirit and new ideas,” Perez said.

Hancock College student Lupita Rios also spoke in support of Soto.

“[Soto] is someone I look up to but, more importantly, someone I see myself in,” Rios said. “She was born and raised in Santa Maria, just like me. She went to the same schools, participated in the same programs and faced the same challenges.”

Soto said the City Council needs to do more to make community members feel involved in the political process.

“I believe that our city government can be much more responsive to the needs of all its people,” Soto said. “I want to make our city government an institution that asks, that listens, that learns and then leads.”

The 2018 council elections, which will be held Nov. 6, will be the first city elections based on the new district system. In the 4th District, the other council seat up for election this year, incumbent Councilwoman Etta Waterfield will face off against Santa Maria attorney Rafael Gutierrez.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed