As newly-elected District 9 Council member Sean Elo-Rivera’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy, Maya Rosas said it is no accident she was also given the job of community representative for the College Area.
“I am the only one on our staff with a city planning degree and the community is in a community plan update process, which is exactly the type of work city planners love to be involved in,” she said. “Also, as the policy person, I think College Area has very a unique position in the policy realm with the land use issues that arise form a single-family zoning neighborhood being right next to a school and with student housing, aka mini-dorms, being in there I think it makes a ton of sense for me to be working in the College Area and I’m very happy to.”
In addition to her city planning degree, Rosas’ background also informs her thoughts on development and policy. She grew up in Santa Monica before attending college in Claremont, California wher eshe studied anthropology and Spanish.
“I was very interested in understanding culture and how it impacts humans today,” she said.
After college, she went to Mexico and then to the Bask region of Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English for a year.
“I fell in love with the Spanish Colonial city design, city planning, urban planning,” she said. “For example the mixed-use storefronts with apartments on top, the plazas, the parks with the beautiful trees in the middle and benches for everyone to sit around and just enjoy the outdoors.”
After her year abroad, Rosas moved to North Park. She wasn’t sure what to do with an anthropology degree, and was working “random jobs answering calls” and occasionally teaching ESL classes when she decided to study city planing at SDSU for a Masters degree and try and bring to fruition the examples of cities she was inspired by during her travels.
“That was the beginning of me starting this career path that led me towards city planning, advocacy and ultimately local government,” she said. “My interest in making the larger region of Southern California and my new adopted home San Diego into a region that provides all sorts of opportunities like walkability and the conveniences I experienced when I was abroad.”
After her first year in the city planing Masters program, Rosas was offered a paid summer internship at Walk Sand Diego, the organization that is now Circulate San Diego. After the internship, she was offered a part-time job.
For her Masters thesis, she focused on pedestrian safety and risk factors in San Diego and at the same time she was working at Circulate San Diego when the city adopted the Vision Zero plan to eliminate the city’s pedestrian fatalities. Watching the process of getting a plan like Vision Zero adopted by government made Rosas realize that much of how to accomplish making better, safer cities rests in City Hall.
“It’s the decision makers that prioritize where our limited funds are spent — if they’re spent on road widening or complete streets, where in the whole city they’re spent. So learning that on the job made me realize that ultimately the large-scale change that I wanted to see in the city needed to go through City Council and the Mayor, so that was the beginning of my path to be involved in politics and ultimately working for a council member.”
In 2017, Rosas joined San Diego Leadership Alliance, a nonprofit trains future progressive leaders. At the time, Council member Elo-Rivera was a co-director who taught the courses.
“I was inspired by Sean. His mentorship meant a lot,” Rosas said.
When Georgette Gomez decided to make a run for congress and vacate her seat on City Council, Elo-Rivera ran for and was elected. Rosas worked for the campaign as manager during the last seven weeks before the election after leaving Circulate San Diego in August.
Now as Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy for District 9, Rosas said that Elo-Rivera’s office is committed to transparency and accessibility.
“It’s really important that we’re opening up government for everyone to be able to learn about what we’re doing and access services,” she said. “Community empowerment isn’t just a phrase. It is what drives Sean and it’s why our office has a director of community empowerment instead of a directory of community outreach.
“I am the director of policy for the office and traditionally someone with that role would not normally be also a community rep and the same time but I want to be working with the community and not be detached form the needs of the community in District 9,” she continued.
Rosas said that although she hasn’t had the opportunity to attend a community plan update meeting, she is well aware of the plan.
“Community members should be at the forefront of driving the futures of their community,” she said. “People in College Area know what the residents of College Area need the most. So I think it’s our role to listen; to facilitate as needed between the residents and city staff in the Planning Department; and ultimately support what is best for the community in College Area and the city as a whole.”
To reach Maya Rosas about any College Area need, she said the best way currently is through email at RosasM@sandiego.gov.
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.