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Sharon Larios is a rebel with a cause

Outspoken city council candidate walks the walk in District 7

By Seth Comb, August 21, 2019 for San Diego CityBeat

Sharon Larios and daughter Sa’niah. Photo by Seth Combs.

Sharon Larios and daughter Sa’niah. Photo by Seth Combs.

"My father didn’t tell me he loved me until I was 18-years-old.”

This would be a jarring confession coming from any person, much less a political candidate. But for Sharon Larios, who is running for San Diego City Council in District 7, this type of candor comes easy. Still, she isn’t mentioning this as a means to garner sympathy, but to make it clear that her story has a happy ending. Yes, it’s a story that is filled with parental abuse and poverty, but it’s also one where she channeled the hardships of her formative years into a career of fighting for her community. 

“When I talk to kids now, the sad part is that all the stuff I went through as a kid, it still goes on in a lot of these households,” says Larios at a coffee shop just up the street from the Linda Vista neighborhood she grew up in. Her daughter, Sa’Niah, sits next to her.

“Politically speaking, I’ve channeled a lot of that rebelliousness into these political spaces in order to be disruptive. We have a lot of politicians who like to be passive-aggressive, agreeing and being neutral, and not really voicing their opinion or demanding the changes we truly need.”

The last 20 years have been game-changers when it comes to politics and the 29-year-old Larios, a first-generation Mexican-American, could be seen as representative of this new era of political authenticity.  Whether it’s the elections of once longshot candidates such as Barack Obama or Donald Trump, or the unexpected victories of Tea Party Republicans and progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it’s hard to remember an era where being blatantly outspoken was just as important as political experience. 

“I don’t feel like being straightforward is mean,” Larios says. “It’s what we need right now. So I hope that when people do hear us at our forums, they’ll think, ‘finally, someone is saying what needed to be said.’ I am a fighter for the people and the community, and on city council, that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

The council seats that are up for grabs in 2020 could serve as a field test for progressive candidates like Larios. District 7, in particular, is particularly interesting. Not only has it leaned right in past elections (it’s currently represented by Councilmember Scott Sherman, one of the few outspoken Republicans on the council), but it is also a district that is extremely diverse, both in terms of ethnicity and socio-economics. That is, the issues that are most important and pressing in neighborhoods such as Mission Valley and Linda Vista are probably not the same as those in Del Cerro and Lake Murray.

And while Larios is well known in places like Linda Vista, she sees her outspokenness as something that will be appealing to voters in District 7. For her, the common thread that unites the entire district is that everyone wants to feel safe in their respective neighborhoods. She says even more conservative voters find themselves agreeing with her when she explains to them how increased funding to youth programs and rehabilitative surfaces help combat poverty and income inequality. This leads to safer neighborhoods, less homelessness and even things like police retention. 

When asked what she would tell those who would say that she’s too young, too progressive and too inexperienced to be a city councilmember, Larios keeps it real.

“Whatever they’re saying, they need to know that I told myself that too,” she says, laughing. “But then I looked at the reasons again and thought that’s exactly why I should run. Our constituents don’t have Harvard degrees and the money and the law background, so why should the person who does have those things be looked at as being more qualified than I am?”

Larios herself has seen firsthand what happens when those who are “more qualified” don’t fight for communities. She ran away from home and moved to New York City when she was 16. When she came back to Linda Vista four years later, she became increasingly involved in trying to help her neighborhood avoid the same pitfalls she witnessed growing up. She worked as a drug counselor, and then with the Teamsters union. She also became a mother and co-founded Turnaround Youth Foundation, an outreach nonprofit that supports advocacy services for juvenile gang members. She currently works as a Human Service Specialist at the County of San Diego Health and Human Services.

Larios sees her run for city council as the next step in her journey to help make a difference for her neighborhood. As the first Latinx woman candidate and the first Linda Vistan to run for the council seat, she realizes she might be a longshot, but for her, it’s just as much about shining a spotlight on the issues of her community. 

“Whatever happens, we’re making history,” says Larios, who will celebrate her 30th birthday around the time of the March primary. “Whatever happens will happen, but at least our neighborhood can say, ‘Hey, somebody tried so maybe I can too.’ We’ve never had that… We need to see ourselves in these spaces. Kids can say, ‘Dang, she came from where I came from. She struggled the same way I struggled.’”  

Sharon Larios on... 

Homelessness:

“I’ve worked in the field and still do every single day. I work with out most vulnerable members of the community. The first thing I would do is try to repeal the vehicle habitation ordinance. I do not feel city council does a good job in understanding that we cannot criminalize the poor. When you criminalize people for not being able to have a home, living in their cars—criminalizing them for just trying to survive—we’re just increasing our rate of recidivism. By criminalizing it, that person will have a record, so they won’t be able to get a job or housing, and it just creates more obstacles and barriers.”

Affordable housing:

“Saying that affordable housing is a solution to all our issues is a lie, because the people who do need affordable housing don’t make enough money to afford that affordable housing. Rent control is something I would definitely introduce as a city councilmemember. It’s something we’re fighting for right now in Linda Vista with the tenant’s union.”

Transportation:

“We can do a better job working with MTS to connecting the entire community. There’s no bus that connects the entire district. I feel like it’s better with the emphasis on building new housing projects near public transit, but we need more buses and they need to come more frequently. We also need special bus lanes on the freeway.” 

Haley Hauck