Sometimes you never know where your life is going to take you. That has happened to newly elected Councilmember Matthew Leyba-Gonzalez more than once. As a young man he studied to be a teacher but spent most of his career working construction. Just recently after working on the Mayor’s Business Taskforce, with Councilmember Mark West, he decided to run for a council seat in District 4 and was elected.
Leyba-Gonzalez was sworn in Dec. 9. He is excited about the new challenges ahead and feels ready. He already has three ideas he wants to work on in the near future.
Leyba-Gonzalez grew up in San Diego and spent his childhood summers in Imperial Beach with his uncle who lived on Seacoast Drive. Right after graduation from high school he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a total of nine years in the reserves.
“That time contributed to me acquiring the type of work ethic and focus. It taught me a lot about myself…being in the military motivated me to better myself and set high goals,” he said.
Thanks to the G.I. bill Leyba-Gonzalez attended classes at Southwestern Community College and then transferred to Cal State Dominguez Hills graduating with a degree in education. He was all set to be a teacher but had to wait for a month to take the CBEST, a preliminary credential test, then start working on his Master’s degree. “I was going to get a job for a month while I waited,” he recalled.
He asked his dad, who has worked in construction his whole life, about a job. His dad was worried that Leyba-Gonzalez would not continue his studies. “Are you sure it’s for a month?” he asked his son.
What was supposed to be a month of temporary employment turned into 15 years. Leyba-Gonzalez worked in industrial construction, pouring concrete, building hospitals, parking garages and managing projects. After 16 years he became a union representative for Labors International Union of North America Local 89. Leyba-Gonzalez is a third generation union laborer following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
It’s been four years now that Leyba-Gonzalez has worked as a rep for his union. The work has given him a taste for politics and the behind the scene work involved in a campaign. “If the union puts money behind a political candidate, I do all I can and whatever it takes [for support,]” he explained.
When Leyba-Gonzalez moved to Imperial Beach he wasn’t aware of the upcoming district elections. When he found out, he said to himself, “No way. I come from a blue collar background. They want something different.”
Things changed when former Councilmember Mark West asked him to be part of the Mayor’s Business Taskforce, doing outreach to local businesses during the pandemic. “I reached out to so many businesses. They had never had a city councilman visit them,” he said.
Leyba-Gonzalez did not just visit businesses on Seacoast Drive and Palm Avenue but also in the area where he lives around 13th Street. He noticed a need in the neighborhood. “There needs to be a change, someone who will speak for them, a voice,” he said.
He is proud to have been elected by a large margin of votes in District 4, and that residents who voted for him are working class people just like himself.
Leyba-Gonzalez has no regrets about his career path- he has been paid well, has good healthcare and a pension. “Your career chooses you,” he said. “The hard work ethic is in my blood.”
Leyba-Gonzalez loves the City of Imperial Beach for many reasons. “I love the people. I ride my bike and everyone waves. People are down to earth, the laid back lifestyle it’s so contagious. That’s what made me follow in love with it,” he said. “I’m wiling to fight to continue to keep the city beautiful.”
He took a lot of time to canvass his district placing door hangers and talking to residents if they were outside. “They really appreciated me going door to door… we canvassed the district four times. I took vacation days to lit drop,” he said.
Because his opponent declared himself the locals’ choice, Leyba-Gonzalez feels he worked even harder to get his name out in his district. “Nobody can outwork me. I worked 10 to 12 hours doing manual labor. I’m trained and geared for it. I strongly believe [it’s the reason] my campaign was successful,” he said.
Leyba-Gonzalez also acknowledged his many volunteers who helped him during his campaign including the IB Democratic Club. “I had good, quality people. So many people helped me to get where I’m at,” he said.
He has spoken to Jack Fisher, new councilmember for District 2. “Jack and I are so similar. We’re working class, same age. He’s all about family, it was so pleasant to meet him. We may not always agree but we can agree to do the best for the members of our community,” he said.
Leyba-Gonzalez has three goals he wants to work on in the near future. First on the list is a community cleanup. Leyba-Gonzalez has noticed many pieces of trash left over after trash pick up. “I want to clean up the neighborhood. If the area is clean, there is a perception that it’s safe,” he explained.
His second goal is to form a Small Business Advisory Council that meets once a month to discuss problems and ways to assist, then let the rest of the council know what his findings are.
His third goal is public safety. “One of the big things on 13th Street is when you leave the [Navy] base, cars drive too fast,” he said. Because of that, he would like to see a few four-way stop signs. He also believes that part of the safety aspect of 13th Street is to have adequate lighting.
“They trust me to look out for their well being. There is a lot riding on this. I’ll do all in my power to make sure I represent them properly. This is a whole new challenge,” he said. “Now I understand my calling is serving the community.”