Pacific Beach artist draws on unique experiences for Youth Commission

Painting one of the entrance signs to PB was just one of many community projects Charlie Nieto has tackled.
Painting one of the entrance signs to Pacific Beach was just one of many community projects tackled by Charlie Nieto, who was just named a member of the San Diego Youth Commission.
(Courtesy Charlie Nieto )

A teenage artist from a beach town may seem an unlikely candidate for local politics, but Pacific Beach resident Charlie Nieto already has a history of making a difference.

Nieto is in the unique position of being able to draw on his experience as a successful business owner, as a board member on the PB Town Council and from his involvement in community issues — all while attending college and working a part-time job.

Believing he can help provide the perspective of the coastal communities, 19-year-old Nieto said he is pleased to have recently been selected to be a part of the revamped San Diego Youth Commission.

“The Commission is a way to give a voice to SD youth who are usually not that involved in politics,” Nieto said.

At 19, Charlie Nieto is a business owner and new member of the revamped San Diego Youth Commission.
At 19, Charlie Nieto is a business owner, a board member of the Pacific Beach Town Council and now a member of the revamped San Diego Youth Commission.
(Courtesy Charlie Nieto )

The Youth Commission was put together by Mayor Todd Gloria with the goal of providing recommendations to San Diego to ensure young people in the area are being appropriately supported and served.

City Council President Dr. Jennifer Campbell selected Nieto for the Commission.

“I’m grateful that Charlie will be serving on the Commission. His willingness to work for the benefit of his community shows his great potential to create positive change for our city,” Campbell said.

Nieto said that everything he does in his free time outside of school is focused on the community.

“I’ve gotten immense support from the local institutions and businesses from people I know and don’t know,” he said.

Nieto started his business, Atlas Decorum Manufacturing Co., in the middle of the pandemic. The company provides graphic design services to many local businesses and organizations, lends its support to numerous community projects and also keeps an inventory of PB-themed gear, from stickers to T-shirts.

His style combines modern and retro elements with bold lines and colors. A self-taught artist, he said his “cartoony pop culture aesthetic” is inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Mike Wartella, Thomas Fernandez and local illustrator Dane Danner.

Old technology also serves as inspiration; he has a 1930s typewriter and a collection of vintage cameras.

Nieto’s artistry won him the PB Town Council’s “Community in Quarantine” art contest in May 2020. His “HAZMAT surfer” designs were featured on T-shirts and other items; all proceeds went back to PB.

He joined the PB Town Council in January, seeking to help make positive changes and community improvements. He was given the Rising Star Award that year.

As part of his work for the Town Council, he finished painting one of the entry signs to PB about a month ago.

“It’s humungous — the biggest thing I’ve ever painted,” Nieto said. “And I’ve gotten tons of amazing feedback from the community, which is appreciated.”

One of his next Town Council projects will be painting a utility box.

Nieto is also on the board of Friends of Pacific Beach Schools, a joint Parent Teacher organization for both Pacific Beach Middle School and Mission Bay High School. The group’s mission is to foster excellence in education and student activities. Nieto serves as the group’s graphic designer.

As might be expected, Nieto stays busy with his many activities and organizations. But when he’s not working, he said “I always doodle and draw for myself.”

“I also have a vintage 1974 Buick Apollo project car, which needs a new paint job and will be beautiful when finished,” he said.

The Nieto family, from left: Joe, Joey, Bernadette and Charlie.
The Nieto family, from left: Joe, Joey, Bernadette and Charlie.
(Courtesy Nieto family )

Nieto describes his family as very close. A sophomore at San Diego State University, he is living at home with his parents, Joe and Bernadette Nieto, while pursuing a degree in business administration marketing. His younger brother, Joey, 14, is a freshman in high school.

“From the get-go, my family has been very supportive of my endeavors. My mom is a chef and my dad is an architect/contractor. Both are very creative and are entrepreneurs in their own way,” he said. “My grandparents on my mom’s side also live on the same block as my parents.”

Cheyanne, a rescued pit bull mix they’ve had 11 years, is also considered part of the family.

Nieto is confident about his plans for the future. He wants to stay in PB and to continue his support of the community.

“Our city is ever changing and growing and going forward, and we want to maintain the balance of the PB character with the modern San Diego character,” he said. “As a child growing up here, I believe it gives me a very different perspective. I’m very proud to call myself a local. I don’t ever want to leave.”

As an artist experienced with different youth initiatives, he said he has much to contribute to the Youth Commission.

“Our young people are not just our future — they’re also our present. They deserve to have a voice at City Hall and that is why we are bringing back the Youth Commission,” Mayor Gloria said in a press release concerning the Commission.

The first meeting of the group is set for December. But in typical Nieto fashion, he says the potential members aren’t just sitting around waiting for the adults to do something.

Illustrating their leadership skills, he says the group nominees have already been in contact with each other over email and LinkedIn and have been exchanging ideas.