Charlie Nieto ready to bring a youthful perspective as Pacific Beach Town Council president
The 20-year-old was born and raised in the community
As a high school senior with a burgeoning interest in local issues and politics, Charlie Nieto attended the mayoral debates in September 2019 at his Mission Bay High School hosted by an organization he never heard of: the Pacific Beach Town Council.
Nieto subsequently followed the group on Instagram, entered and won its pandemic-themed art contest in May 2020, volunteered his graphic design talent for its various projects and became a board member in January 2021, serving as communications chair.
At the council’s installation dinner on Jan. 21, Nieto will make history when he is inaugurated as its youngest president. Nieto is just 20 years old, but says he’s already drawing on his experience to guide the organization.
Want to attend?
Pacific Beach Town Council’s Board of Directors 2023 Installation Dinner
When: Saturday, Jan. 21 with registration and cocktails at 5 p.m. followed by the dinner and program at 6 p.m.
Where: Mission Bay Yacht Club, 1215 El Carmel Place
Cost: $50 if purchased by Jan. 14 or $55 at the door (if space is available); a table for 10 can be reserved for $500.
Buy at: PBTownCouncil.org/installation-dinner or mail a check, written to PBTC, to 1706 Garnet Ave., San Diego, CA 92109
“There’s the people that know about the town council and there’s people that don’t,” Nieto said. “My goal is to shrink the number that don’t and increase the people that do.
“That’s always historically been an issue for the town council in reaching out to new people,” he said. “There are people that would love to work with us that just don’t know that we exist. ... That’s something I definitely see as the responsibility of the president.”
Board member Cathie Jolley, a former president who will serve as Nieto’s vice president, said although the closed board meeting in October which elected Nieto wasn’t contentious, concerns were raised about how the seating of someone so young might be perceived among members, the broader community and the city.
Yet the board’s approval was foregone, she added, based on Nieto’s prior successes and contributions as a board member and communications chair.
“When I worked on projects that Charlie has chaired or been in charge of, Charlie looks to the group,” Jolley said. “He’s looking for consensus. He takes people’s thoughts at meetings where people are throwing out all sorts of ideas and he’s able to put together a cohesive package that makes everybody comfortable. ...
“There’s a little bit of hoopla about the fact that he’s 20, but by February or March, when everybody is used to him, they won’t even remember how old he is,” Jolley predicted. “It just won’t matter because he’s just so good.”
While Nieto said he appreciates the concern about his youthfulness, he also understands that decades-old council activities that support the community — such as its PAESAN picnic and Graffiti Day — will be lost unless existing leaders pass the baton to the next generation.
The board will have two more young adults among its membership with Trisha Goolsby, who has been a council director, and Mesa College student Jaden Ballardo.
Nieto said he is focused on recruiting members among Pacific Beach’s younger residents through stronger social media use, a council presence at local schools and a possible tiered membership rate to accommodate typically cash-strapped youths. He said the moves will not only help preserve the conventions but expand the council’s direction.
“One of the things that I hope to accomplish as president, and being on the younger end of the spectrum, is to bring in the next generation of PB residents; these new voices that have traditionally been left out — not necessarily on purpose, but because they’re an afterthought — so that all perspectives will be taken and accounted for,” he said.
Nieto allays fears that the advocacy of the Pacific Beach Town Council might be dismissed by political bigwigs when presented to them by a 20-year-old by noting that Pacific Beach will have entirely new representatives on the city, county and state levels as a result of last year’s redistricting. He says they will be eager to ingratiate themselves to the community.
“I will be their first face for the town council,” Nieto contends. “So it’s a clean slate. I think that works to my advantage more so than the alternative, which would be them comparing me to someone previous. Now, I have a fresh slate to establish myself and the town council with these representatives. It’s the perfect moment.”
Although the focus is on Nieto’s age, the future president has another trait not found among most board members or past presidents. Nieto was born and raised in Pacific Beach and said he views his interest in the community, as well as those of his compatriots, not as an investment but as vested.
“Past presidents and others move into Pacific Beach and they fall in love with it, which is entirely valid,” he said. “There’s also the younger generation that’s born here. Their perspective is completely different, even though it’s the same community. Both are equally devoted. They’re both extremely valuable. It’s being able to bring both into the same sphere that has endless potential.”
Any incoming council president faces apprehensions from members and the community at large because they’re new and Nieto’s age merely provides a hook for them to be expressed, said Jolley. However, those anxieties are dispelled by the character of the person taking charge and Nieto is no exception, she added.
“He’s a real people person, but not a people pleaser,” Jolley said. “He’s not trying to please everyone. He’s not schmoozing anyone. He’s so authentic. What he says and what you see is truly him. There’s no pretense. He’s really just this wonderful man who wants to do great things for his community and he does it well. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Nieto is studying business administration and marketing at San Diego State University while working a part-time job. He paints as a hobby, but has applied his art skills in commercial illustrations and graphic design for small local businesses not just the Pacific Beach Town Council.
Yet his heart is focused on Pacific Beach because that’s where he finds much of his extended family, including a grandfather who lives next door. With his family’s support, Nieto aims to improve the community as council president because that’s where he intends to stay.
“Pacific Beach — I have this image of it in my head as a family town,” Nieto said. “One of the things that I worry about is that it won’t always be the way that it is. ... In the grand scheme of things, I want to be able to have my family in Pacific Beach and it still retains that hometown feel.
“There’s a kind of urgency or a mission for me to do what I can to protect that feeling, which is very personal to me,” he said. “It’s a personal motivator. That’s a reason why I got involved.”
The council meets monthly at 6:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday. All are welcome. For details, visit pbtowncouncil.org.