Dedication Throughout the Decades: 10 Women Who Lead Chula Vista Forward
To commemorate National Women’s History Month, we are highlighting 10
women who have made significant contributions to Chula Vista since its founding.
Their contributions to local government, the war efforts, community, the police
department and infrastructure have broken barriers and led Chula Vista
forward. There are many more leaders in our city’s history, but these
highlighted names give a sense of how Chula Vista would not be what
it is today without the skills and initiative of these forward-thinking
women leaders. Read on to be inspired by these movers and
shakers of Chula Vista, past and present.
Forward-thinking business woman Emma Saylor founded The Fredericka Home for The Aged in 1908 in National City. The Home graced the end of north Third Avenue, and quickly became a vital source for elderly support in South Bay. Under Saylor’s immense leadership skills, The Fredericka Home for The Aged grew incredibly, and by 1913, there were 14 small cottages added to the Fredericka property collection to aid in the care for local seniors. Saylor’s leadership was noticed as Federicka became nationally known, and she was elected president of the local American Women’s League in 1911. As donors continued to invest in the Home, Federicka was able to purchase an X-ray room, 52 additional beds, and other valuable equipment to care for the elderly. The Home also functioned as a hospital when needed and even had a maternity ward for a time. The Fredericka Home for The Aged is still a pillar of the Chula Vista community, but now goes by another moniker- Fredericka Manor.
Lilian J. Rice
Lilian Jenette Rice was a master architect who specialized in the California Spanish Colonial Revival style of design. Born in National City, Rice was a pioneer for women architects of the twentieth century. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the University of California, and in 1931 her unmatched portfolio earned her a spot in the San Diego Chapter of American Institute of Architecture. She was one of only a few women accepted into the group at the time. In the late 1930’s Rice was commissioned to design an elementary school that was set to be built on L Street. Rice kept to her Spanish Colonial Revival theme by crafting blueprints with a popping red-tiled roof and signature hacienda style. The L Street elementary school she designed quickly became a pillar for early education in Chula Vista. In 1938, Rice died from ovarian cancer. To honor its designer who had a passion for education, the school was renamed “Lilian J. Rice Elementary School” in 1944.
Rice’s family had deep roots in San Diego’s South Bay (as well as America’s- her direct patrilineal ancestor, Edmund Rice, was one of the early immigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony). Rice was also passionate about teaching. She taught geometrical design at San Diego High School and other courses at San Diego State University.
1964 was an impressive year for American politics. It was the year the Civil Rights and Women Rights Acts were passed, and coincidentally, the first year a woman was elected to Chula Vista City Council. Anderson also served as the first mayor of Chula Vista from 1965-1966, before mayors were elected directly in the city. Anderson’s first big project after being elected onto City Council was improving the local bus lines, which were solely operated by private company contracts beginning in the 1920’s. ‘Chula Vista Transit’ was established in 1971 under Anderson’s direction, providing flow to street traffic and boosting the economy. In 1979, the city used state and federal funding to establish ‘HandYtrans’, a transportation for the elderly and handicapped. In the same year, a trolley system was introduced in Chula Vista that ran on the same tracks used for the Sante Fe Railroad. The trolley system is still a popular transportation system for many Chula Vista residents.
Anderson paved the road for a longline of women elected officials in the Chula Vista government. The next in line after Anderson was, Gayle McCandliss followed in her footsteps as a councilmember in 1979 and then mayor in 1991.
Millan & Starkey-World War II “Block Mothers”
Women played a vital role during World War II, both at home and in uniform. The role of women in Chula Vista during the war was no exception. In 1942, Mrs. Jack Millan and Mrs. Harold Starkey created a group known as the “Block Mothers’’. These were women assigned as the “Mother” of a block of about 100 people. This was not a light role to manage, and these local women had a large role in keeping their neighborhoods strong through a sense of community. Block Mothers would knock on doors daily to check-in with neighbors, maintain general neighborhood wellbeing, oversee first-aid stations, spearhead ration initiatives and many other duties. One example of their leadership was when the Block Mothers organized scrap drives. One particular scrap drive took place across from F Street, where the mothers collected brass, copper, aluminum, iron, clothing, material and even old cars from 42 block wards. Millan and Starkey were members of the Chula Vista Red Cross Chapter and had a deep passion for encouraging women to take leadership roles in Chula Vista during a pivotal time in American history. There is no doubt that the role of Block Mothers impacted the stability and morale in Chula Vista, providing warm yet firm structure during an unsure time.
It is clear that women have been leading Chula Vista forward since its founding.
After Chula Vista’s modern expansion into the late 1990’s and 2000’s, our city saw a new age of women leaders in its administration. Chula Vista has seen a huge amount of change in its leadership through government, policies and infrastructure. This expansion was thanks to the diligent leaders and citizens of Chula Vista. Below are 5 women who made waves in modern municipalities.
Shirley Horton is a South Bay native, being born and raised in Chula Vista and Bonita. Her political predecessor and mentor, Mayor Gail McCandless, asked her to join the Chula Vista Planning Commission. This sparked a deeper passion for local government in the young public servant, and in 1991, Horton was one of 27 candidates vying to fill the vacant council member seat. Horton won the seat by appointment with a unanimous vote. In 1994, Horton ran for mayor and won. Once in office as mayor, Horton took no time for spare time and played a key role in the initial planning and development of the Eastlake and Otay Ranch region of Chula Vista. Horton also played a vital role in the beginning stages of the Bayfront development, a longtime goal of the city. In 1996, Horton was re-elected as mayor and continued her positive work for her home city. Unable to run for another term because of term limits, Horton ran for California State Assembly in 2002. She defeated Matt Mendoza and Vince Hall and went on to serve two terms. She was a key vote in favor of AB 32, California’s landmark climate change legislation, considered a model for the nation. Political term limits led her to retirement in 2008, but Horton continued to stay active and engaged in her civil duties. She is on the board of the Chula Vista Police Foundation, St. Paul’s Senior Services and the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation. Horton now lives in Bonita, with her husband and mini Goldendoodle.
Chula Vista native Cheryl Cox is the next chain in the link of women leaders in Chula Vista history. Cox is a graduate of Hilltop High School, and went on to earn her master’s degree in political science from the University of San Diego, followed by her doctorate degree in education from the University of Southern California. With a passion for education and leadership, Cox was an elementary school teacher and subsequently principal for the Chula Vista Elementary School Board District. Her passion for leadership eventually led her into a calling for government, Cox was elected as Chula Vista mayor in 2006. As mayor, Cox used her skills in fiscal responsibility and dedication to sustainable development to work on the Port of San Diego and SDG&E relations towards the Bayfront transmission lines. In August 2012, Cox and the City Council petitioned and received unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission to develop Chula Vista’s Bayfront. . After 50 years of pursuing Bayfront development, city councils, staff, and residents – past and present – can celebrate extraordinary construction now taking place along San Diego Bay. Before leaving the mayor’s office in December 2014, Cheryl’s final vote was Council approval of the final acquisition of property that now totals 375 acres for a university and jobs complex east of SR-125. Public service and volunteerism are core to Cheryl’s beliefs. In cooperation with the San Diego Foundation, she helped establish the Chula Vista Community Foundation in 2008 and the Friends of the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility in 2015.
On December 30, 2016, Roxana Kennedy was appointed as the City of Chula Vista’s 24th Chief of Police. Chief Kennedy began her law enforcement career in 1992 after graduating from the Southwestern College Police Academy. Kennedy quickly rose through the ranks to become the first female Chief of Police for the City of Chula Vista.
Chief Kennedy is committed to the six pillars of 21st Century Policing by providing the highest level of professional law enforcement services to our community by building trust and legitimacy, increasing the use of technology, implementing community policing strategies, expanding officer training and education, and enhancing officer safety and wellness.
Under Chief Kennedy’s leadership, CVPD has adopted an innovation initiative focused on using technology to enhance community safety, increase situational awareness and officer safety, and reduce response times. CVPD is proud to be the first and only police department to work under the Federal Aviation Administration’s UAS Integrated Pilot Program “Drone as a First Responder (DFR)” concept which provides real-time data to officers and supervisors allowing officers to make better tactical decisions in the field providing safer outcomes for all parties involved. In January 2023, Chief Kennedy became a certified FAA Part 107 Drone Pilot.
Chief Kennedy has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from California Coast University. She is a graduate of the FBI National Academy (Class #243) and served on the FBI National Academy California Chapter Board of Directors for six years. She is a founding member of the San Diego Chapter of Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Foundation and served as President of the Chapter for 4 years. Chief Kennedy is currently the President of the San Diego County Chiefs’ and Sheriff’s Association and is on the Board of Directors for Girls Scouts San Diego and Promise 2 Kids. However, what is most important to her is spending time with her family and friends, and volunteering with non-profit organizations. Chief Kennedy serves as the President of Project Compassion and leads medical mission teams throughout the world helping those in need. She has traveled and led teams on more than 20 international trips to Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico, Ecuador, and Ethiopia. Helping others is her passion and motivation, and this is evident through her strive for protecting the community she loves.
Maria V. Kachadoorian
Maria V. Kachadoorian was appointed City Manager of the City of Chula Vista in June 2020 after serving as Assistant City Manager. Kachadoorian is proud to be the first woman and first Latina to serve as city manager. She has worked for Chula Vista since 1998, beginning her municipal career in the finance department. Her strong finance background and quick situational assessment skills helped lead the city through the recession, and later the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the uncertainty of COVID-19, Kachadoorian’s leadership skills ultimately led to the signing of the $1.2 billion Gaylord Pacific Resort and Convention Center project for the prized Chula Vista Bayfront.
In addition to advancing the Chula Vista Bayfront development, Kachadoorian has overseen the launch of the City Ambulance Transport Services, fostered initiatives that better connect the City’s diverse communities and boosted momentum for the University and Innovation District. Kachadoorian continues her involvement in the implementation and oversight of the Measure P and Measure A sales tax programs to advance infrastructure and public safety staffing. Kachadoorian was born in Tijuana and immigrated to the United States as an infant. She is a long-time resident of South County and lives in Chula Vista. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree with an emphasis in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from San Diego State University. She is also a Certified Public Accountant. Kachadoorian is a Chula Vista Rotarian and participates in a number of professional organizations including International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and California Society of Municipal Finance Officers (CSMFO). In 2013, Kachadoorian was recognized by the San Diego Business Journal as CFO of the year.
Born and raised in South Bay, Mary Casillas-Salas is a fifth generation Chula Vista. Salas’ dedication to the community she loves is evident in her work in public service. Salas’ began her public service on the Chula Vista Civil Service Commission in 1991, she was then appointed to the City’s Planning Commission in 1993. She served on this commission until 1996, when she was elected to the city council. In 2000, the Chula Vista native was re-elected with 66% of the vote. After leaving the Council in 2004, she served as a Director of the Sweetwater Authority/South Bay Irrigation District. In 2006, she was elected to the California State Assembly where she chaired the Committee on Veterans Affairs. She also served on the Jobs, Economic Development and Economy Committee, the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and the Health Committee. Her love of community spurred her to once again seek election to the City Council. She was elected to the City Council in 2012 and in 2014, she made history as the first elected Latina mayor in Chula Vista and the County of San Diego. During her tenure, Salas received multiple national and international recognitions for her work and leadership in greenhouse gas and climate change initiatives.
During her tenure as Mayor, Chula Vista has received national and international recognition for our efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and prevent climate change, our smart cities initiatives, and our actions to ensure sustainable development. The City obtained ownership of the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Mayor Casillas Salas led the campaign to adopt Measure P to rebuild our aging infrastructure, and advanced the development of the Bayfront in partnership with Port of San Diego with a signed “Letter of Intent” with RIDA Development. She continues to guide major projects, including the development of a four-year university and the revitalization of western Chula Vista. Now Mayor Casillas Salas is looking to the future and is committed to a better quality of life for the people of Chula Vista through excellent public safety, effective stewardship of public funds and careful planning that leads to superior sustainability of community resources.