As Whitney Benzian wraps up his four years as a Coronado City Councilmember he has a deeper understanding of the City. “I can never go back and see our City in the same way,” he said of his hometown.
Benzian, who graduated from Coronado High School (CHS) in 1998, has seen Coronado from many different perspectives. Growing up with freedom to explore the island, its beaches and special spots where teens gather, he appreciated the familiarity, friends, and independence the community fostered. As a young father, Benzian valued the safety, proximity to his parents, and community ties that Coronado offered for his young children, now ages 4, 11, 13. As a soon-to-be retired councilmember he has now seen “how the sausage is made” and he loves Coronado more than ever.
“I have experienced the evolution of the town and I actually appreciate the change,” said Benzian. “Of course we are more modern. More affluent. But that doesn’t have to be negative. We are also more environmentally conscious and proactive in solving problems.”
Like most elected officials, Benzian enjoyed the job but acknowledged how tough it can be to make decisions in a small town. “Your skin gets thicker pretty quick,” he laughed.
Benzian brought his passion for environmental issues to the job. “The environment is a priority for me. I have an environmentally friendly mindset and I’m proud, and our community should be very proud, of the multi-year Climate Action Plan.”
He credits his council colleagues with their influence on him as well. “Mike [Donovan] and Marvin [Heinze] bring so much experience to the job. They ask the right questions and I learn a lot from them,” he said. “Bill [Sandke] has a very historical perspective that I appreciate,” and “collaborating with Richard [Bailey] and traveling to D.C. with him and Blair King to advocate with the federal government on the Tijuana River Valley issue was a great opportunity.”
Benzian said that his most memorable work on council was the total effort of the Tijuana River Valley sewage issue. From the original memo he co-wrote with Councilmember Sandke to a lobbying trip to Washington, DC with Mayor Bailey and City Manager Blair King, he felt the constant and strategic efforts of Coronado and neighboring cities paid off. “The fact that the federal government has allocated $300 million and the EPA has taken responsibility for mitigation programs is a huge success,” he said of efforts to remedy the transboundary sewage and trash flows that have affected Coronado’s beaches for decades. With funding secured he is hopeful that the projects and implementation will begin soon. “I knew the problem as a teen so to think we made an impact means a lot to me.”
While no specific single vote stood out as the “most difficult,” Benzian acknowledged that Mills Act decisions were a challenge. “It’s a balance between history and personal property rights. And when it’s a gray area it’s painful,” he said. California’s Mills Act legislation gives local governments the authority to grant property tax relief to owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic properties.
Benzian is reflective about his biggest concern for Coronado’s future; warning that Coronado is slowly losing local control over its own land and individual property rights. “There has been a layering on of rules and regulations by the Port of San Diego, California Coastal Commission, State Housing authorities, and the federal government,” he lamented. These are issues that he hopes will continue to be on the radar of elected officials and all citizens of Coronado.
Benzian traces his interest in politics all the way back to high school at CHS in Mr. Mayfield’s “Theory of Knowledge” class and Mr. Jones’ AP History class. But he credits an internship, in the poorest congressional district in the South Bronx while he was a college student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, with his desire to actually run for political office. “It was a life-changing experience, seeing such inequity and understanding how politicians can make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
As much as he enjoyed the experience, and has not ruled out another run for office in the future, Benzian decided not to run for a second term. “It was a difficult decision, but with my wife January working from home, all the kids home from school because of COVID, and me working out of a garage office, it became very difficult.” He added that right now in his life it was time to “focus on work” as a real estate agent at Douglas Elliman. He also admitted that with his home office just across the street from the Glorietta Bay Tennis Center, his tennis game will likely be getting a little more attention.