Benicia resident Steve Golub: Christopher Cabaldon Deserves Our Votes for State Senate

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

By Stephen Golub, first published in the Benicia Herald on February 18, 2024


On December 19, the Council unanimously voted to back a trailblazing ISO proposal by Vice Mayor Terry Scott and Councilwoman Kari Birdseye. The ordinance will help protect our children, our seniors and all of us from the risks of toxic pollutants that the Valero Refinery spewed into the air for years, vastly exceeding regulatory limits, and from the kinds of massive industrial fires and explosions that have plagued other communities across the country. Benicia is the only Bay Area community that has a nearby refinery but that is not protected by an ISO.

The March 5 meeting is part of a process that will result in an ISO, as decided by that unanimous Council vote on December 19. But the devil is in the details, and it’s crucial that the community turn out to show support for a strong ordinance rather than one that could be watered down along the way.

State Senate Candidate Christopher Cabaldon. | Kevin Fiscus /

Now, back to our regularly scheduled column…

Christopher Cabaldon is running to be state senator for California District 3, which includes all of Solano County and many adjoining areas. Endorsed by Benicia Mayor Steve Young, Vice Mayor Terry Scott, former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, former Council Member Dan Smith and dozens of other officials from across Solano and the region, Cabaldon is by far the best candidate seeking that position.

He deserves our votes in the nonpartisan primary, in which we can vote by mail right now or in person on March 5. The two candidates gaining the most support will go on to compete in the November general election.

In seeking office, Cabaldon is running against fellow Democrats Jackie Elward and Rozanna Verder-Aliga, as well as Republicans Thom Bogue and Jimih Jones. In the candidates forum I attended, which involved the three Democrats, he offered by far the broadest and deepest knowledge of issues affecting Benicia and the many other areas he’d represent if elected. He also came across as someone who is not just a fine speaker, but a good listener, eager to engage with constituents.

At another event, he provided the clearest analysis I’ve heard or read about the “California Forever” initiative that would allow ultra-wealthy and secretive Silicon Valley investors to pretty much do as they please with the large swaths of Solano County they secretly purchased in recent years. I came away from that talk with a clearer understanding of their still-murky motives and plans. (One possibility: They might be motivated by zoning changes that could allow them to reap prodigious profits by reselling the land to developers, despite their promises to build model, affordable cities.) With Cabaldon in office, Benicia would have an important ally in protecting not only our interests but all of Solano County and District 3.

As summarized in a Mercury News editorial endorsing him, “Cabaldon brings an impressive resume: He was West Sacramento mayor for 22 years, worked in the Assembly for eight years as chief of staff to the Appropriations Committee chairperson and staff director for the Committee on Higher Education, served as a California Community Colleges vice chancellor, and as president and CEO of EdVoice led an education advocacy group aimed at reshaping public education to better serve low-income groups. Cabaldon is one of the best-prepared candidates for the state Legislature that we’ve seen this year.”

Given the length of his tenure as West Sacramento mayor, he merits special credit for leading that one-time sleepy backwater’s growth, with its emergence as a dynamic town that won an award as “America’s Most Livable City” from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The elements of that success are too numerous to enumerate here. But his leadership has contributed to rising incomes and real estate values, as well as expansion of affordable housing and initiatives regarding flood plain management, sustainable land use and urban farming.

Furthermore, as praised at the state/local governance website Governing, another Cabaldon initiative “includes universal preschool for every 4-year-old, a college savings account for kindergartners, guaranteed internships for high school students and a program for one year of free community college. West Sac now has its own on-demand rideshare service run by a private company that allows residents to get anywhere in the city for $3.50.”

Cabaldon has demonstrated a wide array of expertise and experience, progressive in some regards while working across the aisle in others. He was appointed to national and state commissions by former President Obama and by five California governors from both parties. His many other accomplishments have included  serving as National President of Asian and Pacific Americans in Higher Education and Inaugural Chair of the National LGBTQ Mayors Alliance, as well as receiving the following honors: Innovation & Vision in Government Award by Governing Magazine, Public Champion for Business by the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce , Executive of the Year by the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, Equality Leadership Award by Equality California and Outstanding Elected Official Award by the Mexican American Concilio of Yolo County.

Cabaldon’s Democratic opponents do not bring nearly the same degree of expertise and experience to bear as he does. Rohnert Park Councilwoman Jackie Elward does offer an admirable background as an educator, organizer and immigrant, but did not demonstrate nearly Cabaldon’s qualifications and grasp of the issues at the aforementioned forum and otherwise. She has a promising future, but for now a vote for her would be a vote taken away from Cabaldon, who is District 3 progressives’ and moderates’ best hope to achieve effective representation in Sacramento. This is especially important, because…

Cabaldon’s other Democratic opponent is Vallejo City Councilwoman Rozzana Verder-Aliga. Though she brings her own wealth of experience to the table, in certain ways it includes acting in ways potentially detrimental to Vallejo, Benicia and Solano County. Most notably, in 2017 she led the way in the Vallejo  Council extending consideration of an (ultimately unsuccessful) proposal to build a cement plant and deep-water port in Vallejo, despite widespread community opposition and a nearly unanimous vote against the project by the Vallejo Planning Commission.

The development, which would have imported and processed an industrial byproduct with an apt and ugly name, “slag,” could have caused havoc for Vallejo, Benicia and surrounding areas in multiple ways, including: polluting the waterfront, the Bay and the Napa River; spouting  clouds into the air during construction; in case of overexposure to slag, causing “chemical burns, irreversible skin and eye damage, lung failure and cancer”; and burdening the transportation network with loads of heavy vehicles moving back and forth.

It also was reported that Verder-Aliga and the three other Council members voting to extend consideration were backed by a PAC funded by pro-cement plant interests, including the parent company of Orcem, the firm proposing to build the plant and port.

I’d add that in the candidates’ forum I attended, Verder-Aliga seemed ignorant of or otherwise out of touch with issues of concern to Benicia and the region, in contrast to her two opponents, particularly Cabaldon. It’s also noteworthy that Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell has endorsed Cabaldon over Verder-Aliga, as have several other current and former city officials. While she’s received the California Democratic Party endorsement, that can be chalked up to the influence of certain vested interests more than to attributes or accomplishments.

Unfortunately, Cabaldon has been the victim of a smear campaign and repeated mailings aiming to smear him with poorly documented claims. Suffice to say that such attacks do not seem well-founded.

In sum, then, the choice is clear: Christopher Cabaldon for State Senate. Please remember to vote by mail or, at the latest, in the primary on March 5.

[Full disclosure: I have donated to Cabaldon’s campaign.]

*Senate District 3 includes the counties of Solano, Napa, and Yolo as well as portions of the counties of Sonoma, Contra Costa and Sacramento.

In addition to this Benicia and Beyond column, Steve Golub writes about democracy and politics, both in America and abroad, at

Note from BenIndy: The race to become the state senator for District 3 is heating up, and we are interested in hearing from you! To submit your recommendations for this or any other office, or ballot measure, please email us. Publication is subject to factchecking and, ultimately, the BenIndy’s discretion.