Political Upstart Gil Saldana Doesn't Have to Fight City Hall: at 24, He's Hizzoner
The 2,100 residents of Avalon on Santa Catalina, the island 26 miles out in the Pacific from Los Angeles, now have something besides their tourists and tropical surroundings to brag about: one of the country's youngest mayors. Since last April Hizzoner has been Gilbert Saldana, 24, a go-getting college junior who oversees town affairs (including a $4 million budget) while commuting by ferry to Cal State Long Beach, where he's a political science major. As if school and city were not enough, he also sells real estate for a Century 21 office in Avalon.
Gil is a C student, but "school is not the most important thing to me right now," he says. His goal: to be "the best Mayor I can." The grandson of an immigrant from Mexico (Gil's father is a barber and his mother a postal worker), he got interested in politics during a 1976 visit to California's capital, Sacramento. He was elected veep of his high school one semester, president the next. Then at 19 he won an appointment to Avalon's planning commission. Later, as a city administrative assistant, he designed a waterfront park that is now one of the town's prides. In 1980 he led a field of nine candidates running for three city council seats, and in 1982 was appointed Mayor for a two-year term. The job occupies him for more than 20 hours a week.
With 86 percent of the island a nature preserve, Saldana aims to keep pressures for increased tourism and development in Avalon in tune with environmental needs, and along those lines he has launched a waste-recycling program. He also donates his $100-a-month salary to a pet project: a community recreation center. Gil's girl, Angela Lombardo, 21, insists the Mayor is "great fun, except when there is important city business." Soon he may be even busier: He's lobbying for a seat on California's powerful 15-member Coastal Commission.
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