Carlos Villapudua: Elected to serve His Community

By Bob Highfill Carlos Villapudua took a moment to look up at the ceiling from the floor of the state Capitol in Sacramento.

There to undergo training as the newly elected State Assemblyman, District 13, the 52-year-old Stockton native could see the same balcony where he once stood and looked down as a 10-year-old during a tour. Villapudua called it a “wow moment,” when he realized his path from community center director, legislative aide, county supervisor and businessman had led him to the state legislature.

“That’s when it hit me,” he said. “Who would have thought I would end up here?”

Villapudua grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in east Stockton, the son of hard-working Mexican immigrants, and learned how to get along with different people. He loved to play baseball and earned pocket money delivering groceries and newspapers. Villapudua attended San Joaquin Elementary and Middle School in downtown Stockton, then St. Mary’s, Stagg and Franklin high schools before he graduated from California State University, Sacramento.

Villapudua had no political aspirations, just a passion to help others. He followed his heart, not his bank account making career choices, which frustrated his late father, Bernardo Villapudua. For instance, Carlos left a steady job with the sheriff’s office that came with good pay and benefits to take a lower-paying job with San Joaquin County to run the Northeast Community Center in Stockton. Working with seniors and youth, developing programs to better their lives, such as the Summer Youth Enrichment Program, fed his heart and soul.

It wasn’t long before then-San Joaquin County Supervisor, the late Dario Marenco, noticed the young Villapudua’s value to the community. Marenco devoted more resources to help Villapudua expand services at the center and connected Villapudua with then-San Joaquin County District 1 Supervisor Steve Gutierrez, who needed a legislative aide. The job paid less and had fewer benefits than his job with the county, but Villapudua went with his heart again. Initially, Villapudua couldn’t stand being behind a desk answering residents’ concerns over the phone, so he followed up on their calls personally and set up community meetings and invited county officials to take part.

When Gutierrez termed-out, Marenco encouraged Villapudua to run for the vacant seat and agreed to manage his campaign. There were six qualified candidates in the race, as well. Marenco hammered home an ethos that served Villapudua well then and again when he ran for State Assembly: “If you don’t walk, you don’t win.”

“He said, ‘You’re going to walk every day after work. He had clipboards of where we were going to walk and we walked for a year.”

Villapudua went door-to-door and won the seat. He served on the County Board of Supervisors from 2008-2016, during which time he said helping San Joaquin General Hospital stay open, establishing the Lodi winery ordinance and expanding operations at the Port of Stockton and Stockton Metropolitan Airport were among his favorite accomplishments.

Following his stint on the County board, Villapudua went into the private sector and was Chief Executive Officer of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Then, he went into a partnership with Western Pacific Truck School. Villapudua believed his political life was behind him but decided to run in the November General Election for the vacant District 13 State Assembly seat vacated when Susan Talamantes-Eggman was elected to the State Senate. With the blessing of his wife, Edith, Villapudua started walking the campaign trail again just as Marenco taught him, though the reality of COVID-19 prevented him from holding community meetings and visiting constituents inside coffee shops.

Instead, Villapudua and his team volunteered at food banks, interacted with the public on social media and met with groups on virtual streaming platforms. Villapudua trailed San Joaquin County Supervisor Kathy Miller when early results were counted but caught up and eventually took the lead. Villapudua chose not to celebrate before Dec. 3 when the result officially was certified by the county registrar’s office. On Dec. 7, Villapudua was sworn into office not at the Capitol but wearing a mask at a COVID-19-altered physically distanced ceremony at the Golden One Center in downtown Sacramento.

“I couldn’t have anyone with me,” Villapudua said of the surreal scene that day. “I didn’t have a conversation with anyone. It was very blah because after that I got in my car and drove back home.”

Since then, nothing has been “blah.” The Capitol building has been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Villapudua has had to learn without the benefit of face-to-face interaction with his colleagues. But he has been busy and looks forward to tackling his goals and serving on the Agriculture; Water, Parks & Wildlife; Human Services; and Rules committees.

Villapudua wants to enhance nonprofits so they can be more effective reaching underserved populations in his district, which includes much of San Joaquin County: Stockton, Tracy, French Camp, Mountain House and Thornton. He believes messaging the Latino population especially about good health practices is vitally important during the pandemic. He wants to push vocational education in high school, so young people graduate job-ready for high-paying careers, should they choose not to go to college. He believes businesses need to be supported and should reopen as quickly and safely as possible, as well as schools. He will work with city leaders to find workable solutions to homelessness and ensure public safety, and he will demand fiscal responsibility and accountability.

“We need to fine-tune everything that we are doing,” he said. “We’re going to go through some difficult times and we want to make sure the money that’s being handed down from the state is being spent right.”

Villapudua said he is ready to work with the community and his colleagues to confront today’s challenges and those in the future.

“I’m a public servant and that’s how I treat this job,” he said. “I’m excited to be here. I think it’s going to be an uphill battle, but I’m ready for the challenge.”

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