The new year will look different for Whitney Benzian, as he steps away from his role as a city councilmember to focus more time and energy on his family and business ventures. Benzian’s history with the Coronado City Council began in sixth grade, when he advocated for stop signs on Star Park Circle where he grew up. Fast forward to 2016, when he felt that it was the right time to run for city council, with the opportunity to bring his long-standing Coronado historical perspective and his regional policy knowledge and relationships to the council for the benefit of the residents.
Benzian’s Coronado roots run deep as he moved here with his family in 1983 at age three and graduated from Coronado High School (CHS) in 1998. His parents still live in the same home on Star Park, and the stop signs are still there. He credits his mom and dad for his public service mindset, because growing up he saw them involved in a variety of philanthropic and civic organizations – his mother was a leader in launching the Orange Ave median gardens.
And while he has lived the majority of his life here, he attended college at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and later lived and worked in Manhattan. He reminisces that he liked living in New York, but his heart belonged in Coronado. He also studied abroad in the UK at the University of Oxford’s Wadham College and later did an internship in Argentina, while studying public policy at Pepperdine University.
After graduate school, Benzian lived in San Diego and held a variety of roles for then City Councilmember Ben Hueso, including Chief of Staff, Senior Policy Advisor, Communication Director, and Rules Committee Chairman. He also worked at Southwest Strategies, a leading public affairs firm, and started the California Apartment Association’s San Diego office, with which he is still involved to this day.
Over the past five years, he’s made real estate his career at Douglas Elliman, and he sees it as an opportunity to build community within Coronado. One of the first things he shares with potential home buyers is the history of the town and ways to get connected and meet residents. He views real estate as much more than just a transaction. “The negotiation and sale are only part of the business. If a client is new to town, I make it my mission to help them create connections in the community, so they can assimilate and feel welcome immediately.”
One of the lessons he learned as a councilmember was to adapt to change. He always advocated for representative democracy and made informed decisions based on what was best for the residents. He said that he looked at the many civic groups, with no shortage of qualified volunteers, to see where people are giving their time to indicate their priorities.
The year that was 2020 is not how he thought his last year on the council would transpire. “It will be remembered as a year of change in our society, with the government getting more involved in businesses and citizens’ private lives. We learned a lot through the pandemic. In town and across the country, people will have had the hand of government touch their lives more than ever before. The results of that, I believe, will be transformative with respect to citizens’ expectations of what the government should do for them. We have to be cautious and aware of the long-term consequences, which will inevitably be a mix of good and bad,” he comments.
He feels that this city council has been good at preserving and balancing historic preservation, advocating for alteration permits versus tearing houses down. When asked how long council members typically spend on their position on a monthly basis, he says it can vary, but 60 or more hours per month can be just the beginning with all the meetings, calls, emails, committees, and research required to do the job. Setting the vision for the city has given him insight and personal satisfaction, and he still enjoys the grind of democracy.
“I got involved on city council to contribute to my hometown. I always tried to bring a balanced approach. Each of the council members have their strengths and we had insightful dialogues on the many issues that impacted our city. One of the hardest decisions was the funding of community grants. There are no other cities that allot a million dollars for this, but it was still a balancing act to support and fund the many organizations in town that need assistance to make our community great,” he comments.
Benzian is a big-time advocate for environmental issues and was involved with the Climate Action and Sea Level Rise Plans, as well as spearheading the ban on gas powered leaf blowers. He supports walking and biking whenever possible around the beautiful town. He also was a champion for the city giving loans to local small businesses to help survive during the pandemic, and feels strongly that the city maintained the right strategy on the Tijuana River Valley Sewage issues; but the lawsuit also very likely influenced the latest achievements, too. Benzian spent countless hours attending local and regional meetings, and went to Washington D.C. several times with Mayor Bailey and City Manager Blair King to advocate for this vital issue. With $300 million now allotted for a solution, he sees a bright future for this decades-old problem and cleaner water in the future for our beaches.
With no plans for future political endeavors, but not ruling it out either, he is ready to take a breather and focus on professional ventures, as well as his personal life with his wife January and three children. He appreciates that they get to experience the small-town community camaraderie, albeit evolved, that he knew growing up.
One of Benzian’s favorite pastimes is reading presidential biographies. His top three favorites include Lyndon Johnson, a great operator who got things done; Harry Truman, and he concludes “it’s hard to argue that there’s anyone better than Abraham Lincoln.” He considers himself a tennis aficionado, voracious reader, world traveler, and social surfer. “In this especially trying year, I have learned to strike a purposeful balance, focusing on things that matter most and living life to the fullest.”