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Oscar Gutierez

Santa Barbara City Council Member
Emerging Leaders Cohort 9

Santa Barbara City Council member Oscar Gutierrez always wanted to know what was going on in the world, even at a young age. Which is why he preferred watching the news, instead of cartoons, throughout his childhood in Santa Barbara.

“My mother always thought it was so odd that I wanted to watch the news,” recalled Gutierrez. Yet that passion for reporting led him to UCSB to pursue film and media studies and in his nearly two-decade career span Gutierrez worked for networks like ABC, Warner Brothers, and Univision before turning the camera on himself and running for elected office.

Gutierrez was covering the 2017 election when Cathy Murillo was elected Mayor, leaving her city council seat vacant in the district where Gutierrez lived.

“I was covering the issues and reporting back to my Hispanic community,” he said. “When I realized that I could help my community even more by putting my name on the ballot.”

He won with 54% of the vote and the rest is history. Gutierrez is now in his sixth year on the Santa Barbara City Council and proudly represents his hometown as the first elected millennial and as a bilingual member who is especially adept at engaging many who previously felt underrepresented.

He was taught the importance of giving back at a young age and credits his parents for modeling this behavior, often hosting immigrant families until they were stable enough to live on their own. His own parents emigrated from Mexico, initially struggling before they found work on farms and in factories.

“They paid it forward,” said Gutierrez. “My parents taught my siblings and me that there is more to life than work and to treat the community where you live like family.”

“I do what I do because I care about where I live and the people that live with me. I am a product of this community and I didn’t get here by myself,” he said. “I would not have gotten to this point if it weren’t for people before me, who supported and believed in me. And that’s what I want to do for future generations.”

It was this commitment to community that drew Gutierrez to the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP).

Gutierrez admits that he was struggling with self-confidence, even years after serving on the City Council. It was his work with ELP that reinforced his confidence.

“As an elected official people are constantly questioning your ability which led me to question myself,” admitted Gutierrez. “The Emerging Leaders Program helped me realize that this is where I’m supposed to be. I don’t think I’d feel as self-assured and deserving of my position if it weren’t for ELP.”

The other significant benefit Gutierrez received from ELP was a support network of like-minded individuals working to improve the greater Santa Barbara community.

“As an elected official, it was beneficial to be in a group of local, passionate leaders and to hear their perspectives on things that we were doing on a city council level,” said Gutierrez. “This was such a valuable connection; ELP brought leaders together in a shared, intimate space, and it was instructive for me to bounce ideas, gain feedback and to learn more about many local organizations.”

“Often, as a leader, you can feel alienated, without people to confide in, and at ELP I felt at home, surrounded by trusted individuals. This program has brought me closer to people I work with or have connected with in the past because we now have this shared experience which makes us work better together, for the greater good of the community.”

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