4 years ago, Joaquin Jimenez made Half Moon Bay history as the first Mexican immigrant to sit on the City Council. Now, in the city’s most recent council rotations, he’s made history again — becoming Half Moon Bay’s first Mexican immigrant mayor.
For Jimenez, the son of two now-retired Half Moon Bay farmworkers, his representation of the coastal community is an opportunity not only to pursue equity goals for the city’s marginalized communities but also to create space for them to engage with local government.
“I’m looking forward to a good year,” he said. “Encouraging people, I feel very proud of that. Our meetings, we have more people [who are] Spanish speakers coming to our meetings and speaking up. We have a translator every meeting, children coming to City Council meetings. It is a really good feeling to see that.”
Addressing Half Moon Bay’s ongoing lack of affordable housing was a priority for Jimenez during his 2020 City Council run. Those goals have not changed, he said.
“My priorities are still the same,” he said. “My priorities have been housing for the low-income community, farm working community [and] the community in general.”
In recent months, Jimenez and the City Council have backed a minimum wage increase to $20 an hour — it’s currently $17.01 an hour — and a potential rent control ordinance, which could enforce rent increase protections for tenants.
Additionally, an emergency affordable housing project for Half Moon Bay farmworkers was greenlit earlier in 2023.
The move comes after farmworker Chunli Zhao allegedly killed seven co-workers and their family members in a June shooting spree, prompting the displacement of 19 families and probes into untenable living conditions for farm employees.
Jimenez emphasized that creating flourishing farmworker communities and issues of affordable housing are inextricably intertwined and require bold solutions.
Prioritizing farmworkers and farming practices can also assist in the fight against climate change, Jimenez said, pointing to initiatives like carbon sequestration, regenerative farming and organic farms as other goals for his tenure.
“The way we can do farming can actually reverse climate change. Then those practices, in farming, it’s about climate change. It’s about our environment. It’s about food security. It’s about healthy food for our community. It’s about accessible food for our community,” he said.
As a 37-year Half Moon Bay resident, Jimenez has long been involved in advocacy and community work. He received a degree in sociology from California State University, Chico, before going on to work in the migrant education program at the Cabrillo Unified School District, San Mateo County’s juvenile probation district, and as the Farmworker Program Director for Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, a nonprofit cultural and social services program on the coast.
Jimenez also said that his experience as the son of farmworkers — who immigrated from Mexico to Half Moon Bay when he was 13 — continuously shapes his approach to government and his advocacy for marginalized communities.
“Unless you’ve been there and done that, you will not know, and I have been there,” he said. “Both my parents are retired farmworkers. I know what it feels to live, to grow up in a crowded house. I know the feeling of that. I know you’re not given the opportunity. There’s not much you could do. So I know all those things.”
This knowledge will also help propel him to balance progressive ideals with realistic expectations for all community members, he said, citing unrealistic expectations that the city could eminently switch from gas to all-electric power as one example.
Jimenez noted a great deal of his job is being open and accessible to public concerns. He’s known in Half Moon Bay for walking, biking or riding his horse around town, creating an element of visibility that makes him accessible both to the Latino and farmworker community and the city at large.
“I still pretty much cheer for everybody and I listen to everybody, and I just don’t go around and listen to the other Latinos and forget anybody else,” he said in response to potential concerns he received that he would only prioritize certain groups of constituents. “I think when they saw my work, they have realized that I’m not really just here for the Latinos. I’m here for everybody because I represent everybody.”
His overarching philosophy while serving on the City Council is a drive to offer equitable services, which, at times, means providing help and support to marginalized groups that might otherwise not be heard.
“Equity is what we need. We need to focus on the people that need that support to be able to survive. You’re already surviving, you’re doing well and, then let’s help the ones that are struggling, or those are the ones that need us right now,” he said.
Jimenez will run for reelection in the upcoming City Council elections, he said.