Sal Torres, sworn in as mayor of Daly City earlier this month, says 2016 will be his final year on the City Council, capping two decades of service.
But before the political veteran passes the baton, he hopes to expand his town’s commercial sector.
Fostering business development in Daly City is crucial, Torres, 55, said, because the town’s residential developments so heavily outweigh its commercial footprint. And while residential development grows the city’s population, placing additional burdens on staff and infrastructure, the revenues from residential property taxes are unsustainably low.
“Daly City needs to focus on one thing and one thing only,” Torres said, “We’ve got to drive more revenues to the city, because we’ve got a severe revenue challenge.”
Given the Bay Area’s ongoing housing crisis, Torres’ pushback against new housing development might seem counterintuitive. But the mayor said Daly City wouldn’t be doing the potential occupants of new buildings any favors if it couldn’t provide them with adequate services, stable infrastructure, and a growing economy.
“When you see these proposals for 500-unit buildings, you’re talking about taxing the workers and the city budget too much,” Torres said, “Without business growth, you cannot sustain residential growth.”
A child of Peruvian-American immigrants, Torres grew up with his two brothers in South Central and East Los Angeles before the family moved to Gardena. He started as a civil engineering major at UCLA, but soon switched to a double major in psychology and education.
Torres worked with kids with developmental disabilities and taught grade school before getting a public relations job with the Los Angeles Housing Department’s rent stabilization office.
It was there that the seed for Torres’ legal career was planted. When he did outreach with the city’s Latino community, giving presentations on housing-related legal matters, Torres said participants kept assuming he was a lawyer.
“I was constantly telling them, ‘No, I’m not a lawyer,’ and they’d ask, ‘Why not?’” Torres explained.
A UCLA graduate at that point, Torres had been accepted at the California School of Professional Psychology in Berkeley, but instead enrolled in the University of San Francisco’s law school.
With the exception of a few years in unincorporated Broadmoor, Torres and his wife, Leslie, have lived continuously in Daly City since 1989. He owned a private legal practice for many years, but now heads a local tech company’s legal team.
Torres’ civic engagement began with volunteering for Daly City’s anti-graffiti committee. This led to his friendship with the committee’s founder, the late Al Teglia, whose years of public service as an elected official and civic booster earned him the title, “Mr. Daly City.”
Torres has previously described Teglia as a father figure, and it was with Teglia’s encouragement that he first got elected to the City Council in 1996.
Like Teglia, Torres is an outspoken advocate for volunteerism, and he spends some Friday mornings donating his time and expertise at the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County’s Redwood City clinic. The clients are often not English-speakers, Torres said, and some need help because they’re being evicted or sued.
Torres didn’t cite a specific reason for wanting to retire from the city council, other than saying, “It’s just time,” time for him to go, and time for new people to have a chance to join the council.
“Maybe 20 years on the council is too long, but I had a lot to do,” Torres said, “Daly City had a lot of work that needed to get done.”