Around the time Melissa Caldwell started serving as PTA president of her daughter’s elementary school, she was told the school was closing because there weren’t enough students. .
Caldwell, who is running for a seat on the Laguna Niguel City Council in the upcoming Nov. 8 election, said after speaking to Capistrano Unified School District officials, she realized students with special needs were not counted by the district for registration. Of 400 students at her daughter’s school, only half are counted, she says.
“When I understood [these] the kids had no voice, it really opened my eyes,” she said. “It just tore me up inside and broke my heart.”
She said she fought with the district to get students counted, but ultimately the school closed.
The students, she said, were transferred to other schools and for some of them it was the sixth or even the seventh relocation.
She said the experience prompted her to seek more community involvement – one of the reasons, she said, she decided to run for local office.
“I realized that the more you engage with the community, the more issues that arise will give you more potential opportunities to make a difference for future generations,” she said.
Being the mother of a teenage girl, she said, also inspired her to pay attention to the welfare and safety of children, especially after giving her daughter an electric bike for her 13th birthday and then learned how often they are cited in accidents.
“I didn’t realize I was giving him the keys to a car,” she said. “There are so many responsibilities that go into all of this. There are so many things that people don’t understand or know [about e-bikes].”
So she partnered with Laguna Niguel police, local hospitals and an injury prevention center to push forward what she called an e-bike action plan to educate the public. , especially students and parents, about e-bike traffic rules, violations and consequences of getting a citation before the age of 16.
“I really think what sets me apart from a lot of other candidates is my relationship with law enforcement,” she said.
Her background and connections to the PTA also gave her better access to the community, she said.
Besides the e-bike action plan, the potential sale of the Ziggurat building, which was built by the federal government in the 1960s for military purposes, would be another focus, she said, if it were elected.
The city plans to work with the federal government to repurpose the building, although no decision has yet been made.
According to Caldwell, the building was the epicenter of Laguna Niguel’s growth.
“They started to build houses for the families of the soldiers who worked in the establishment. This is how Laguna Niguel was born,” she said.
She said community awareness was important during the repurposing of the Ziggurat. Some residents, she said, she spoke with suggested a skating rink or roller rink.
“If we engage the community,” she said. “We’ll have residents potentially happy rather than upset that, one, they didn’t know, or two, something was done that they absolutely didn’t want,” she said.
She also said she was focusing on the impending demolition of a library in the city’s downtown area, which the city plans to rebuild with the development of apartments and retail stores.
“It’s going to end up being our own downtown,” she says.
This new development, she said, will encourage young families to move to the city.
We will have future generations to carry on,” she said.
Caldwell has over 20 years of legal experience and served as COO of a local law firm.
She said her experience will help ensure Laguna Niguel’s financial stability.
She praised city officials for establishing a solid financial foundation for the city.
“We are debt free, which I find incredible,” she said.
Caldwell also said working with current elected officials also prepared her to serve on the board.
She said fieldwork for Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) helped her understand the legislative process and she welcomed more than 30 new businesses to the city on the senator’s behalf.
She said at a recent groundbreaking ceremony that the owner of a new nail salon told her she was looking forward to giving back to the community.
“It’s so great to see businesses thrive,” she said. “I think if we have more companies with the same mindset, we can continue to be successful in the future.”
In her spare time, Caldwell said she enjoys gardening and spending time with her daughter on thrift store trips.
She said running for city council is not a stepping stone for her and she is just a resident who wants to serve.
“I have been so involved in the community that I don’t want there to ever be a disconnect between our local government and our community members,” she said. “I love my community, I love my city and I want to call it home forever.”
Campaign finance disclosure documents show that she raised more than $8,000 from January 1, 2021 to the end of June 2022 and provided a personal loan of $1,000 to her campaign.