The new city manager has held the same position in National City, Calif. since 2004. The coastal city of 60,000 located in San Diego County and situated near the border offers some of the same diverse demographics found in San Leandro.
Zapata also spent time as the deputy city manager of Glendale, Ariz. during the Phoenix suburb's dramatic rise a decade ago into a major league city consisting of a state-of-the-art sports complex that would later host the Super Bowl in 2008.
"Throughout his career in the public sector, Chris has built an extensive record of substantial accomplishments," said San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy.
Zapata's expertise in sports entertainment and business development followed him to National City. As city manager, he led a credible bid to lure the San Diego Chargers to his city. The plan later fizzled, although the Chargers are still without a new home.
"His skill-level was phenomenal," said Councilman Jim Prola. "I didn't see anything negative about him." Prola added he believes Zapata is someone all the public employee union can work with. The beginning of negotiations between the city and its police officers' union and city workers will likely be Zapata's first order of business.
The issue of local residence has been one of the community's top desires for its next city leader. Zapata says he plans on living in San Leandro. "It's important to me to not only serve the city for which I work, but to also become a part of that community," he said.
A second sticking point for many San Leandrans living in difficult economic time is the issue of salary. No details on Zapata's salary and employee benefits were given Thursday night. That information will be released next Wednesday, Cassidy said. The City Council will discuss and vote on approving Zapata's contract during its next meeting Jan. 17.
Many in the community were up in arms two years ago over the $202,000 salary of former city manager Stephen Hollister even though the figure was a bargain compared to neighboring East Bay cities. Zapata made $165,000-a-year in 2010 while not receiving a raise since 2004, according to online news accounts, including take a 10 percent pay cut in 2006 lasting six months.
There are indications Zapata's salary and benefits will be far more generous than the previous city manager. One councilmember indicated they will speak out against the contract during the next council session.
Zapata's intention to search for new employment has been evident over the past two years, but not without the full knowledge and blessing of his council in National City. "It's nothing personal," the mayor of National City told a San Diego newspaper two years ago. He was candidate for city manager in Stockton in early 2010 and was a finalist last May in Chandler, Ariz.
Although he was born and raised in Arizona, he has current ties to the Bay Area. His daughter is a psychiatrist in San Francisco and his son recently graduated from Stanford. Zapata is a graduate of Northern Arizona and also held municipal management positions in various Arizona cities such as Eloy, Superior and Goodyear during his 25 years in local government.