For years, Mary Mendoza has been showing up at the San Fernando City Council meetings regularly to comment on agenda items, criticize projects or laud others.
And now she will have the opportunity to act on those agenda items.
On Monday Oct. 7, Mendoza was chosen by council members to fill the seat left vacant by the sudden resignation of Antonio Lopez last August. Her selection came after a lengthy interview process of each of the eight candidates who submitted applications.
“I’ve been attending these meetings wholeheartedly. I love this city and I will take the best decisions that benefit our residents,” said Mendoza after taking the oath of office, and joining the other council members on the dais.
Mendoza will serve until November 2020, when there will be three open City Council seats up for election. Two are for four-year terms, the other is a two-year term.
The City of San Fernando had the option of holding a special election for the vacant seat in March 2020, but declined to go that route since it would have cost $65,000.
All eight candidates were publicly interviewed for 20 minutes each at the meeting.
Mendoza, a retiree and member of Las Palmas Park Senior Club, becomes the second woman on the five-member municipal board.
In fact the other woman on the council, Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin, nominated Mendoza during the council’s second vote for the seat. No candidate garnered a majority on the first vote.
Mayor Joel Fajardo and Councilmember Hector Pacheco also voted for Mendoza. Councilmember Robert Gonzales voted for Yvonne Mejia Pena, an executive with SoCalGas and a past candidate for the City Council.
The other candidates included David Govea, a teacher, pastor Rudolfo Trujillo, business owner Angel Granados, Aida Montes, an office assistant, retail store manager Rachel Reyes, and John Phillips, a legislative analyst for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Some of them have served as city commissioners, had higher education degrees than Mendoza and offered more ideas when questioned by Councilmembers. Some also appeared more articulate than Mendoza, who seemed to hesitate in some of her responses and simply said she would rely on auditors and staff recommendations when questioned about specific issues such as employee contract negotiations and other contracts with the city.
During her interview, Mendoza – who was born and raised in San Fernando – said five generations of her family have lived in the City and her number one issue is “economic development.”
She also described herself as a “trustworthy and loyal person” who would “work for the city to prosper and thrive.”
Ballin lauded how often Mendoza has been attending City Council meetings, something that even Councilmember Gonzales noted, pointing out that Mendoza has an even better attendance record than some of the Councilmembers themselves.
“I think the thing that resonates with me is how much you’ve always been on the side of populism, on the side of the people,” Fajardo said of Mendoza.
Maritza Duarte from Las Palmas Senior Club described Mendoza as a “great human being because she’s helped us a lot in our club.”
One of Mendoza’s sons, who spoke in support of her candidacy, recalled many nights his mother has stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading the council meeting agenda and how often she speaks on behalf of others who don’t speak English or brings their issues to the City Council. He also said that his mom’s only apprehension before submitting her application was having to read the 600-page packet for the council meetings.
Now Mendoza can’t avoid reading those packets.
As councilmember, she will be paid $580 per month, receive a $300 a month automobile allowance, medical dental and vision insurance and a technology allowance to cover cell phone costs.
During Monday’s meeting, the council members approved a Veterans Recognition program consisting of banners showing the photos and names of veterans from the City.
The banners would be placed along Maclay Avenue and San Fernando Boulevard. There are currently 14 light poles that have brackets sufficient to hang the banners. Banners will be placed on those poles first.
The estimated cost to produce and install a double-sided banner is approximately $80 plus an additional $50 to purchase brackets for light poles.
The City is using $3,500 from the Independent Cities Financing Authority Community Outreach Program to fund the program, to be kicked off on Veterans Day, November 11.
No Decision on Changes to Measure “A” Review
After a 2-2 vote and harsh criticism from the public, the council tabled changes it had planned to make to the review process of Measure “A”, a 0.5 percent sales tax approved by voters to fund general city purposes.
Approved in the November 2018 election, the use of the funds raised by the tax were supposed to be reviewed by a Measure “A” Community Advisory Committee. However, Ballin and Fajardo had proposed instead to change it to a bi-annual Town Hall style Transparency Forum — a change that was not welcomed by city residents.
The council wanted to dismantle the oversight committee that would weigh in on how funds are implemented by the city, claiming such a committee is no longer needed given the municipality is no longer in the red and now has a "healthy surplus" of funds.
(According to City Manager Nick Kimball, the City of San Fernando’s estimated Operating Surplus in its General Fund for FY 2019-20 is now $665,000, and the preliminary General Fund reserve balance is projected to be more than $1.5 million once the audits are completed. The General Fund is the primary operating fund for the City, paying for the personal and operating costs for police, fire, public works, recreation, finance and administration.)
However, even Maria Carrillo, Councilmember Gonzales’ grandmother, called such a decision a “failure of trust” and a “terrible injustice to our city voters.”
Michael Remenih agreed and said that the oversight committee was one of the reasons the measure was approved by voters.
“This is a promise you made to us before the last election,” Remenih said.