The election to decide three seats on the San Fernando City Council had perhaps a clear incumbent winner, a robust showing by one of the three challengers, and an unexpected tie between two of the incumbents.
But the election, held Tuesday, May 3, is not over.
Mayor Sylvia Ballin received 473 votes, the most among the six candidates running for office.
Challenger Jaime Soto had the second highest total, 445 votes. Incumbent council members Jesse Avila and Antonio Lopez are tied with 437 votes each.
Others receiving votes were Pilar Enriquez (327) and Yolanda Haro (310).
A total of 2,429 votes, and 973 ballots were cast. That represents 9 percent of the San Fernando City registered voter population.
An audible gasp could be heard from those watching inside the city council chambers when the final vote tally on Tuesday was posted on a large screen.
But City Clerk Elena Chavez then announced the election was not over.
Chavez said there are 209 provisional and vote-by-mail ballots left to be counted. They include ballots brought directly to one the four voting precincts in the city, or by persons at the precincts who could not remember if they had voted, but said they were registered and wanted to make sure they did cast a ballot.
After election officials confirm signatures, and make sure there are no two votes by the same person, the remaining ballots will be tallied. Chavez said a notice about the date and time of the second count has to be posted within 48 hours, and the announcement will be posted on the bulletin board outside of City Hall, as well as the city’s website.
Saturday, March 7, is the first date under consideration. But, Chavez said, officials have until March 27 to complete the election.
“I know everyone is anxious. I hoping to do it within a week. That’s the goal,” Chavez said.
Ballin watched the results at City Hall with her husband Gary. She may be the one incumbent assured of re-election and has plans regardless of the council’s final configuration.
“If the numbers stick, the priority is going to be the high-speed rail,” Ballin said. “I’m going to do everything I can to stop the high-speed rail from [being built through the city]. That is my number one priority going forward. And, of course, we have to keep doing everything we can to help the small businesses survive. That’s really critical to me.
“And what else do the residents want? They want the streets fixed, the trees trimmed, and that’s a priority as well,” she said.
When asked what impact Soto could have if he gains a council seat, Ballin replied, “Not one council member can ever forget that it takes three votes (for a decision). So I think what we all need to do is work together for the best of the city. That’s the bottom line — it takes three votes. And I’m willing to work with whomever is elected.”
Soto was not in the council chambers to watch the count, but paid a visit to the city clerk office immediately following the vote with his relative, former SEIU/San Fernando City rep Mimi Soto. They inquired about the remaining ballots and questioned their handling. This visit has now caused some scuttlebutt.
Also in the political wind are accusations of voter intimidation.
Soto’s campaign manager Chris Lopez said his candidate’s strong showing indicated the residents’ desire to shake things up.
“We worked pretty hard with limited funding. We walked door-to-door and talked with a lot of residents,” Chris Lopez said. “We wanted to get our message out and we think this is the result of that.
“We had a pretty favorable lead going in, and we’ve maintained a lead. It’s not a landslide, but we feel good about our chances [about the next count of the provisional ballots0.”
Antonio Lopez told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol (italics end) that he was somewhat surprised but added it was still a race.
“There were six candidates out there so I knew the vote would get spread out, and be tight,” the council member said. “But there are still a lot of votes out there. Hopefully they count them soon, we’ll find out and move on.”
Avila also did not attend the Tuesday election count in the council chambers. He opted instead to wait for the election result at the home of his campaign manager.
When contacted he said he had “mixed feelings’ regarding the results. He hoped he would remain in office after the final count took place to continue inroads he said he was making with prospective business investors.
“My concern is the business community I’ve been courting to come into the city whom will look at this, and the response could be ‘are you kidding?’” Avila said.
“But it’s not over, and those 200 votes will decide second and third. But the perception is out there that we’re back to our old games here. But let’s wait until it plays out.”
Although she did not win a seat, Haro said she considered “the process” a good experience.
“I learned a lot, and because of my campaign, I believe I was able to help wake up the community and I’m going to stay involved,” Haro said. “In the City of San Fernando there are five thousand people with special needs, yet there is not one service available to them. I know even though I’m not on the council, I can still work to change this.”
Residents observing the count also reacted to the results.
“I was surprised by Soto doing so well,” said Michael Remenih, an electronics engineer and a city commissioner. “I was for the incumbents. I think the original council worked pretty good together. I don’t think it will make that much difference [if Soto is elected].
Reminih said Soto spoke to him at his San Fernando residence. “I listened to him for about 10 minutes and I didn’t hear any specifics. I questioned him about a few things and he did not give me what I felt were honest answers to a couple of important issues. I felt he was pushing negatives. All the incumbents were pressing positive aspects of what they’ve been able to accomplish and looked they forward to accomplishing. Soto, everything I heard was negative. But sometimes that works.”
Longtime resident and former mayor Dr. José Hernandez said ultimately for him it doesn’t matter who is elected for the next council term.
“They will have to deal with what they have on the plate,” Hernandez said. “They have to deal with the budget, that is the main thing. They have to deal with trying to attract good businesses, revenues, jobs. They have to have revenues to fix the streets. They have to be loyal to the community, not to special interests.” This election marked a first for city manager Brian Saeki, who contended with requests to remove banners and countless rumors and allegations. “From staff’s perspective were are ready to work for whomever the electorate votes into office,” Saeki said.