D. Martinez / SFVS

The final vote in the race for three San Fernando City Council seats has been cast. The winners are newcomer Jamie Soto, and incumbents Mayor Sylvia Ballin and Councilmember Antonio Lopez.

“The city staff will continue to work with whoever is on the city council on the current projects and issues to the betterment of the community,” said City Manager Brian Saeki.

In the final count of provisional ballots, Soto — with 566 votes — soared past everyone including the incumbents to secure his post. Ballin was in second place with 550 votes. Lopez, with 519 votes, was third by a two-vote margin between him and Jesse Avila.

Typically when there is such a thin margin, there is a request for a recount. However, it is required that the individual making the request must pay for the recount in advance.

A request for a recount had not been received by City Hall.

City Clerk Elena Chavez said a special council meeting would be held on March 23 at 6 p.m. to certify the election results, swear-in the new council, and determine the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. The results must be certified by March 27, according to the state Election Code.  

The large win by Soto through provisional ballots has raised eyebrows and caused concern.

When Soto has come into the council chambers, he has brought his sister Mimi Soto, a former SEIU union representative for San Fernando. Soto was strongly criticized for telling City of San Fernando employees and SEIU members to take a second vote, when she didn’t like the outcome. 

“The concern is that closed-door sessions will not be kept private and it will be difficult to discuss personnel matters,” said one council member who did not want to be named in this article. “We may have a serious conflict of interest situation here.”

Suspicion increased on March 3 when Soto, with his sister, raced back into Chavez’ office to specifically inquire about the whereabouts of the provisional ballots.

“We ran a clean campaign,” said Jesse Avila whose camp opted not to use “hit pieces,” negative campaign literature about opponents.

He doesn’t blame Soto for his loss. When asked for comment, he said, “Go ask the Mayor.”  Avila accused Ballin of  “walking with Soto” during the campaign instead of supporting him, although he had no clear proof other than to say that “someone had told him that.”

Ballin maintains that she, in fact, did support Avila during the race and was planning to nominate him as the next Mayor. 

The win by Soto does break the three council-majority vote on the issue of affordable housing, which was the center topic during the council race. Lopez, Avila and Robert Gonzales had been steady proponents on this issue.    

“I expect all of us to conduct ourselves professionally. Over the next four years, we can accomplish great things for the city,” Ballin said.