San Fernando voters have elected a new council representative. Hector Pacheco will join two incumbents, Mayor Sylvia Ballin and Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez who have been re-elected to serve a third term.
Councilmember Jaime Soto, who was also up for re-election, did not win another term.
Pacheco’s win was a surprise to Lopez’s camp, which put its resources on Yvonne Mejia Peña. Lopez and Mejía Peña ran on the same ticket; Lopez, who has described himself as “pro-development,” picked Mejia who was in sync with his position and ran on a “pro-business” platform.
But Mayor Ballin, who endorsed Pacheco, successfully received the most votes and helped to give a leg up to her preferred candidate.
Pacheco, an entertainment attorney with a practice in Pasadena, is a new name at City Hall although in his campaign statement he described himself as a life-long city resident with roots in San Fernando over a span of three generations.
Julian Ruelas, a city resident who has previously been politically active, held an election night gathering for Lopez and Mejia and said he wasn’t familiar with Pacheco previous to the campaign.
Others made similar comments, including candidate David Bernal who said he first met Pacheco while canvasing voters.
Ballin, however, said she first met Pacheco during the high-speed rail protests and later found that they agreed on key issues for her including: not contracting the Los Angeles County Sheriff to patrol San Fernando, (which was being advocated by Soto), regulating the city’s development , and keeping storefront marijuana dispensaries out of the city.
Ballin, in an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, acknowledged her endorsement was influential in his election but also gave Pacheco much credit for campaigning and knocking on more than a thousand doors.
“When I met him and chose to endorse him, I knew he would put the work into it,” Ballin said.
Pacheco will replace Soto, who received only 840 votes. Mejia received 1,211 and Bernal 795 votes.
Bernal, a city commissioner, gathered with his supporters at his home, said he was proud of his campaign despite coming in last and optimistic for the city’s future.
“Overall, I couldn’t ask for more, other than the nomination,” he said. “Everybody who is in here helped out to some capacity, like, that’s awesome. I didn’t promise them anything. I didn’t pay them anything.”
One of Bernal’s supporters, chimed in that at least he disrupted the votes and contributed to insuring that Soto was not be re-elected. Bernal agreed, nodding his head, and said, “A win for the city is a win for me.”
Soto had been a loose cannon on the council since his election in 2015. During his rocky tenure, two lawsuits brought against the City — one for Soto’s violation of the Brown Act and another brought on by his former commissioner who accused him of sexual harassment. Ironically, he later would call to “stop the pillaging of the City’s general fund for frivolous lawsuit claims.”
Soto, known for shooting from the hip, was typically unprepared to aptly discuss pressing agenda items and for grandstanding about unrelated issues that included bio-terrorism, noise from ice-cream trucks and migraines that he said could be caused from a camera flash when attempting to take his photo for news coverage.
Soto had ties to former council members who were removed from office following a recall election, and was viewed as an extension of the city’s former scandals.
Measure A approved by voters
San Fernando voters also voted to keep a half-percent sales tax, known as Measure A.
Voters first approved the tax in 2013 as a temporary solution to prevent the city from going bankrupt. The tax has generated more than $8.1 million from the latest reports, however, and was previously set to expire in 2020.
Measure A will keep the flow of dollars going to the city coffers. One of the city’s top tax producers, Sam’s Club, closed its San Fernando store last January. After much debate, the council unanimously supported the extension of the tax and voters agreed Tuesday, with 68.11 percent saying “Yes” to keep the tax indefinitely. The tax will provide 15 cents for every dollar spent in the city.
City Manager Alex Meyerhoff said public safety, the City’s infrastructure, and development will be top priorities for the new council to consider.
While there will be several specific issues to consider, an obvious one for the council to ponder is the low voter turnout in the City of San Fernando. With a city population of 24,714, only 3,264 voted, which reflects 13 percent of the population. According to LAVote.com, there are 10,780 registered voters in the City.
Ballin noted that many young people who canvased on her behalf “were surprised to learn that there were some city blocks where there was only one registered voter.”
“I think this really opened their eyes,” she said.
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this story