The makeup of the San Fernando City Council could undergo a radical makeover in the upcoming 2020 election as voters will decide three of the five council members on Nov. 3.
Four candidates — Magaly Colelli, incumbent Joel Fajardo, former councilmember and Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez and Celeste Rodriguez — are running for the two available four-year terms. The top two vote-getters will join the council.
The other race is for a two-year term. The seat is currently held by Mary Mendoza, who is being challenged by David Bernal.
The Former Commissioner
David Bernal, an AT&T technician, is a former city transportation and safety commissioner, as well as a planning and preservation commissioner. He previously ran for the City Council in 2018, albeit unsuccessfully, but was not discouraged.
If elected, Bernal said he has a definite project in mind.
“Two years is not a lot of time to get a lot of things accomplished. But one thing we talked about having a few years ago was an Arts Commission, and having a mural project in the City of San Fernando,” Bernal said.
“To me, it puts a ‘dot’ on the map where our city is because even today, in 2020, when I tell people I live in San Fernando they don’t know there is a City of San Fernando. We have the Metro link that runs through our City to the Sylmar station, and it passes some of our industrial buildings where there’s graffiti and weeds. If we put a mural project there, it might make people get off the train and want to see what’s going on here.”
The Business Owner
Magaly Colelli, who co-owns and operates Magaly’s Tamales and Mexican Grill with her husband retired San Fernando police Lt. Chris Colelli, is another first-time office seeker. She has long time connections to San Fernando’s police department.
“I’ve always been very ‘pro-police,’ way before my husband,” she said. “This is one of the reasons I love our city. Because we are a small city, with our own City Hall and our own police department, whenever we need anything it gets done.
“I feel like a lot of the residents in our City, for the most part, are thankful we have our own police department, and are not following in the same footsteps of other cities [reducing police budgets].”
“I have friends and people in the community who have asked me to run and be a part of the council in the past,” Colelli said. “I was asked again this year. I thought, ‘you know what, why not give it a chance.’ If it’s meant to be, then I’ll be on the City Council.”
If elected, Colelli wants to encourage more small businesses to come into the City.
Mayor Joel Fajardo said he is running again “to continue the progress” he feels the City has made in the “transparency” of government. Fajardo is a real estate agent.
“I think we’ve seen [more progress here] in all aspects of government since 2012 — whether it is related to the City’s finances or related to City Hall,” Fajardo said.
If returned to council, Fajardo said he is eager to get back to working on an issue that motivates his desire to run again.
“My first priority when I was elected in 2012 was putting a plan together to make sure we have a financial plan for all of the City’s unfunded liabilities,” he said. “My goal is to ensure that the City…has a plan in place that accounts for all future costs the City could incur, and that we have the funding for it.”
A Second Incumbent
Mary Mendoza, who was appointed by the council to complete the unfinished term of former Councilmember Antonio Lopez after he resigned in 2019, speaks proudly of her family having lived here in the City for five generations and that she is running for office because she wants to see it continue to prosper.
Mary, a retiree has been an active member of the La Palmas Senior Citizen Club. During her most recent time on San Fernando’s council she has represented the city on the Los Angeles County Library Commission.
“I love the City of San Fernando,” Mendoza said. “I want to preserve the City’s charm. And I want to help maintain its financial stability and keep a balanced budget, so we can continue to invest in our future.”
The Former Assemblywoman
Cindy Montañez has been on the San Fernando city council before from 1999 through 2002, and during this time she served on the council at the same time with her sister Maribel de la Torre. She left the council seeking a higher office and was elected to the state Assembly, representing the 39th District. She also ran for the Los Angeles City Council and state Senate but was not elected.
After organizing a 2015 protest against the city for its mishandling of chopping down mature trees on Brand Blvd., Montañez became the CEO of the nonprofit organization TreePeople. She believes in “bringing a renewed vision and plan for the city’s downtown with more restaurants, movie theaters and resources residents have been asking for.”
“This is the time more than ever I can utilize my experience to bring additional resources into the city and work with the residents, business community to make sure businesses survive and people stay at home and have jobs,” Montañez added. She says if elected, she would serve the full four year term.
The Community Developer
After two terms on the City Council, Robert Gonzales decided not to run again. But, another member of his household decided to throw her hat into the ring.
Celeste Rodriguez, Gonzales’ fiancé, is running for political office for the first time. She believes her work in Community Development Strategies for the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office gives her plenty to offer to the city of San Fernando. She is also the daughter of Ruben Rodriguez, the Executive Director of the San Fernando based nonprofit Pueblo y Salud. She also worked previously at San Fernando’s Parks and Recreation Department along with Robert Gonzales.
“I can make an impact on basic services with my background managing large budgets, bringing grants, being innovative and just making the city stable,” Rodriguez said.
She said she will focus on economic stability for business and residents, on how they can access grants and loans through the county, and “ensuring everyone knows the resources available to them.” She said she wants to work on providing more programming for families, kids and individuals, including more bilingual services, ESL classes and childcare and improving the walkability within the city.
Amid this pandemic, candidates will have to find new ways to campaign. San Fernando City Manager Nick Kimball said right now, candidates will not be allowed to engage voters directly by knocking on doors, although the city is still awaiting more information that could change candidates campaign guidelines.
Ballots Being Mailed to Homes
Registered voters will receive ballots by mail, even though US Postal officials are warning that states may not be able to meet deadlines for delivering last-minute mail-in ballots. The increased demand comes at a time when the Postal Service is undergoing cuts to its operations.
Current postmaster general Louis DeJoy had ordered cuts to overtime for postal workers, restrictions on transportation and the reduction of the quantity and use of processing equipment at mail processing plants, but suspended all changes on Tuesday, Aug. 18. DeJoy had said the cuts were to “modernize” the money-losing agency and make it more efficient.
At press time it is still being determined whether the voting centers will be open from four days to 10 days before Nov. 3. There will be designated “return by mail” boxes for those ballots — both in voting centers and designated locations throughout the City — and the ballots will be collected daily or every other day by county personnel.
In addition a tracking system, either via text messages or phone calls, will be available for those who want to follow the journey of their ballot through the mail.
People could still vote in person on Nov. 3 if they so desire, but must first surrender the ballot that was mailed to them at their voting center.