Both San Fernando Mayor Joel Fajardo and opponent Celeste Rodriguez have waited since Nov. 3 for all the votes from the 2020 election to be counted and verified for a four-year term on the City Council because their race was too close to call earlier.
The results were finally certified by the Los Angeles County Clerk’s office on Monday, Nov. 30, and Rodriguez was officially declared the winner.
Rodriguez finished with 3,253 votes, while Fajardo finished with 3,229 votes.
“Everything about this election was so different because of COVID-19,” said Rodriguez, who was running for the council for the first time. “But, especially with San Fernando, every vote truly counts and I think it was good we waited until the very end” for the final results.
Other election winners joining current council members Sylvia Ballin and Hector Pacheco are Cindy Montañez — the largest vote getter (3,774) among the four candidates running for the two four-year term seats — and Mary Mendoza, who defeated David Bernal in the race for the two-year-term.
The full council will be sworn in at its Dec. 7 meeting.
Rodriguez, 30, who works for the Los Angeles city’s Housing and Community Investment Department, said chief among her goals for San Fernando is aiding local business owners here who continue to be adversely impacted by the health pandemic caused by the coronavirus.
“I think most important to me is how we’re going to support our small businesses,” Rodriguez said. “We’re on another ‘stay-at-home’ shutdown for the next three weeks…and businesses are struggling. I want to work with the council to help support [those businesses] because they are so important to our local economy.”
She said she is also encouraged by the prospect of the City possibly being able to offer public WiFi.
“It’s clear it’s really needed for everyone,” she said. “In LA, I got to work on [providing] WiFi for Skid Row. It was a really unique project; even when I was running for the council, my team and I talked about universal WiFi (for San Fernando). It’s exciting that the council is gonna be supportive in making sure we’re getting everyone that resource.
“But there are other things we can do….to build the groundwork for our next generation in our community. [People are] struggling right now, but we can be in a better place if we work toward getting people there.”
Her planned wedding to former San Fernando Councilmember Robert Gonzales was postponed because of the pandemic — “we want to do it with our family and friends present” — but Rodriguez is eager to get started, and stated firmly that her views regarding City policy and legislation will be her own.
“As people get to know me — and those who already do — they’ll know I very much have my own voice and my own ideas,” Rodriguez said.
Fajardo, 37, was first elected in 2012 and served three terms on the council and was the City’s first openly gay mayor. He said he could accept the final vote total, but felt his campaign had been unduly influenced “by numerous attack ads” against him.
But, Fajardo said, he was proud that the City’s finances are in “much better shape” now than when he first took office.
“When I started in 2012, the finances were in shambles. And now we have surpluses of more than $1 million,” Fajardo said.
He is also grateful for the opportunity he had to meet and talk with “hundreds of residents” during his time in office. And Fajardo still expects to stay actively involved in the growth and development of the City of San Fernando even as a private citizen.
He said he won’t close the door on another, future run at a council seat. But, for now, Fajardo plans to take a moment to relax and enjoy the upcoming holidays with family.