The political climate of Ceres grew more interesting on Thursday when Councilwoman Linda Ryno picked up nomination papers to run for mayor against Chris Vierra.
Ryno, who does not face council re-election this year, would not become a mayoral candidate until she files those papers by Aug. 7. When asked if she was serious about running for mayor, Ryno said in a statement: "I don't play games!"
Vierra, who is a civil engineer by trade, cruised to an easy mayoral election in November 2011 when he was unopposed. Vierra became mayor of Ceres by appointment in January 2011 after the resignation of Anthony Cannella to become a state Senator.
Since her election to the City Council in 2013, Ryno has established a reputation as a hard line fiscal conservative and shaker of the status quo who has bristled some staff members. Some insiders believe Police Chief Art deWerk's departure was due to Ryno, who led the charge to disavow the city's affiliation with a NAACP health clinic, one of his pet projects.
Vierra, a lifelong Ceres resident, also has voted on issues as a fiscal conservative and has been bold to speak his mind in his protest of state mandates.
Two seats on the Ceres City Council and the office of mayor are up for grabs this Nov. 3.
If Ryno were to defeat Vierra, her council seat would have to be abandoned and filled by appointment.
Thus far, all three incumbents have picked up nomination papers. Vierra is expected to run for re-election, as are incumbent Councilmembers Mike Kline and Bret Durossette. Durossette also has the appointed title of vice mayor.
Council seats and the mayor's term are for four years.
Planning Commissioner Hugo Molina said on Monday that he is planning to take his third stab at running for City Council.
The candidate nomination filing period ends at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 7. The deadline will be extended to Aug. 12 for offices where the incumbent has not filed. Candidates must be a registered voter residing anywhere within the Ceres city limits. Sample ballots will be mailed to registered voters Sept. 24 to Oct. 13. Regular vote by mail ballots will be sent Oct. 5-27, which is also the processing period. Those who plan to vote in the Nov. 3 election but yet are not registered to vote have until Oct. 19 to register.
Elected members will take office on Dec. 4.
At the Nov. 4 polls, Ceres voters will be asked whether or not the city should elect councilmembers within districts instead of at-large. Officials say that even if the voters reject the measure, the city may be forced to make the switch to avoid a costly voters' rights lawsuit. Cities and school districts in the state have been forced to abandon at-large elections by Hispanic groups who assert that they violate the 2002 California Voters Rights Act. Certain Latino groups believe that districts make it easier for minorities to be elected to local office, a claim that has proven questionable.
At least one of the proposed council districts has been carved to create a majority of registered Latino voters. That seat is now occupied by Ryno, who protested the grouping of her home north of Ceres High School with neighborhoods west of Highway 99. Kline also opposes the way the districts have been drawn, saying his home in central Ceres has been corralled with an area of southwest Ceres.
The soonest council district elections would take place would be in 2017 when the council terms of Ryno and Ken Lane are up for grabs. The first full district election would take place in 2019.
The office of mayor will continue to be elected at-large.
The council terms of Ryno and Ken Lane ends in 2017.
Three seats are open on the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees. As of Tuesday, incumbent Faye Lane is the lone candidate in Trustee Area 4. Trustee Area 1 board trustee Jim Kinard is thus far unchallenged and incumbentTeresa Guerrero is the lone candidate for the Trustee Area 7 seat.
Also in November, Ceres voters will be asked for permission to increase the current Transient and Occupancy Tax (TOT) rate of five percent to 10 percent. Because the city is not specifying a certain use for the new taxes - they would go into the general fund - the measure would pass with a simple majority vote.
The last time voters weighed in on the issue was in 2002 when they rejected a proposed increase of the TOT to 8 percent by a margin of 45 percent to 55 percent.
Most cities in California have hotel tax rates of between 7 and 10 percent tax, with the exception of Anaheim which capitalizes on Disneyland visits with a 15 percent rate and Mammoth Lakes which charges 12 percent. Modesto and Turlock charges a TOT rate of nine percent.
The Ceres TOT - which was established in 1964 and last changed in 1971 - generates about $70,000 annually for the city with the number peaking to $91,000 in the 2005-06 fiscal year before the economic downturn put a serious dent in travel and tourism. City Manager Toby Wells said a five percent increase would bring in an extra $70,000.
Keyes voters will be electing three school board members in areas 1, 4 and 5. They will also be electing two members of the Keyes Community Services District board and four members of the Keyes Municipal Advisory Council (MAC).
Monterey Park Tract outside of Ceres will be electing two members of the Community Services District.
Voters in the Ceres Fire Protection District outside the Ceres city limits will be electing two board members.
Hughson Fire Protection District will be electing three board members.
Voters in the rural Westport Fire Protection District will be electing three board members.