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Getting to know coach, Ceres Vice Mayor Bret Silveira
• Silveira has been in Ceres longer than any other council member
Bret Silveira vice mayor
Bret Silveira believes he has made good decisions for Ceres after studying the issues that come before the Ceres City Council. He was a long-time coach and referee before he applied to be on the Ceres Planning Commission and later run for City Council in 2020. - photo by Jeff Benziger

(Editor’s note: Ceres Courier editor Jeff Benziger sat down with Ceres City Vice Mayor Bret Silveria in the council’s office at the City Council Chambers on April 18 to ask about a myriad of issues. Silveira represents Council District 3, which is primarily in the northeast section of Ceres. He was elected in 2020 and faces re-election this November).

CC:  Where you were born?

Silveira: Modesto.

CC: How did your family decide to settle in Ceres?

Silveira: I was in the sixth grade, I believe, when I moved here. My mom was single and met my stepfather. We lived on Olivero (Road) off of Crows Landing. I spent the first half of my sixth grade year at Westport (Elementary School) and then we moved into town on Ninth Street when my parents got married. Then we attended Walter White, Mae Hensley and Ceres High. 

CC: So your parents divorced?

Silveira: My parents divorced when I was four. We had six kids and my parents and we found a big house on Ninth Street that was five bedroom, five bathrooms.

CC: So what number child are you?

Silveira: I’m kind of in the middle. I’ll be 60 next month. I have a 62-year-old sister and then two younger brothers. I have two younger stepbrothers, a year and two years younger than me … a stepsister that’s 62 and then my two blood brothers are 64 and 66.

CC: Tell us about your family and growing up years in Ceres.

Silveira: Considering we were a blended family, it was fantastic. My stepfather, Paul Laffoon was the president of the Booster Club at Ceres High for probably over 20 years. My mom was the treasurer for the same amount of time. My mom was the appointed city clerk in Ceres and then she was the first elected city clerk after it became an elected position.

We all played sports at Ceres High. There was probably one or two of us at Ceres High for 10 or 12 years and we all played sports. We were all involved with everything.

I played for George Costa when I was 12.

CC: What was your favorite sport?

Silveira: I really didn’t have a favorite. I played baseball until I got to high school and then I played football, basketball and tennis. So Phil de la Porte – who’s a good friend and mentor of mine – I decided not to play baseball. I was kind of burned on of it after Pony League – we called it Pony League back then – and he said, “Well then you’re going to play tennis.” I told him “I don’t know anything about tennis.” He goes, “Don’t worry. You’re an athlete. I’ll teach you how to play tennis.” It was the best decision I ever made. I ended up playing four years of varsity tennis and made it to the Section final match my senior.

CC: What year did you graduate?

Silveira: 1982.

Courier: You are well known as a coach in Ceres. What sports have you coached and what got you into coaching?

Silveira: I started coaching freshman football at Ceres High when I was 19, the next year out of high school. Then I ended up coaching varsity for like 16, 17 years.

Courier:  Did you go to college?

Silveira: I did not.

CC:  So you went right into what jobs?

Silveira: I worked a few different jobs. I worked in data entry at Modesto Tallow factory when I applied at the Sheriff’s Office.

CC:  So you served with the Sheriff’s Department as a deputy?

Silveira: Yeah, short of 32 years.

CC: Were you on patrol?

Silveira: No I started out in the jail, worked there for a little over 15 years. I had several different assignments. In my almost 32 years I didn’t spend a lot of time working regular uniform duty anywhere I was. Three different times I had an operations deputy position which was basically running facilities on the day-to-day operations, coordinating with maintenance, contractors, whatever

I have a long history of officiating (as a referee) and coaching got me the position of the deputy director of the Police Activities League, the PAL program.  There’s 51 sites around Stanislaus County that include after school programs, eight or nine youth sports leagues, community center drop-in programs, all over the county, 10,000 to 12,000 kids go to those programs.

CC: So you knew (slain Deputy) Dennis Wallace? 

Silveira: I did. I refereed with him too.

So I referee high school and college football and basketball, baseball. This is my 40th year. I’ve had a great career. I worked Division 1 college baseball for several years; Division II basketball. I still work junior college basketball to this day. I just recently retired from junior college baseball. So now I do high school football, basketball and baseball and girls’ flag football and then college basketball.

CC: What prompted you to want to serve on the Planning Commission?

Silveira: Fifteen, 18, 20 years ago several people asked me if I’d be interested in running for the Ceres Unified School District Board and it just wasn’t the right time. So I always considered some kind of public service.

Then the position on the Planning Commission became available and some of my friends – Bret Durossette and some of the others – said “You should put your name in the hat for Planning Commission.”  It just seemed to make sense so I did.

CC:  Were you following city politics and the issues before you were appointed?

Silveira: Not as probably as in detail. I mean, what you would write is probably what I would know like most of the people who get into this. Maybe a little bit more than the average with my mom’s history here as city clerk and understood a little bit of how it worked back then.

CC: Do you have family?

Silveira: I was married for 30 years. I have a son (Carter) that’s 32 and a daughter who’s 23 and getting ready to graduate from Stanislaus (State). My daughter (Halli) lives with me and my son lives in Ceres as well – actually in Eastgate. 

CC: Why did you run for City Council?

Silveira: Tons of people came to me once he (Bret Durossette) decided to run for mayor and vacate District 3. It seemed like I had the support of the people in my district.

CC: What would you say is the biggest problem facing Ceres?

Silveira: It’s an issue everybody is dealing with and that is keeping employees in Ceres and finding enough revenue and being creative enough to make their wages competitive so we’re not training everybody else’s employees and then they leave. We just have to make sure we’re spending money correctly which is what we’re doing.

I think this is a wonderful place to live. With all of our recent development and potential development in the next 10 years, this is far from a problem in Ceres. There’s a lot worse off places financially you can be as a city councilman than Ceres.

If you think about up until the last four or five years, there was nothing new in Ceres for 30 years. Well, now with all of our new commercial and retail development and then our residential and commercial and retail prospects for the near future I think we’re going to be okay.

Nobody’s going to work here, to speak of. People work here in small jobs but no high-paying jobs are in Ceres. This is going to be some place people live, raise their families and probably work someplace else. It is what it is.

My goal is to make it the best place to raise a family. If you’re not going to work here, you want to live here because of our great recreation programs, our community events are second to none, I believe, with Street Faires and Concerts in the Park and all the different things we do, balloon festival and Halloween and Easter, Christmas Tree Lane.

We have a great, award-winning school system that is top notch. We’re putting a lot of resources into our parks right now … Smyrna Park and Guillermo Ochoa Park. We’re also putting in a new gazebo and do some work in Whitmore Park just after Concerts in the Park.

CC:  Do you enjoy being a councilmember?

Silveira: I do. I really do. If not me, then who? Somebody’s got to do it and if I’m interested and willing to educate myself and make good decisions for the community, why not me?

CC: There have been times you’ve been at odds with councilmembers. Does that affect your working relationships?

Silveira: I’ve never been at odds with any of our councilmembers. We don’t necessarily always agree but who does? How are you always going to get five people to agree on anything? Even though it seems like it may be in the public eye, I don’t look back and think any of the relations I’ve had with anybody on the council has been negative. You just don’t always agree and that’s fine. It’s good that we don’t always agree because skepticism and doubt is what makes us successful.

Courier:  Do you think this council is cohesive?

Silveira: Yeah, pretty much. We’ve sat through some craziness. When I first got here it looked nothing it does now. We’re much more on the same page now as we were then. But most of the time when we come out of a room whether it’s 5-0 or 3-2 or 4-1, that’s what it is and we move on.

I think that’s all you can really ask for when you have a group of five different people from five different worlds …just citizens that have been asked to lead our city. None of us are professional politicians. We’re all learning on the fly and making the best decisions we can. We rely so much on our city staff. 

CC:  When you were running for council four years ago, we asked you to give a letter grade to the council. You said an A minus. What kind of grade would you give this council now and why?

Silveria: It would probably be a B plus or A minus only because it would be nice to agree and have more 5-0 votes but that’s really not the way it is. But to be an “A” or “A plus” means everything is perfect.

CC: Councilman James Casey doesn’t believe the city has good communication with citizens. Is that a concern of yours?

Silveira: There’s never been a more difficult time to disseminate information. The problem is everybody has a different platform where they get their information. Focusing on hypertargeting your audience is huge. Well how do you do that in a city of 50,000 when every decade has a different way they get their information?

CC:  Have you cast any votes that you regret?

Silveira: No. Part of my success has always been research and I’ll never give an opinion off the top of my head without telling you this is just what’s thinking off the top of my head but following it up with some research. When we have an issue, I research it. When we have new hires and interviews for department heads or city manager, I delve deep, deep, deep in their background.

(At this point, Silveira highlighted his recent lone vote against an appeal of a gas station/car wash project next to the Flyers gas station. He said he was guided by logic and not emotion in being opposed to the appeal of a prior approval. He explained that government should not stand in the way of a proposed business if the zoning allows such a use, even if it’s a similar business sitting right next to the other).

CC:  How do you keep your finger on the pulse of your district?

Silveira: I drive around my district on a daily and weekly basis. Sometimes you go with the “no news is good news” philosophy. If I see things or hear things in my district I try to address them immediately, whether they’re small things like somebody’s parking in the wrong spot or we need our park finished. 

CC:  I was going to ask you if you hear from constituents, and what issues they bring to you.

Silveira:  Very little, especially since we – I heard most about the Guillermo Ochoa Park and once that’s under construction, I don’t get a lot. But you know, also my district is composed of middle class to upper middle class so it’s not where you’re going to see like ‘hey we don’t have any sidewalks and gutters.’ I live in the newest district with the nicest parks.

Courier:  You pushed harder than anyone on the council to finish Ochoa Park, which is in your district. ARPA funds were used as were funds reallocated from unfinished Lions Park in Casey’s district. Casey wasn’t pleased that his park was robbed of its funding. What would you tell the folks in north Ceres who are upset that they have a much longer wait for Lions Park to be completed?

Silveira: I can understand their frustration. Guillermo Ochoa Park probably would have been finished without the River Bluff Park project. So in basically the same thing that happened to Lions Park, the money was taken from Ochoa Park to help finish River Bluff Park. Similar situation.

Do I believe that at some point in time Lions Park will come to fruition? I 100 percent do. I think that’s the next obvious project when it comes to outdoor spaces and parks.

I believe if Ochoa Park had never been started it might be different now. But the fact that the previous council put some resources toward it … it basically put that park ahead of the rest of them. We were fortunate to have some ARPA funds to put towards to Ochoa Park. That’s going to be a beautiful park when finished. Is local, state and federal government known for taking money from one project to another? I don’t think that’s a secret. Is it always right? No, but sometimes it’s necessary.

(Silveira noted that when people purchased homes in Eastgate they were told they would have a neighborhood park and 25 years later there is yet to be a finished park).

CC: You have not been shy in calling out the city for the misaligned entrances to the two shopping centers on Service Road, saying it’s dangerous and saying the city should pay for that error.  It seems like an example of bad planning which the taxpayers may end up paying for. What has or will be done to resolve concerns you have with that misalignment?

Silveira: First of all, the misalignment wasn’t a city error. I dug pretty deep into this. There was some state Caltrans DOT requirements as how far a signal light can be next to the next signal light next to a main thoroughfare. The Gateway Center entrance couldn’t be built across from the Walmart entrance, legally. That’s why it’s not. Because it would be right where Chipotle is, if you think about it.

CC: But when they planned the Walmart center they could have put the signal light there to align with the Ceres Gateway Center entrance.

Silveira: The Gateway Center had become a dead project until Daniel Ogden took it back over and Walmart’s design, taken into account the space they wanted out in front for the two open areas – that are hopefully going to develop sooner rather than later.

I do still feel it’s dangerous. We’re in very, very positive discussions with Walmart of potentially moving the entrance to Walmart. The city manager has been very on top of these discussions with Walmart. Do I hope it’s going to happen? 100 percent. Do I think it’s going to happen? 80 percent.

The way people drive, who are negligent, could cause a fatality that I’m not willing to have on my time so whatever it takes to fix that. And it just makes more sense to have them aligned. If it wasn’t a dangerous thing I probably wouldn’t have brought it up but I’ve seen it myself, people almost several crash.

CC: You called for a study for a new City Hall. Where is that at?

Silveira: Well, going through the city manager process, letting somebody go, getting a new one (it was delayed). This is something that’s not going to happen overnight obviously. But it’s necessary. We’ve reached out to other areas. We’re trying not to reinvent the wheel to figure out how they did it, how they paid for it – how they we’re able to manage that big building – we’re probably talking $50 million to $60 million in financing over a long period of time. We’ve asked some citizens to be a committee to provide input. It’s kind of leveled out right now. There’s other issues to worry about, we’re talking negotiations, it’s budget time so things like a city hall, which is 100 percent needed, probably takes a back burner for now.

CC: You feel a new City Hall is needed and not just a want?

Silveira: No, 100 percent needed. It goes back to what we talked about. We’ve got to keep city staff. Working conditions and environment are higher on people’s priority list than, I think, the public realizes. The public may not agree and think there’s nothing wrong with that (City Hall). They also don’t work there every day and see how people are working on tables in the corner. Everything has a shelf life and it’s pretty obvious to me that City Hall’s shelf life has run out.

CC: Residents have complained Ceres gets a lot fast-food, gas stations and car washes. How can Ceres attract something residents have wanted to see here, such as the national sit-down restaurants, retailers besides Walmart and recreational uses like bowling alleys or theaters or indoor sporting venues? Is there hope for Ceres?

Silveira: That’s a tough one. The city doesn’t build businesses. We only try to recruit them to come to our city by offering what we have.  Those companies need to look at our demographics and our size which is probably the number one thing to figure out if they want to come here. I believe we do a pretty good job, our pitch to those companies.

Whether a town of our size can support an indoor or an indoor and outdoor sports facility, I don’t know. Developers have to decide that. We can only give them the opportunity, make it easy for them. 

I’ve never heard anything but the city makes it very easy for people to come here and open a business. My belief is – this is what I know – that it started with (former city manager) Tom Westbrook. He was an advocate for “do whatever it takes to get them to come here, make sure they’re not waiting for us.” We use the county for plan checks and things like that, things out of our control but our part, make sure it happens quick and it’s clean and make them want to tell some other business owners that, hey, Ceres is a great place to open up a business and I believe we do that. We don’t hear very many complaints about the bureaucracy of developing here in Ceres.

Courier:  If the mayor’s race only comes down to only Mayor Lopez and his challenger Troy Arrollo, will you be making an endorsement?

Silveira: I’ve told both of them I will not. One of them is gonna win and I have to live with them and I want to be able to have a healthy relationship with them. It doesn’t matter to me who wins the mayor’s race; it matters to me to have Ceres a great place to raise your family.

Courier:  Were you surprised to hear that you have an opponent for your re-election bid?

Silveira: No, I heard early on Cerina (Otero) was going to run. I helped her get on Measure H (Committee). I think she’s young, intelligent, smart. I told her I wish we lived in two different districts because I’d love both of us to be on the council at the same time. That’s not the case. She has an interest and it’s good that she’s willing because people aren’t always willing. I’d like to think that I’ll win because of the record I have since I’ve been here

Courier:  Do you any desires to run for mayor some day?

Silveira: I would never say that I wouldn’t run for mayor. I don’t have a specific desire, just like I never really had a desire to run for City Council until the people, especially in my district, asked me to run. I mean, I love this but I don’t need it in my life; I don’t mean that in a bad way.

CC: Well, in four and a half years you’ll probably be done with it?

Silveira: Who knows? I mean, I think I’ll be done with it, honestly. I’m going to travel. My daughter will be out of college. But I would never say never because I don’t know what I’m going to do in four years. It took me four or five months recently to decide if I was going to run this time just because I try not to make hasty decisions.

I put the word out that I was thinking about it. I have yet to hear one person say that I shouldn’t. Most of them are basically demanding that I do, which makes me feel good, makes me feel what I’ve done in my three and a half years is right for our community.

It would have been nice to not have anybody in the race. Then you don’t have to go and try to beg people for resources. I don’t mind the campaign part.