The official candidate filing period isn’t over until next month but so far eight candidates are interested in two open seats on the Ceres City Council and the job as mayor.
One race in particular has become interesting with controversial social media posts of one potential candidate for Ceres City Council creating a buzz in local government circles.
Political newcomer Juan P. Vazquez, 34, who has pulled papers to become a candidate in Council District 3, shared posts recently on his Facebook page that were hash-tagged #BLM and #defundthepolice, writing: “The system isn’t broken, it’s working as designed. Time to reinvest into police not the prison industrial complex.”
Also collecting signatures to run for the Council District 3 seat are Ceres Planning Commissioner Bret Silveria and Ceres business owner Brandy Meyer. Others could enter the race as the filing deadline for that seat isn’t until Aug. 12 since incumbent Councilman Bret Durossette is running for mayor and not for council re-election.
When asked if he is for defunding police, Vazquez told the Courier: “I think that most people don’t understand the whole defund the police thing. I don’t think anyone is ever calling for police to promise to be 100 percent defunded. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. We do need police officers. They do protect our community but I would like to see reinvestment in our community and specifically the Latino community. There’s issues that need to be addressed, even in my neighborhood.”
He cited how landscaping has been neglected in the Eastgate area.
When pressed on whether he wants to see the council partially decrease police funding, Vazquez replied: “I wouldn’t say that I would like to see less officers on the streets; I just would like to see a re-prioritization of what we fund in our community, whether it’s by increasing taxes or I don’t know. I would love to see that when we build something, that we maintain it. For me my biggest thing is police accountability.”
Vazquez mentioned his reaction to the Aug. 18, 2018 fatal Ceres Police shooting of Carmen Mendez, the 15-year-old Hughson boy who ran from a car being pursed after occupants of that car flashed a gun at a Ceres park. The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office ruled the shooting by Officer Ross Bays as justified because Mendez appeared to stop after falling and picking up the gun while looking at Bays and continuing to flee despite orders to stop.
“For me, when he (Ross) unloaded his gun on a 15-year-old kid – when that happened my son was about 15 years old – I personally, that was very graphic, and I took that personally,” said Vazquez, a UPS driver who calls himself a “Democratic socialist” and “proud liberal” on his Facebook page. “I was like, ‘That could have been my kid right there.’”
Born in Mexico and a lifelong Valley resident who moved to Ceres in 2008, Vazquez said he’s running to serve hi community and wants to see more Latino representation on the council. His educational background includes an associate degree in Agriculture Business, bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Studies and a master’s degree in Business Administration.
One of Vazquez’s opponents, Bret Silveira, declined to comment on his Vazquez’s social media posts, saying, “I’m going to stay out of all that.” But incumbent Councilman Mike Kline, who is running in another race, balks at the concept of defunding police. He said he’s received multiple form emails from persons demanding he support the defunding of police and give the money to social programs. Kline said city money doesn’t get spent on social programs and said the millions spent by the county on social programs “haven’t made a dent anywhere.”
“I think our police force does an excellent job,” said Kline. “We have a very diverse police department. When I was high school in the seventies, it was predominantly white police officers. Now look at the diversity we have. Our police department has really transformed in 30 years.”
Silveira, 56, is a former coach and longtime resident of Ceres. He was appointed to a four-year term on the Ceres Planning Commission in January. A deputy with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for 29 years, he has served as the deputy director of the Stanislaus County Police Activities League for the past 14 years. Bret also coached varsity, JV and freshman football at Ceres High School from 1984 to 2004 and was a JV baseball coach from 1986 to 1988. As a “hobby,” Silveria has officiated high school and college sports for 36 years.
Silveira said he has the endorsement of Durossette, Mayor Chris Vierra, Councilman Mike Kline, the Ceres Police Officers Association and Supervisor Vito Chiesa.
Meyer, a member of the Soroptimist International of Ceres, the Ceres Beautification Committee and member of the Tuolumne River Regional Park Citizens Advisory Committee, ran for council in 2003. She also served on the Ceres Planning Commission.
“I want to help and give back to the community,” said Meyer, who raised five children in Ceres beginning in 1994. “Now three out of our eight grandchildren are here in Ceres as well.”
Meyer, who owns Meyer CPR & First Aid on Fourth Street and passionate about community service and volunteering, has a long record of community involvement. She served as a member of the Ceres Planning Commission, Ceres Chamber of Commerce board, the Ceres Unified School District Stakeholder Committee, Ceres Street Faire Committee, Ceres Centennial Committee, Ceres Water Tower Committee, Measure H Committee and Ceres High School Booster’s Club. She also was a youth director at Harvest Presbyterian Church and volunteer for Campus Life and Stand Together. Brandy also was previously a scout leader, Ceres Youth Baseball coach and Ceres Youth Soccer coach.
Eric Angel Gonzalez, an out-of-work 22-year-old Modesto Junior College political science major, is taking on District 4 seat occupied by Kline, who is seeking re-election. Also running is former Ceres Planning Commissioner Couper Condit, brother of Ceres City Councilman Channce Condit who is running for county supervisor.
Gonzalez wrote on his Facebook page: “We the people deserve so much more than what is being done for us by our current leaders, who by the way have done jack for my community.” He promised “relief and reform.”
“I’ve been seeing a lot of empty property lots and just things of that sort that have never been filled my entire life,” said Gonzalez, a 2016 graduate of Central Valley High School. “I intended to run because I wanted to see more development and investment in my community, especially with what’s been going on with the COVID and people being laid off, they’re not finding a lot of work.”
He called the city’s limitation on food trucks “backward thinking” and said allowing trucks would fill up vacant lots in Ceres. Gonzalez said he favors allowing more marijuana dispensaries in the city, calling cannabis the next “gold rush” despite a changing market that is seeing reduced revenues for the city from the existing cannabis businesses.
Gonzalez, who served as an intern in the Ceres office of the state Senator Anthony Cannella, said he will engage in a lot of door-to-door campaigning in an effort to campaign against two better known candidates in Kline and Condit.
While local office is non-partisan, Gonzalez said he recently switched parties from Republican to Libertarian because he disagrees with how President Trump’s administration has handled the coronavirus.
The Courier was unable to reach Couper Condit before press deadline. Condit served four years on the Ceres Planning Commission and was passed over for a reappointment earlier this year.
Kline said he decided to seek a third term on the council after losing his March primary bid to be elected to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.
“I honestly believe I’ve made a difference on the City Council,” said Kline. “I’ve been a good steward for the city. I am making the city accountable for the decisions that are being made. We have struggled budgetary wise over the course of the years, like since 2008 and we’re heading the right direction in being financially sound.”
Kline said he’s scared about “people getting on the City Council for the wrong reasons” and that he’s prepared to spend $5,000 to $8,000 on a campaign to retain his seat.
Councilman Durossette, 52, is hoping to take over the mantle of city leadership now that Mayor Chris Vierra is calling it quits at the end of the year. Thus far, the race is coming down to Durossette and political newcomer Javier Lopez.
Durossette, a popular Ceres High School PE teacher and former head varsity baseball and football coach, was appointed to the Ceres City Council to replace the late Rob Phipps in January 2008.
“Even though I came in green … it’s 13 years of experience now,” said Durossette, who as a member of the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority (SRWA) board which has impressed upon him the need to finish the water project.
He said he’s also experienced sitting on the StanCOG (Stanislaus Council of Governments) board. Durossette also said his experience and leadership skills are crucial as the city faces the fallout of the loss of business and sales taxes from the COVID-19 business shutdown imposed by the state and county. The city is also scrambling to find ways to make the budget work given the expected decrease in marijuana revenues .
“It’s just a matter of having that experience that I have that the other guy doesn’t,” said Durossette.
Lopez, 36, said his involvement as a coach for the freshman football at Central Valley High School for the past three years has prompted him to run for mayor. He said he wants to “bridge the gap” between city government and the people.
Lopez is employed as a fire suppression technician serving maintenance fire systems throughout the Bay Area.
“If there’s a way that I could possibly get people to be more involved in the community is one of my biggest goals,” said Lopez. “There is a sense of community that I believe that we can grow closer especially during these times of COVID. There’s a lot of people struggling out there right now.”
He said while he lacks governmental experience Lopez thinks he brings a wealth of leadership because of his occupational and coaching experiences.
“My goal has always been to push people to become better than what they are,” said Lopez.
Those intending to run for mayor, city council or city treasurer have until Aug. 7 to return their nomination papers to the city clerk. Nobody becomes an official candidate until their papers are returned filled out as the law requires and completed. Candidates must obtain and fill out nomination papers with the signatures of between 20 and 30 signatures of registered voters living within their district. Candidates are advised to get more than 20 signatures in case a “nominator” turns out to not be a registered voter. The city clerk handles nomination papers for city offices.
In some cases, candidates will have longer than Aug. 7 to file. If an incumbent in any given race fails to file for re-election, the nomination period will be extended until Wednesday, Aug. 12. Since Durossette is not seeking re-election to council, District 3 papers will be due on Aug. 12.
One person has expressed interest in running for city treasurer, a low-key job that has not attracted much interest in the past. In fact Harry Herbert has run unopposed for many elections and doesn’t want to continue serving. Sopheap Dong-Carreon, who has been an accountant with the city of Turlock for three years, pulled her candidate papers on July 14. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Cal State University, Stanislaus in 2014 and her master’s degree at National University in 2019.
Because there has been little interest in the job of city treasurer, the city tried to get the voters to pass Measure X in 2018 to fill the position by appointment. Current City Treasurer Harry Herbert wanted to step down at the end of his term in 2019 but agreed to serve another year until the Nov. 3, 2020 election. Ceres voters rejected Measure X by a margin of 6,952 votes, or 64.53 percent, to 3,821 yes votes, or 35.47 percent, wanting to have a say for an office that attracts little or no interest.
The California Government Code requires cities to have an elected or appointed city treasurer despite that most all of the city’s finances are managed by the Finance Director. The treasurer acts as an oversight, many times just providing a signature to documents.