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Rosalinda Vierra reflects on her time on City Council
• Q&A with Ceres lone city councilwoman
Rosalinda Vierra council
Rosalinda Vierra is the only woman to serve on the Ceres City Council. She was elected in November 2022 to fill the Council District 2 seat once occupied by Linda Ryno. She says she loves being a councilmember to help others and give back to Ceres. - photo by Jeff Benziger

(Editor’s note: Ceres Courier editor Jeff Benziger sat down with Ceres City Councilwoman Rosalina Vierra last week in the council’s office at the City Council Chambers to ask about a myriad of issues. Vierra represents Council District 2, which is primarily on the west side of Highway 99).

Courier: Where you were born and raised?

Vierra: I was born in Seattle, Washington in 1974. Both my parents are from the Hilmar/Stevinson area so they both graduated Hilmar High School and when they got married they moved to Seattle. That marriage ended (when she was 3) and my mom came back to Hilmar where my grandparents lived. I was raised in the area.

Courier: What brought you to Ceres? I believe I heard you say you were homeless and I did poke around on YouTube and saw that you had some videos about an abusive relationship so it’s public.

Vierra: There were several reasons why I did move to Ceres in 2002. They had some EMT classes that I started at Ceres High School which is where I made a lot of friends so I was familiar with the area. When I went through my separation I moved into the trailer park, into Colony Park. I got a job at Bronco Winery. I just kind of wanted to get away the city life even though Modesto isn’t really a big city, per se when you compare it to the Bay Area, when you compare it to Hilmar and Stevinson … this kind of seemed like a little of both of the country and a little bit of the city. Quicker access to the things I needed. Ceres was kind of a middle ground for me, especially being a single parent of what ultimately ended up being four children.

Courier: You have four children?

Vierra: Yes, I do have four children. My oldest I had when I was 17. I actually got pregnant in my senior year in high school which kind of led to some difficulties growing up but you learn things the hard way and you kind of encounter what’s given to you and you move forward.

Courier: Where did you graduate high school?

Vierra: Modesto High, ’92.

Courier: Tell us about the time you were homeless and how that experience affects how you approach the problem of homelessness.

Vierra: I was going through a divorce. What you think is going to be a magical marriage when I was 17 didn’t end up as magical as I thought it was going to be. It did get violent to some degree. It was kind of ugly and at some point I ended up not having a place to go. My best friend came and picked my daughter and I up and she got me to the county so I could get into the hotel they had at the time which was on McHenry Avenue. In 1994 they allowed us two weeks in the shelter (actually in the hotel).

At the time I was working part-time so I was able to save up to get into a duplex. So I lived on Strivens (Avenue in Modesto). I didn’t have a telephone; I had to use one on the corner but it wasn’t really necessary then.

I know how much harder it would be if I didn’t have that help. I don’t know if I would have even been able to get to where I am today which is why the homeless situation is kind of touchy for me, especially when people don’t want help because they could be almost anywhere they want to be if they really want to. A lot of times it’s just “let me help you.” Some of those experiences are very difficult. It was very difficult getting deposits down for utilities, getting the furniture you need into the house when you have nothing, getting auto insurance. There were times when I couldn’t drive because I didn’t have gas in the car. I’d go to the church to get food.”

Courier: For years Ceres has had a hands-off approach to the homelessness and it seems to be getting worse. Should we expect to see the council trying to participate in something to help?

Vierra: “There’s two philosophies on that. One of them is if we bring resources we’re going to make the homeless here. And I don’t know if I necessarily believe in that a hundred percent because they’re already here which is why I’ve talked to the churches. My brother’s church is where they have the shower shuttle and they also have a food giveaway and undergarments.”

(Vierra spoke about the time a homeless man tried grabbing her purse on Hatch Road and about how she’s told merchants to sign up 602 “no trespassing” letters which allow police to chase panhandlers and vagrants off commercial properties).

I’m kind of working with the Street Teams for those who do want to make it out into transitional housing, finding methods where they can show that they are starting to develop work habits.

Also talked to StanCO, which is the Stanislaus affordable housing about trying to get transitional housing at the old Memorial (Hospital) in the buildings they’re not using now.”

(Vierra is an alternate representative of Ceres to the Stanislaus Homeless Alliance (SHA).)

Courier: You have a job outside of being a councilmember. What you do?

Vierra: I’ve work at Modesto Junior College since 2013. I’m a program specialist but I work in Student Success as a certified success coach working with students from application to graduation, to overcome every barrier. 

Courier: You stated recently that you are a small business owner?

Vierra: I have owned and ran Ceres Party Helpers. We are having a ribbon cutting of 12 years’ anniversary next Saturday, the 3rd.

Basically it’s party planning and party rentals. I have my business license with the city and have the required million dollar insurance writer so I can do events in buildings.

I started it in 2011 when we were still in a recession and couldn’t find a job even with a bachelor’s degree. I had two children still in high school, one had just graduated and if I couldn’t find a job I knew they weren’t going to find jobs so we created our own business and the girls and I ran it.

(Vierra explained that she earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s degrees from the University of Phoenix.)

Courier: What prompted you to want to serve on the council?

Vierra: It just seemed like the timing was right. I’ve kind of been involved from the time I moved in, back when we were doing things like rent control …because within a year of moving in, they doubled my rent. My space rent went from $250 to $500 and the next year it went to $700 and the next year went to $800 which is why that whole rent control (issue); and I understand the need of not having rent control but I also understand there’s times we feel gouged, even now at the gas station.

I think it’s important that I give back to the community because that’s how I got to where I am today.

Courier: You have been on the City Council for a year now. Do you enjoy being a councilmember?

Vierra: I love it. I like getting a better understanding of why some of the decisions are made. I may not agree with even some of the decisions I have to make but I have to understand that it’s also about the whole community and not necessarily how Rose feels.

Courier: It sounds like you’ve had to vote for things you didn’t like.

Vierra: The Landscape and Lighting District, the tax. I don’t necessarily think I want to pay more taxes. Especially my district pays $164 a year where across town they’re paying $35.

(Older established areas pay nothing since the L&L District was intended for new growth to pay its way).

Courier: I did hear you mention you were meeting with a developer regarding West Landing master plan area in southwest Ceres. Isn’t that traditionally a role for city staff?

Vierra: “I did meet with a developer. That is a big thing, housing because even when I was renting it was hard to find a house to get into. Even though I own my house now, if I was renting I would have to find something that I could afford and right now we don’t even have those homes if I wanted to downsize for less than what I’m paying now. So that’s why I’m working with a lot of developers trying to advocate to get them to start building so we have options.

It just starts with a basic conversation, same with the grocers. My district is a food desert. I would love to have a market (on the west side). If it’s something serious then that’s where I’m coming in with Planning and the city manager because ultimately they’re going to have to take over. All I am is selling my side of town or selling Ceres if I can get them in … and convince them that this is something they’re willing to invest in.

(Vierra explained how she connected city staff with someone interested in opening a new day care with the need for a two-acre site. She also explained how some business owners are experiencing frustration getting answers from the city and getting around roadblocks.)

Courier: Do you think this council is cohesive or are there rifts among you?

Vierra: I think we get along quite well. When we went into this we agreed that we’re not going to see eye to eye. All of us have different life experiences and that’s going to affect our votes. There are certain things that are kind of my pet peeves like when he (the mayor) forgets to call on me and I’ve been pressing my button and I say ‘hello.’

Courier: You are the only woman currently serving on the council and by my count the fifth woman to serve (DeLinda Moore, Barbara Hinton, Lisa Mantarro Moore and Linda Ryno all served before her). Does that come with any advantages or disadvantages?

Vierra: It does have its disadvantages because if I become vocal then I’m classified as being a certain way where if a male is just as vocal … they’re a leader.

I think they’ve learned I’m not going to be quiet.

Courier: If you could give a grade to the council, what would it be and why?

Vierra: I think we’ve been doing pretty good this last year. Overall I’d say a B. There’s always room for improvement. I don’t want to say we’re doing everything perfectly. I think we’re doing the best with the abilities we’re given. Especially going in, I was new and I didn’t necessarily know the Muni Code, I didn’t know where to go for answers. We were dealing with a city manager (Alex Terrazas) who was very quiet and didn’t necessarily share the information that I needed to know or didn’t necessarily respond to my emails when I was asking questions to get a better clarification.

Doug (Dunford) has definitely been more open, a little easier to speak with when I have questions. Granted there are sometimes you’re like “um, an answer would be really cool” and he kind of knows that I will now call him out at City Council meetings if they don’t respond to my emails. I generally try to do it outside the council meetings and sometimes I want the public to know that I am checking and I am doing what I need to do, that I’m following up.

Courier: Would you give the same grade to Mayor Lopez?

Vierra: My biggest issue is the follow through. Making sure that what he says is being done. And I think that’s hard for all of us because as you know the city runs slow.

Courier: Do you think you’ll be making an endorsement in the mayoral race?

Vierra: I’ve only been approached by the current one and I don’t know the other ones (Arrollo) so I couldn’t make a decision at this point in time. The mayor and I do get along. I’ve been supportive of him.

Courier: Have you cast any votes that you regret?

Vierra: I think so. I don’t want to say I’m perfect. There’s been some things that have kind of hurt me. (Bringing up) the (no) fishing thing down at River Bluff Park. The sign has been there since the day it was built. It was there way before I was elected but it was something that was overlooked. The fact that I brought it up seemed to bite me.

Courier: Did you hear from people?

Vierra: Oh yes, absolutely I did. I would love, like (Councilman James) Casey said, for kids to be able to be to fish. I have three grandchildren myself who I would love to bring out there and take fishing or would have loved to have a place to sit on the edge of the river and go fishing.

Courier: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?

Vierra: Oftentimes waiting for the council meeting or trying to get things on the agenda so you can talk about it.

Courier: There’s been some indications at these council meeting that you’ve been kind of overloading staff with referral items. Is that a fair statement?

Vierra: Yes, they did accuse me and I do ask a lot of questions. I know at the meeting they said I had four of the eight referrals and so I try not to do any more referrals until at least they did the homeless presentation, which was one of my referrals. And that’s when they went into creating – which I said I wanted – as CHAT team. Now they’re going to call it the HOT (Homeless Outreach Team.) I’m really glad that’s moving forward but it’s a matter of having to keep pushing that and letting them know it hasn’t fallen off my radar.

I had asked about having an ordinance similar to Turlock and Modesto when they did the “no sideshow” ordinances and I still can’t get that on the council and I’ve asked four times. Originally they told me, “well if you bring the public out to complain about traffic we’ll think about it.” So I think we had 26 emails or people comment a few meetings ago about traffic because they told me that’s what I needed to get it on the agenda and I did and they still haven’t put it on the agenda.

Courier: Does Ceres have a problem with sideshows?

Vierra: I don’t necessarily know if it’s throughout the city. On my side of town we have a lot through Marchy Lane and Service and Morgan. Is it as severe as Turlock and Modesto? No, but now that they have those ordinances I think they’re moving out to areas where they can get away with it.

From my understanding the car that went through the backyard into the pool on San Pedro and Morgan they were doing a little sideshow there, like doing donuts on San Pedro which the lost control into the backyard.

Courier: Didn’t the state pass legislation dealing with sideshows?

Vierra: Yes. I don’t necessarily think it’s being enforced or we just don’t have enough officers that are actively covering that area. My biggest issue was wanting to just say hey, even if we don’t have an issue let’s address it before it becomes an issue.

Courier: Some people believe that Ceres at 48,000 is just too small for council districts – and we all know why they came about – but do you think there’s a benefit to representing only one segment of Ceres and being answerable to only that’s segment of the population at election time?

Vierra: I did the push for district elections. Now, am I accountable to just my side of town? Kind of. Will I talk to anyone anywhere? Absolutely. Do I talk to businesses all over Ceres? Yes. Do I go to Hatch Road, which isn’t part of my district and talk to them? Yes.

We understand a lot of what’s going on in our areas, issues we may see, such as the speed racing up Morgan and Service. The mayor may not see that because he’s not on that side of town but he’s next to Independence Park and may see more homeless.

Courier: Districts kind of make councilmembers compete with one another. James Casey asked why aren’t you doing my park (Lions Park)? Bret Silveira was pushing for Ochoa Park in his district. It seems like it makes things more divisive.

Vierra: It can be but ultimately the rest of us are there advocating together. Ultimately all of us should be thinking of the community as a whole, understanding the concepts and the dynamics of our specific area.

My area is primarily middle class, single-story homes, small lots than we may see in Eastgate so I have different demographics than what other sides of town are and I think that’s what’s important bringing to the council.

Courier: You talk about no grocery store on your side of Ceres. How important is that when Save Mart and other markets are right over the overpass?

Vierra: For me, if I come on this side of the freeway, it’s intentional. For the most part I try to stay on my side of town. Part of that is traffic. I totally understand the traffic issue in front of Ceres High School so that is a barrier I want to do. It’s easier for me to just run off to Crows Landing (Road) and buy food in Modesto because it’s closer. When I come home I’m getting off (the freeway) at Hatch Road or Crows Landing to get to my house.

And I also have to look at bus service, those who are not accessible or able to drive, those who have other issues or other barriers that may prevent them from going to Save Mart. A lot of times we utilize the Walmart delivery because they can just deliver to my house.

Courier: But no market is going in there unless it’s profitable.

Vierra: Well, I’ve talked to a couple of them. They understand that it’s a food desert so I have a couple who have picked up on wanting to do that.

Courier: Especially when West Landing develops. That’s going to be a huge population.

Vierra: Yes and we do have four possible developments so we may be able to start that process, hopefully getting some development agreements in place by July.

Ultimately I want to bring office spaces into that office area, would love to see offices where there’s lawyers, dentists, whatever’s applicable to that area and then a small grocer, obviously don’t need something big. We don’t need a Target (on that side). I know Target is already in discussions about another area. Obviously it’ll be closer to the freeway.

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

Vierra: I would think so. A lot of what we did with the ICSC conference and convention was meeting with a lot of those retailers, asking what their demographic requirements were, their size requirements and then saying hey, we do have something that meets that, or if we can we get your contact information?

Even just through word-of-mouth, just talking to Turlock, talking to Modesto or just through people I’ve met or know and network with, who do you know that may be interested? It’s up to them because we don’t offer incentives that I’m aware of to come to Ceres other than I’m willing to help you through the process.

When we were at ICSC we actually had a sit-down meeting regarding a possible movie theater but Ceres is what they consider a second tier so if all of their first options were gone then they would consider us.

I know there’s also another discussion going on about bringing a sports complex to the old Walmart but it’s Walmart owned land and I can’t force it.

I’ve heard from different developers who say “we know not to go into Ceres. You guys aren’t business friendly.” I’ve heard that from developers and business owners so I’m trying to change some of that image and let me walk you through it to makes sure we don’t have that unfriendliness.

Courier: Do you expect to run for re-election in 2026?

Vierra: Absolutely.

Courier: Any plans to run for mayor?

Vierra: Not at this time. I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy having the small community. In the event that opens up or maybe I feel I’m ready for that (but) I don’t necessarily think I’m quite ready to make that big of a leap yet. I do like where I’m at now.

Courier: When you hear from constituents, what is typically the reason they contact you?

Vierra: It depends on what week it is and what issue there is. The basic thing I usually hear is about traffic. My understanding from the city manager is we’re working to mitigate some of the traffic issues we have in town.

Courier: Do you hold office hours?

Vierra: Usually I’m in here on Sundays and Saturdays. During the summer I have Fridays off from the college so I’m in Fridays as well. If people want to meet with me I will lunch. I have no problem coming in because we do have access to get into the building. I’ve met constituents over at McDonald’s or down here at the coffee shop, the Italian restaurant I’m there a lot. If they just want to email me I’m happy to do that as well.

Courier: We may want to get into the dispatching issue because it’s getting worse.

Vierra: We’re doing what we can. As you heard from the union, they don’t want just one position getting a raise; they want all employees to have a raise, which causes a whole another issue for us. And I agree. Everyone is going to be under wages especially as we approach the end of their union contract. I know I wasn’t here the last time. All I hear is well we got $10,000 cash for those that worked COVID that was part of the last contract. I’m like, yeah, but $10,000 goes fast.

I know the county just changed but we also have to make sure we’re in compliance with labor practices with the unions. I would love to just say hey, make it the same (pay) as Turlock ($1.50 more an hour than Ceres). Even Oakdale pays more. And I would like to do that with everyone but unfortunately we have the contracts we have to negotiate with the unions.

Courier: But dispatchers are a key position. If you start losing dispatchers and you have some serious problems?

Vierra: Absolutely. Again, the union made it really clear – I know he called me as well – stating you can’t just move that position; we will go to the Department of Labor for unfair labor practices if you do just raise theirs. To me, anyone who wasn’t able to take that Christmas week off is a key employee and to me that’s a public safety issue. So wastewater is another position we’re low on staff. What are we going to do if there’s nobody there to operate wastewater, right? We need to do what we need to do to try to keep at least those plus our police officers. Those are key positions that maybe need to be treated differently because they didn’t get to take Christmas break off.

I understand some of front line employees are also feeling the pinch with the new inflation. I understand where the union stands as well.

Courier: What is your vision for Ceres? By that I mean project yourself out 50 or 60 years from now, how will Ceres be different than it is today?

Vierra: What I imagine now may not be relevant tomorrow. I’d love to see more charging stations but I also need to be able to afford a car that’s electric and right now with Valley wages we can’t even afford an electric car.

I work a lot with the youth and I think it’s important helping our next generation prepare for tomorrow, making sure they understand that what their decisions are today affects 30, 40 years later. The wage at McDonald’s thing.

Rosalinda Vierra at Ceres Community Center
Rosalinda Vierra outside the Ceres Community Center where City Council meetings are held on the the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6 p.m. - photo by Jeff Benziger