Daniel Varela and Martha Nateras recall, Livingston, California (2010)
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Recall organizers wanted Verela and Nateras to be recalled because they voted in favor of multi-year water rate increases.
Gurpal Samra, a former mayor of Livingston, was one of the recall campaign's organizers.
The recall effort was launched in February 2010. City council member Frank Vierra was also targeted in the recall effort, but after petition drives targeting the three for recall were concluded, it was learned that the number of signatures to recall Vierra fell slightly short of the required number of signatures.
Daniel Varela recall election:
Election to fill Daniel Varela's vacant seat
Martha Nateras recall election:
Election to fill Martha Nateras's vacant seat
- In early 2009, the Livingston's 5-person City Council had several 3-2 votes on proposed water rate increases.
- Livingston's city attorney advised the council that in order to pass a water rate increase, a supermajority vote of 4 council members was required.
- In June 2009, the council fired the city attorney who said that a supermajority vote was required.
- The city then hired a new city attorney.
- The new city attorney said that water rates could be passed with a simple majority vote.
- In July 2009, a simple majority of the council approved raising water rates more than 100 percent over the next several years.
- A Merced County Superior Court Judge declared that the vote to increase water rates with a simple majority vote was unconstitutional.
- The judge required the city to halt implementation of the rate increase.
- Legal fees incurred by the city defending its unconstitutional water rate increase are in the vicinity of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- The city filed an appeal of the judge's decision. The city filed the appeal before it held a meeting where members of the public were invited to comment on whether or not the city should appeal the ruling, without the members of the public being made aware that the city had already filed the appeal.
Varela said in May 2010, "We were elected to make the decision that would have a positive impact to the future of our city. We had people complaining of taking baths in dirty water. (We were) listening to complaints, listening to concerns, safety concerns. [Raising the rates] is not something we take lightly. We knew raising the rates -- no matter how much we raised them -- it would hurt people's pockets. We made the choice. We made the right decision for our city's future so we could have good, clean, filtered water for the future."
Opposition to recall
Varela and Nateras announced in early July that they had formed a "No! on the Recall" campaign. In their statement announcing the formation of the group, Varela and Nateras blamed the controversial water and sewer rate hikes on Rodrigo Espinoza and Gurpal Samra, saying that when Espinoza and Samra could have acted they instead "postponed the decisions and delayed the inevitable increase of the monthly water rates."
Varela and Nateras also pointed to a 2007-08 grand jury report that is unfavorable to Espinoza and recall organizer Samra.
In July, opponents of the recall filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission saying that in some instances, recall organizers did not disclose financial data they should have disclosed.
The FPPC reviewed the complaint and closed it without issuing any adverse findings or fines against the recall committee.
Path to the ballot
To force a recall election, supporters of the recall had to collect 1,017 valid signatures on petitions for each recall target.
Signatures were submitted to Merced County election officials. In early April, it became evident that the number of signatures on one of the petitions (the petition seeking the recall of Vierra) was falling slightly short of the required number of signatures.
On April 9, it was announced by election officials that there were sufficient signatures to force a recall of Varela and Nateras. The valid signature counts for each targeted official were:
- Signatures to recall Daniel Varela: 1,038
- Signatures to recall Martha Nateras: 1,027
- Signatures to recall Frank Vierra: 1,005.
Cost of recall
The administration costs of the recall election were estimated to be approximately $54,000.
Recall leader Julio Valdez said the administrative cost of holding a recall election would be less than the costs of keeping Varela and Nateras in office because of the legal fees the city council accrued to defend its rate increase: "We have considered the cost. It is going to cost the city more to keep them than to pay for the recall. The more they contest the rate increase in court, the more it is going to cost for the lawyer to be there representing the city."
Cancellation of the traditional Livingston fireworks display may also have been a cost of the recall. Recall organizer Samra said of the cancellation of Central Valley's largest fireworks display, "In my view, it's nothing more than retaliation for people who signed the petition against the two councilmembers."
Recall target Varela disagreed, arguing that other cities in the Central Valley, like Livingston, are cutting out events and services due to the economic downturn. Varela also characterized Samra in this way: "It's like a little child that's clenching his fist and squeezing his eyes because they want something to happen. His intentions are good, but sometimes you just have to let it go."
- Merced Sun Star, "Livingston City Council sets recall election date for Aug. 31," May 5, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Livingston recall successful," September 1, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "Livingston cancels July 4th festivities," April 22, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "Recall effort under way in Livingston," March 2, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "A fine mess Livingston finds itself in," May 12, 2010
- Sacramento Bee, "Subjects of Livingston recall effort fight back," July 9, 2010
- Modesto Bee, "State set for recall showdown," July 8, 2010
- Sacramento Bee, "Complaint filed in Livingston recall try," August 3, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "Livingston recall effort just shy of necessary signatures," April 6, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "Two Livingston leaders face recall vote," April 10, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "Livingston looking at hefty bill for special recall elections," May 7, 2010
- Merced Sun Star, "Livingston's ex-mayor says fireworks cancellation a victim of politics," June 23, 2010