Livingston City Council sets recall election date for Aug. 31

Mayor, councilwoman could be voted out.

May 5, 2010 

LIVINGSTON -- The citizens of Livingston will hit the election booths on Aug. 31 in a recall campaign to replace Mayor Daniel Varela and Councilwoman Martha Nateras.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to set the date.

Councilman Frank Vierra, who is also being targeted by the recall effort for supporting an increase in water utility fees with the mayor and Nateras, voted yes, but with a caveat: "I am not in favor of it. It is a legal thing that we have to do," he said.

On April 9, the county's registrar of voters certified that the citizens heading the recall campaign had received enough signatures to force a special election. The council had to approve the elections date no later than Tuesday under state law.

Nateras voted quietly in favor.

Varela took more time to share his thoughts before he voted yes on the measure.

"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," Varela said.

"(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," he continued, before supporting the measure.

Members of the public were divided on the agenda item. Two individuals were dismayed by the effort, one of them upset by the $54,000 price tag, particularly for Varela's seat, which is up for election during the normal cycle in November.

Other members of the public were in full support of the recall and its costs.

"When we elected you, we expected something different," said Manuel Ricardo. He said the councilmembers targeted in the recall effort had betrayed the will of those who elected them.

Also on Tuesday night, the council voted to hire a consultant to rework parts of the city's general plan that were struck down by Merced County Superior Court in October 2008. A $47,570 contract was approved with a municipal consulting firm called PMC.

Finally, after a long debate, the council supported a decision by City Manager Richard Warne to cancel the town's yearly Fourth of July celebration.

The $25,000 annual fete wouldn't fit into the accounting books this year, Warne said, despite loud pleas from the public and some councilmembers.

"I understand how unpopular something like this is," Warne said. "We cannot put taxpayers money into this item. This is something that needs to be done. We need to move forward."

Councilmembers Margarita Aguilar and Rodrigo Espinoza supported a motion that would have OK'd the ceremony. Varela, Vierra and Nateras voted no, citing budget concerns.

Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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