Several on ballot for Livingston offices

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comOctober 30, 2012 

LIVINGSTON -- There's a lot at stake this year for city residents as several leadership roles are on the November ballot.

The mayor's seat, three council spots, the city clerk and treasurer are all up for grabs.

Local businessman Mike Sperry Jr. is challenging incumbent Rodrigo Espinoza for mayor.

Six candidates are vying for the three council seats. Incumbent Theresa Land filed to run for re-election, unlike her two fellow council members, Margarita Aguilar and Frank Vierra.

City Clerk Tony Silva is running unopposed for his seat, while three candidates are vying for treasurer, including business owner Maria Ribeiro, substitute teacher and political blogger Katherine Schell and Warren Urnberg, who's an Air Force retiree.

One of the hottest races is between Espinoza and Sperry.

Sperry has been vocal and open about his views during community events and council meetings.

Espinoza didn't participate in an Oct. 22 forum held by the League of Women Voters of Merced County and couldn't be reached by the Sun-Star for comment for this story despite repeated calls.

Sperry said he was disappointed that the mayoral forum was canceled because Espinoza didn't participate, but noted that he's appreciated other opportunities he had to explain his views, including an Atwater candidates' forum organized by the Merced- Atwater Tea Party.

During that event, Sperry said he's been urged to run for a long time, but didn't until the council gave him a hard time when he tried to bring a bar to the city's downtown.

Now, Sperry wants to be mayor to improve water quality, make the streets safer, promote open government and bring business to town. He was endorsed by the Livingston Police Officers' Association.

"I'm not the typical guy who, when driving down the road, keeps driving in circles until I'm lost," Sperry said. "I pull over and ask directions."

Council candidate Nemesio Alcazar Jr., 26, said he's lived in Livingston all his life and saw a need to get involved.

Alcazar said he started noticing that council members were being dismissive toward the residents who put them in their positions and were making decisions that "didn't seem right."

"People are just not OK with the way that this town is being run," he said.

Alcazar said his priority if elected to the council would be improving the city's water quality.

"We can't grow as a community with the issues that we have with the water -- the TCP, the manganese and the arsenic," he said, adding that he disagrees with the recent layoffs the city made to help balance the budget, which included four controversial cuts.

Although he doesn't have any political experience, Alcazar said he has been active in Livingston through community programs.

Candidate Jim Soria, a 44-year-old retired police officer, also didn't agree with the four layoffs that the majority of the council passed in August.

His focus is on community development, safety, service and a balanced budget.

Soria said he would've rather seen the laid-off employees moved into part-time roles with additional cuts coming from other areas.

Although this is Soria's first time running for office, he said he does have some experience from working with the Police Department and city government.

Similarly, candidate Romey Phangureh, 25, said he doesn't have much political experience but wants to make a difference.

Although Phangureh has never attended a council meeting, he said he's watched some from home and thinks he has something to offer. Born in India, he has spent the past 10 years in Livingston.

He said there are some major issues in his city that need to be addressed: the budget, contaminated water, gangs, graffiti and bringing business downtown.

"If we don't step up, we will be bankrupting soon," he said. "I want to save my city, not push it over into the black hole," Phangureh said.

Incumbent candidate Theresa Land, who voted against the recent layoffs, is trying to keep her seat after being elected as part of the 2010 recall that ousted a mayor and councilwoman after utility rate increases.

Land declined to be interviewed by the Sun-Star, but did provide a statement.

"My priorities for the city of Livingston are first and foremost the health and safety of all residents," she said. "I want to keep an eye on spending and continue to look at cost-saving measures to ensure that our budget stays balanced. I want to continue to attract businesses and get them to invest in Livingston so that it will bring more revenue and jobs for our citizens."

Land went on to say that she wants to continue working on utility rate increases, cleaning up the city's water and the general plan update.

Like Land, candidate Arturo Sicairos, a business owner, said a balanced budget is key and, if elected, he would keep an eye out to prevent overspending.

He also put emphasis on public safety through a strengthened neighborhood watch program.

Candidate David Mendoza couldn't be reached for comment.

While the city treasurer's seat doesn't always garner many interested parties, this year there are three candidates.

Ribeiro and Urnberg couldn't be reached for comment.

Schell said she wants to be elected to the position so that she can have a hand in overseeing the city's finances.

Years ago, Schell created a blog -- thegardeningsnail.wordpress.com -- where she started documenting city issues and how council members voted on various items. Her aim was to make public officials more accountable for their actions.

"I want to be the kind of city treasurer in Livingston that does more than just sign checks," she said. "I want to be in a place where as the checks come along, I can say, 'Show me the invoice for that.'"

She doesn't think the city has done a good enough job adhering to contract limits and staying within budget -- a crucial approach when money's tight.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Nov. 6. Polling places in Livingston include the Foster Farms Swan Building at 1333 Swan St. and the Livingston Community Center at 848 Prusso St.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.


Who's running

MAYORAL CANDIDATES:

Rodrigo Espinoza (incumbent)

Mike Sperry Jr. (Livingston business owner)

CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES:

Nemesio Alcazar Jr. (electrician)

Theresa Land (incumbent)

David Mendoza

(U.S. Postal Service)

Romey Phangureh (unemployed)

Arturo Sicairos (business owner)

Jim Soria (retired police officer)

CITY CLERK:

Antonio Silva (appointed incumbent)

CITY TREASURER:

Maria Ribeiro (business owner)

Katherine Schell (substitute teacher)

Warren Urnberg (retired from the Air Force)

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