Los Banos voters will have several decisions to make this fall.
The filing period for the November election has ended and in Los Banos a former mayor will challenge the city’s current leader, four City Council candidates will vie for two spots, three of the four school board races will see head-to-head battles and voters will choose between at-large and by-district elections. Election Day is Nov. 4.
Mike Amabile, who was mayor of Los Banos from 1994 to 2006, filed to run for the office again last Friday, hours before the deadline to enter the race. Amabile said he wants to return to office because he’s concerned about the city’s future. He said he wants Los Banos to have more jobs and less crime.
“The minute I left the position I missed it, but I felt like the city was in really good shape. Now I feel like there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of,” Amabile said. “I enjoy serving the public, and I like being a problem solver.”
Amabile, 60, a restaurant owner, says he’s ready to be a full-time mayor like he was in his previous tenure. Amabile’s time as mayor included the establishment of a Redevelopment Agency, a housing and commercial business boom and an emphasis on moving toward construction of the Los Banos bypass.
Mayor Mike Villalta is seeking his third term in office. Villalta, 64, has spent four years as the city’s leader and counts financial responsibility among his accomplishments. Los Banos was hit hard by the housing crisis in the years just before Villalta was elected mayor and the city also suffered a nearly $2 million embezzlement from 2005 to 2009 by an employee in the finance department.
“We’ve made our community more attractive to business and jobs by reducing our fees and keeping our money at home,” Villalta said. “I want to continue to stabilize our economy. Where we’ve been and where we’re going are night and day.”
Villalta has supported a suspension of the Regional Transportation Impact Fee, which charged residential and commercial developments money designed to be set aside for the Highway 152 bypass. The money has twice been borrowed by the Merced County Association of Governments, which oversees regional transportation projects, and used for the Merced-Atwater Expressway.
Villalta said in a third term he wants to complete an industrial park at Highway 165 and Interstate 5, move the city’s airport to the industrial park and build a soccer field and a regional hospital on the airport’s current 125 acres.
The City Council race has four contenders for two positions: Councilmen Tom Faria, a music teacher, and Scott Silveira, a dairyman, are competing with retired San Jose fire captain and Community Advocacy Coalition member Ray Martinez, and federal worker Refugio Morales Llamas.
Three of the four spots for the Los Banos Unified School District board of trustees are being contested.
Chase Hurley, District 5 trustee, chose to not seek re-election after nearly five years on the school board.
“It was a real difficult decision. It just came down to I have a lot of things going on, and I cannot commit the time away from my job,” said Hurley, who is the general manager of the San Luis Canal Co.
Because Hurley did not file for re-election, candidates had until Wednesday to sign up to run for his seat. Anthony Parreira, who filed to run for the spot in July, is the only candidate running for the position.
District 1 Trustee Dennis Areias has competition that has wanted him out of office for at least the past 16 months. Areias will face mechanic Fredrick Todd, who was one of 10 proponents of an Intent to Recall filing in April of 2013. Todd and the rest of his group stated they wanted to recall Areias because “he’s shown a serious lack of sound judgment, including the reassignment of a competent and successful high school principal.”
Areias was among five school board members who voted to reassign former Los Banos High School Principal Dan Martin in 2012 after Superintendent Steve Tiietjen stated he had no confidence in the school’s leader.
District 3 Trustee Andree Soares will face off against Marlene Smith, a registered nurse. And District 7 Trustee John Mueller will be challenged by retired teacher Ruben Santos.
By-district elections began in 2012 for the school district and have been placed on the ballot for the City Council races.
The City Council voted last week to ask Los Banos citizens to switch from at-large to by-district elections.
Los Banos has come under fire in recent weeks from the Community Advocacy Coalition, which believes that the current at-large voting method is a violation of the 2001 California Voting Rights Act. Los Banos has been unable to produce Latino elected officials despite Latinos being 68 percent of the city’s population.
The City Council will ask voters to approve draft Plan 3 out of the four districting maps offered for public consideration for the switch. As a general-law city, the issue must be put before voters.
If voters approve, by-district elections will go into effect in 2016.