Vierra: Small-town politician who is doing big-city service

November 28, 2009 

We could never make this stuff up; we're not that creative.

Over the years, I've offered that remark to many people, usually at the end of a particularly "newsy" period or after a sequence of unpredictable stories. We're just coming off one of those periods.

Could we dream up a story that had a city council voting out its city manager, hiring a new one, backtracking on the new hire and then reversing itself on the original firing? Of course not. It's implausible. No elected body would do all that. But of course that's what has happened in Hughson in the last month.

On the heels of the raucous mayor's race in Riverbank, it leaves some people wondering about small-town politics. And I wonder, too.

This kind of behavior might seem entertaining, but it's mostly it's disappointing. Such incidents are embarrassing for the community involved — but worse, they fuel public cynicism about politicians — those who go to Washington and Sacramento and those who sit on the dais at city halls.

That's why I want to state — as I have before — that most of the people who run for local office have their community's interest at heart, and while they may change some of their views while in office, they usually don't lose sight of the community in their votes.

Let me offer an example of this kind of person — Chris Vierra, who was just re-elected to a second term on the Ceres City Council.

Lesser known is that Vierra is finishing up a year as the chairman of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board. This is the eight-county district that regulates stationary sources of pollution, chiefly industry and agriculture. Its board members include a supervisor from each county, plus several city representatives. The chairmanship rotates, so Vierra wasn't elected chairman. He just rotated into it.

That said, he's apparently doing a very good job.

Supervisor Bill O'Brien, who represents Stanislaus County on the board, said Vierra keeps good control of the meetings, which is no easy task given the sharp division of views. "He cares about air pollution, but he also cares about balance," O'Brien observes.

Vierra is a mechanical engineer and he brings that expertise and analytical approach to the chair. Our editorial board met with him a couple of weeks ago and he offered some interesting thoughts.

This has been a relatively quiet year for the air board, but one potentially controversial issue is coming up in December — a trip reduction rule for employers with 100 or more employees. As proposed, they will be required to have and to document several programs to reduce the number of vehicle trips by their workers. These could include things as simple as having direct deposit for paychecks or establishing a shared-ride board. Many employers already do such things but resist the idea of more recordkeeping.

Vierra clearly recognizes the burden on business, but he also understands that air pollution is a serious concern. He stresses how much can be accomplished by individuals, through obeying the fireplace burning restrictions and simply making one change in their daily lives.

Vierra's term as president will be over soon, but he has a six-year term on the air board. He'll be representing our interests in a thoughtful way.

Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, is one of 10 Assembly members named to the Joint Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education. Ten senators also were appointed, but none from our area.

The committee will evaluate the master plan, which was established 50 years ago and set the long-held vision of making public college affordable and having distinct roles for community colleges, state universities and the University of California system. That vision has been blurred and clouded in the last couple of decades and some claim it's been virtually abandoned. We're glad to have a voice from our region in on the discussion. The committee holds its first meeting Dec. 7.

There is one announced candidate for the 14th Senate District seat that Dave Cogdill will vacate at the end of 2010. Heidi Fuller of Columbia has a Web site, She announced her candidacy in the summer, planning to oppose Cogdill in the primary because of his support for temporary tax increases.

Sly is editor of the Opinions pages. Contact her at or 578-2317.

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