LIVINGSTON -- The city's newest planning commissioners are young, male and educated.
By a vote of 4-0, the City Council voted to appoint Luis Flores, 25; Hugo Salgado, 25; and Alex Gonzalez, 27 to the Planning Commission after interviewing six people for three open seats. Councilman Rodrigo Espinoza was absent from the meeting.
The council settled on this group after a motion by Mayor Daniel Varela to appoint Salgado, Gonzalez and longtime resident, retiree and former truck driver Ronald Kraus to the commission died for lack of a second.
Flores' appointment to the commission shocked him. He earned the vote of Councilwoman Martha Nateras despite the fact that Flores has frequently ridiculed the councilwoman for her decisions. At one point, Flores came to a City Council meeting carrying a sign that read "Three Stooges," in reference to a voting block of three council members of which Nateras is part.
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"All feelings left aside, Mr. Flores is very qualified even though he's been disrespectful to me," Nateras said before casting her vote.
Flores is a senior research analyst under the Office of Grants and Institutional Research at Merced College. He holds a master's degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and spoke Tuesday night about a need for smart, realistic growth in Livingston to make the city a walkable, sustainable community.
"I was really surprised about it. I am going to be jumping outside," Flores said. "I'm ready for the challenge ahead."
Hugo Salgado, a social science major concentrating in history, political science and economics at California State University, Stanislaus, also works in sales at Coca-Cola's Modesto facility and is the father of a 2-year-old girl.
Salgado, in his interview with the council, spoke about a desire to see more businesses locate in Livingston, increasing the city's tax revenue. He was honest when asked about his vision for the city's downtown.
"Personally, I don't really like the way downtown looks to be honest with you," he said, pointing to other cities that have invested in infrastructure improvements like decorative street lamps, signs and improved sidewalks.
"I want to make it a better place," he said of the city.
Alex Gonzalez is an economics and government teacher at Livingston High School. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Sacramento State University and got his teaching credential and bilingual certification from CSU Stanislaus.
Gonzalez said Livingston's downtown needs a central entertainment feature like a theater to pull more residents into the city's core and boost businesses. He is a proponent of small, controlled growth and said area businesses need to support the community's agricultural products.
"This is where my heart is. I know I am going to be here the rest of my life and I want to raise my future family here," Gonzalez said.
Nateras said the council didn't purposefully pick a younger group of commissioners.
"It was a hard selection," she said. "I think they have new ideas. I think they will be great."
The council meeting, dubbed a special meeting and held earlier than normal, wasn't televised live as all regular council meetings are because Councilwoman Margarita Aguilar passed on a request by planning commission applicant Mario Mendoza that he not be on television. Nateras felt that as the meeting was to interview applicants none should be televised. Councilman Frank Vierra disagreed, but was on the losing side of the discussion.
"I think people in the community should've been able to see these people and their reactions to the questions. You talk about transparency, that's transparency, and we didn't do that tonight," he said.
Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.