LIVINGSTON -- People showed up at the Portuguese Hall expecting a town hall meeting Sunday.
What they got was nothing but a cool night, a light wind and hot air.
The town hall was hastily cancelled before it ever got under way, and hints of threats kept police officers on their toes.
The event started off quietly with a small crowd of about 30 people. There was a clear political divide -- some people who opposed the Aug. 31 recall sparked by utility rate increases, and some who supported the political ousting of incumbents.
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The calm quickly ended after Mario Mendoza, who rented the facility to host the event, asked some of the audience members to leave. He also conveyed his discontent about the media being there.
Outraged by the request, Esthela Martinez, Debbie Lopez and Myra Bettencourt -- all opponents of the recall -- pointed out that the flier for the event invited "Any registered voter who has questions."
The atmosphere became more contentious with every passing minute.
Lopez asked if this is "who you want to have running your city," referring to Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and former mayor Gurpal Samra, who is running for council.
Councilwoman Theresa Land was also in attendance.
Bettencourt also chimed in, saying, "They're all crooks."
Espinoza, Samra and Land stayed relatively quiet, but Mendoza expressed his point of view. "I'm not scared," he said. "I've never been scared of anybody."
More than 30 minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, Mendoza, clearly frustrated, asked the police to remove the people he had asked to leave. An officer said Mendoza had privately rented the facility, and had a right to ask people to leave. "Kick those people out because if I do it, it's going to be my way," Mendoza said to an officer.
A Livingston resident had also brought a video camera to the meeting, which Mendoza wanted removed. "I just don't like to be filmed," he said. "It's my choice. I'm like every other citizen -- you have the right to or not to."
Mendoza finally called off the event.
"I don't want to be rude, but it gets to the boiling point where I can't take it," he said after most of the audience had cleared out.
The event turned into something it wasn't meant to be, Samra said. "It was not a political thing," he said.
However, the flier for the meeting told another story.
It called for all registered voters to be part of an informational town hall meeting.
"Your vote will count again!" it read.
After leaving the Portuguese Hall, the women who helped spark the commotion met at Starbucks on Joseph Gallo Court to air their concerns about the direction the city is headed. Their main worries revolved around the poor water quality in the city and how the low water rates might make the problem worse.
They discussed the issues over cups of coffee at the same business that had been shut down twice in the past year, according to city records, because of dirty water and high manganese coming from Well 15, which supplies water to the business.
Political issues aside, the meeting was meant to be about other issues in the city -- good things, Mendoza said.
After talking to representatives of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Mendoza developed plans to bring a junior boxing program into Livingston, which he wanted to share with the community Sunday, he added.
Mendoza conceded that the information leading up to the event may have misled some people as to what it was about.
"It's the first time I've organized something like this," he said. "It's probably my mistake, but it was not a political event."
Katherine Schell-Rodriguez, a political blogger who frequents Livingston council meetings, was convinced the meeting's "agenda" changed because of who showed up. "Why would anyone, who is confident in their message and purpose, cancel out at the last minute, and even think about throwing out the press?" she asked. "One would think the more attention, the better."
Responding to what was on the flier, Mendoza said he planned on encouraging people to vote, but nothing more.
Chief Doug Dunford of the Livingston Police Department met separately with Mendoza and Schell-Rodriguez Monday to help diffuse the situation. Mendoza understood that there was a miscommunication on his part, and is looking at possibly rescheduling the meeting.
Mendoza plans to host any future events at his house so he can have more control over who shows up.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.