LIVINGSTON -- After a hard-fought battle to stay in office, former Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. and former Councilwoman Martha Nateras were shown the door by new Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The ceremony was the culmination of more than a year of political turmoil over controversial utility rate increases.
Espinoza and new Councilwoman Theresa Land were sworn in by City Clerk Donna Barnes soon after the results of the Aug. 31 recall election were confirmed during the meeting.
More than 1,400 people voted in the landslide election. Varela was recalled by 77.3 percent of the vote, and Nateras was recalled by 77.7 percent. Both Espinoza and Land were chosen to replace the recalled officials by more than 90 percent of voters.
Tuesday's agenda called for Espinoza to give plaques to Varela and Nateras, but the presentation never happened.
"I guess the ex-mayor and Martha Nateras went home," Espinoza said.
However, the two did give outgoing statements before leaving.
Nateras, who doesn't consider herself a politician, thanked the community for allowing her the chance to serve on the council.
"My intention was to ensure that each and every one of you, and especially the children of this community, have clean and healthy drinking water," she said. "In order to achieve this, I had to make difficult decisions that were not popular."
The city was even losing grants because the water rates were too low, Nateras added.
Varela noted that the city passed a balanced budget, something that the state has not been able to do.
"In that budget, it has all the funding to provide and look forward to providing the future infrastructure of our community," he said. "I appreciate what our staff has done."
Varela went on to thank supporters of the "No! On the Recall" campaign.
The recall of Varela and Nateras was sparked by a water and wastewater rate hike passed by the voting block of Varela, Nateras and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Vierra.
There was an attempt to recall Vierra, but supporters came up short on signatures.
Though Nateras said she is done with politics for the time being, Varela will run against Espinoza in November to try to regain the title of mayor.
After the meeting, the council went into closed session that included a public employee performance evaluation of City Attorney Jon Hobbs.
Espinoza has previously claimed Hobbs was hired illegally and has also voted to withhold payments from him.
The firing of the previous city attorney, Malathy Subramanian, was nothing more than a political move to pass the controversial rate increases, Espinoza said.
Subramanian had advised the council that the only way to move forward with the water and wastewater rate increases was with a 4-1 supermajority or unanimous vote.
When Hobbs became city attorney, he told the council it could pass the rate increases with a simple 3-2 majority, which it did.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.