Thursday, November 10, 2005
The polls had just closed Tuesday night when Mayor Anna Caballero made her way across the parking lot of Chapala Restaurant in Salinas. She adjusted her wine-colored suit jacket and flashed an uneasy grin. “I’m nervous,” she finally said.
She had every reason to be. With the fiscal future of Salinas dangling in the balance for years, and after two failed attempts to raise taxes via Measures A and B last November, she faced a difficult moment: for now, there was nothing more she could do. Still, she was hopeful.
“We just heard the absentee votes, and it’s passing by 57 percent,” she said, fighting back a grin.
The crowd inside the restaurant was a little less contained.
“There’s no way we can lose,” said COPA leader Ken Smith at 8:30pm. “There’s absolutely no way. Look at those results,” he said, pointing to a piece of butcher paper hanging on the wall.
The numbers didn’t seem all that convincing—Measure V was leading 7,467 votes to 5,567; only absentee ballots had been counted—but don’t tell that to a man who has spent the last six months campaigning hard for a cause he believes in.
“If the voters we reached out to come out, we’ll win with 60 percent of the votes no problem,” he assured.
Councilmember Jyl Lutes looked at Smith, wanting to share in his optimism, but not wanting to jinx the thing. Still, caught up in Smith’s optimism, she giggled nervously, then blurted, “Oh, God!”
Smith climbed down from his high long enough to consider what a Measure V landslide would mean to Salinas. “When this passes, I’ll know that people took seriously the challenge to create the city they want to live in,” he said.
A bit later, Councilmember Janet Barnes agreed. She shimmied her way up to the bar to get some water, and looked up at the television. The results were still unchanged from the previous hour when Caballero had first arrived.
“I’m proud to be representing this community,” she said. “Just because we have a population less affluent than others doesn’t mean we can’t shoot for the stars. Tonight, Salinas voters are doing just that.”
Bartender Trini Hinojos listened to Barnes while he poured a Patrón Añejo, and nodded in agreement.
“It’s a good thing for Salinas,” he said. I asked him why, and he put both hands on the bar and thought quietly. “Because I live here,” he finally said matter-of-factly.
Across the room, Margaret Serna-Bonetti was still reeling from her own win over incumbent Sandra Ocampo for a seat on the Salinas Union High School District board. The evening’s final results would give Serna-Bonetti the victory by a mere 59 votes out of 1,777, but Serna-Bonetti couldn’t help but bask in the glow of success over the twin wins.
“What I’m looking forward to most with Measure V passing is a return of a feeling of a sense of community for all of Salinas,” she said. “It’s been missing for a long time, and it feels good to know that families came together to support the city in a time of such need,” she said. “What we’re learning tonight is that Salinas residents believe in this community.”
By 10pm, Smith’s early prediction of Measure V passing with 60 percent of the votes had come to fruition. It was an expression of voters’ faith, considering that the $11 million the measure will raise annually isn’t earmarked for any particular program or service restoration.
“We’ll have community meetings and let residents decide. It’s their city,” Barnes said. “We work for them.”
Lutes echoed her colleague: “This money is going to be about making up for enormous losses of vital services: libraries, police officers, firefighters, code enforcement. It’s going to be about making Salinas the place it was before we cut millions. And better.”