In early January, Celeste Toledo-Bocanegra launched a GoFundMe page and website to recall Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez. As of April 19, it had raised just $1,030 of its $20,000 goal, with the last donation being made two months ago.
The GoFundMe page states that “through his divisive rhetoric and conduct often targeting specific individuals in our city, Mayor Velazquez has created deep divisions within our community. His support for extreme pandemic lockdowns, unreasonable mask mandates and hostility to job creation has led to a massive attack on our struggling local businesses and individual rights.”
Even though Toledo-Bocanegra is the organizer of the GoFundMe page/recall campaign group, Velazquez said the effort is being promoted by Supervisor Peter Hernandez, Courtney Evans, Vedana Freitas and Andrew Russo.
“They have Celeste doing the work (being the figurehead) for them,” said Velazquez, who is currently serving a fifth two-year term. “But they can’t even fill out the paperwork correctly.”
Velazquez was referring to the city receiving a non-qualifying notice and petition to recall on March 31.
The petition to recall will only become legitimate and official once the city receives a qualifying notice. City Clerk Christine Black confirmed that as of April 19 the city had yet to receive the proper paperwork for such a notice.
To clear up any confusion people might have on his views or his stance on certain issues, Hernandez said he is not an anti-masker and believes the virus is real. Hernandez added that he is not part of the recall group or involved in any way, but he does support it—“Of course I do,” he said—claiming Velazquez violated the U.S. Constitution by not allowing the public or small business owners to have “due process” in regards to the local Covid-19 shutdowns.
“The mayor could’ve done what he did when he pushed back on the state for their housing requirement locally,” Hernandez said. “He told the state, ‘You have no authority to tell us what to do on local housing.’ He was willing to buck back on the state on housing, but is not willing to push back on the state on lockdowns. It’s a complete contradiction. When it comes to the application of authority, he’s been a leopard who changes his spots.”
Hernandez has been adamant that small businesses should’ve had the option to stay open during the pandemic, reasoning they are the lifeblood to people’s health, dignity and welfare. Hernandez is an owner of Ohana Ice in downtown Hollister. He is not an attorney, according to an attorney search page on the State Bar of California website.
When asked about Hernandez making claims that he had violated the U.S. Constitution, Velazquez responded: “He has no understanding of the law. The most amazing part of this whole thing is the county dictates what goes on in the county so in reality it’s him and the supervisors who decide what (local) policies (to implement in regards to Covid). But he is such a coward and wants to shift the blame to me. Pretty sad.”
Velazquez said if the group acquires the necessary 4,500 valid signatures, then a recall election would be held in June 2022, approximately five months before the statewide general election which also includes several local contests, including the Hollister Mayoral seat.
“So they want taxpayers to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to have a redo of the election in a few months,” Velazquez said. “It’s just dumb all the way around.”
Velazquez said members of the recall group “have been harassing me for years about my vision of slow growth, and their ultimate goal is to build as many new homes as possible because in their view this is how we progress in our community.”
Hernandez said it’s disingenuous at best and a lie at worst to lump him into the pro-developer camp.
“He mentions I’m a pro developer, which is crazy to me,” Hernandez said. “If you look at my 460s I don’t have any developers donating to my campaign when I ran. That’s a lot of manipulation of stretching truth to fit his narrative.”
According to Velazquez, members of the recall group believe the “virus is a hoax and anyone who doesn’t believe that are sheep and stupid.” He texted screen shots to the Free Lance of some of the Facebook posts from various members of the group. A post from Freitas reads: “Every single elected official from the school board to city, county, sheriff and district attorney needs to be recalled and replaced.”
In a post from Toledo-Bocanegra—efforts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful—she described a situation in which she didn’t put a mask on upon her stay in a grocery store, ending with, “We live in a free country!” Evans gained notoriety when she was arrested in December in the supervisors meeting chambers after refusing to oblige to the face covering mandate. Velazquez also mentioned that “Supervisor Hernandez is the same guy who voted against the certification of the (November) election results because he thought the machines might have been rigged.”
Hernandez confirmed that he voted against the certification of the local election results. When asked what was the main reason for him doing so, Hernandez said, “A dialogue needed to happen. There were questions I had asked, but those questions didn’t get answered with clarity. No disrespect to the election department because they didn’t have the time in that situation, but I didn’t like the answers so I didn’t agree to certify.”
Hernandez said he and Velazquez used to be good friends and talked frequently. But he grew disillusioned with the mayor for not allowing an open dialogue to materialize in the implementation of the local Covid-19 restrictions, particularly to the shutdown of small businesses, which he viewed just as essential as the big box stores that were allowed to stay open.
Velazquez said he’s not surprised by the recall campaign because members of the group have been at odds with him for several years over his vision of slow growth and now blame him for the struggles of various businesses in town.
“I still stand with my view that Covid was and is a serious pandemic,” he said. “We lost 63 lives in our community, but there are those who felt like it was a joke. This same group of people want more growth and then scream and yell they’re not getting it. Any divisiveness comes from them.”