A group of local residents may soon begin collecting signatures to place a recall election of Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez on an upcoming ballot.
On July 8, recall proponent Celeste Toledo-Bocanegra gained approval for her third submission of a Notice of Intention to Circulate Recall Petition—the first step toward securing a recall election before Velazquez’ current term is over.
Hollister City Clerk Christine Black rejected Toledo-Bocanegra’s first two applications to file the notice because they contained incorrect or incomplete information.
With Black’s approval of their third application, Toledo-Bocanegra and other proponents now have until July 22 to file draft copies of their proposed recall petition, as well as proof of publication of the notice of intention, Black said. Then, they can begin collecting signatures from registered voters in the City of Hollister.
They need verified signatures from 20% of the electorate—or at least 4,390 voters in Hollister—in order to qualify a recall vote for the ballot.
Toledo-Bocanegra is a member of a group known as Recall Mayor Velazquez 2021.
“Mayor Velazquez has engaged in divisive behavior and rhetoric, including personal attacks on fellow Council members and members of the community; Mayor Velazquez has failed to build consensus among Council members for positive public policy; Mayor Velazquez has misused social media to attack, vilify, and dox members of the community and political opponents,” read the first three bullet points on a list of grievances against Velazquez contained in the notice of intention.
Under state elections law, the recallee—in this case, Velazquez—has seven days to submit a response to a certified notice of intention. Velazquez submitted his response to the city clerk’s office shortly after July 8.
“The group of people behind this recall effort believe that Covid-19 was nothing more than a HOAX and nothing should have been done to prevent more deaths,” says a portion of Velazquez’ response. “This group believes any elected official that sought to slow the spread of Covid-19 or accepted the results of last year’s election should be recalled and all of you should pay $200,000 to hold another local election.”
Velazquez called out San Benito County Supervisor Peter Hernandez as one of the leaders of the recall initiative, though the supervisor denied having a significant role in the effort. Velazquez wrote in his response to the recall notice that Hernandez voted against certifying the local 2020 election results and “has continuously spread false information from extremist groups.”
The mayor’s statement adds that the group behind the recall is “supported by developers that want to build another city along Highway 25.”
It is unclear from the notice of intention paperwork who else is leading the recall effort other than Toledo-Bocanegra, whose name was the only signature on an attached proof of service form. The notice of intention is signed by 56 Hollister residents, including Andrew Russo, who has sent out a number of press releases about the recall effort.
Black said she has communicated with Suzanne Garcia, as well as Hernandez, Russo and Toledo-Bocanegra.
Hernandez said in an interview with the Free Lance that Velazquez’ statement is replete with “lies.” Hernandez said he is not one of the leaders of the recall effort, and denied that his candidacy has been supported by developers. He said he contacted Black’s office earlier this year to ask why a previous notice of intention, filed by Toledo-Bocanegra, was denied. He said he did so on his own behalf and not in conjunction with the recall proponents.
Hernandez added that he does not think Covid-19 is a hoax, but he blames the mayor for enforcing pandemic guidelines that “shut down the business community.” He said he agrees with the recall effort, but he still wants to be able to cooperate with Velazquez.
“I’d love for the day to work with and talk to him with honesty, in an open dialogue—with the public, not on Facebook—and not have him hide behind statements,” Hernandez said.
Velazquez has been mayor of Hollister since 2012. He was re-elected for his fifth consecutive two-year term in 2020.