Bell city voter: 'Now people are paying attention'

City Council election winner Nestor Enrique Valencia speaks to supporters at his campaign headquarters last night.
City Council election winner Nestor Enrique Valencia speaks to supporters at his campaign headquarters last night.
Corey Moore/KPCC

As expected, residents in the city of Bell voted in force to recall four City Council members who face public corruption charges. More than 95 percent percent of voters chose to oust Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal and Luis Artiga, who resigned late last year.

There were 17 candidates vying for five council seats. Voters elected retired baker Danny Harber to take Jacobo’s place. He snatched more than 50 percent of the vote.

Attorney Ana Maria Quintana won Artiga's seat with just over 40 percent. The other three council seats are four-year terms. Voters chose social services worker Violeta Alvarez, business owner Ali Saleh and health care administrator Nestor Enrique Valencia.

Valencia ran on a slate of three candidates called “Justice for Bell." It included special-ed teacher’s aide Miguel Sanchez who died days before the election after suffering from flu-like symptoms. Sanchez came in second to fill Artiga's seat.

Last night, Valencia spoke about what he wants to accomplish as a councilmember.

"The first order of business is to move the meeting to a much larger place," Valencia said. "It’s just logical for me and common sense. We move on to that. Then it’s gonna be city manager. The city manager has said he’ll be here 30 days after the election. So that’s gonna go. There’ll probably be some opportunity to pay some bills."

Valencia said he was in favor of disbanding the Bell city police force and bringing in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He suggested the move could save the city several million dollars. Valencia maintains he wants to lower exorbitant employee salaries and pensions so that the city can afford to run its services.

Valencia and the other winning candidates officially take their seats on the City Council at the beginning of April.

There are at least 10,000 registered voters in Bell and about a third cast ballots in yesterday’s election. That’s about a thousand more than the last election a couple of years ago.

At one of four polling places in the city last night, there was a line extended out of the door and down the block. Voters said they waited for over an hour to cast their ballots, which many were eager to do.

Student and Bell city resident Karen Torres, 19, said the public corruption scandal involving eight city officials is a wakeup call for residents to become more engaged – more involved at City Hall.

"My parents are homeowners and we really care about what happens and we want a change... now people are paying attention, finally."

Resident Angel Reyas, who's retired, stopped short of saying this was a victory for Bell. He had a “let’s wait and see” attitude but said he's encouraged.

“I’ve been here 20 years in the city and I’ve never seen all these people voting," said Reyas. "So it means we are caring more about our city, about what’s going to be happening from now on.”

Reyas added that he hoped people learned as much as they could about the candidates. He said he’s eager for new City Council members to to turn the city around.