Rafu Staff Report
CERRITOS — After the results of the April 11 Cerritos City Council election were certified, Grace Hu and Frank Aurelio Yokoyama were sworn in during the April 26 council meeting with their families in attendance.
Hu, who was chosen as the new mayor, and Yokoyama succeed Mayor George Ray and Councilmember Carol Chen and will serve with Mayor Pro Tem Mark Pulido and Councilmembers Naresh Solanki and Jim Edwards.
Among seven candidates for two open seats, Hu, a small business owner and former mayor, had the most votes, 3,376, followed by Yokoyama, real estate attorney and former planning commissioner, with 3,069. Chuong Vo, a current planning commissioner and a Torrance police officer, was a close third with 3,034. Both Yokoyama and Vo also ran in the 2015 election.
The Press-Telegram endorsed Hu and Vo.
Also running were former councilmember Bruce Barrows (2,200), technology consultant Anantha Ramachandran (1,435), former assemblymember Sally Havice (652), and software professional Ashish Kumar Verma (386).
An emotional Yokoyama thanked his parents, Tom and Francesca “Chit” Yokoyama, who moved to Cerritos in 1976 and raised their family there. “You have unconditionally loved me and supported me my whole life. I can never repay you, but I will try. He called his father “the hardest worker I know” and thanked his mother in Tagalog.
To his wife, Wendy Ha Yokoyama, he said, “When we decided to raise our kids here in Cerritos, you did not sign up to be married to a Cerritos council candidate. Thank you for putting up with the stress and the long days and nights of the campaign. Thank you for taking care of our family.” He thanked his mother-in-law, whom he addressed as “Halmoni” (Grandma), in Korean.
Calling his two children his “BFFs,” Yokoyama continued, “My daughter Makenna was the 7th grade class president and is the 8th grade class president. Makenna, you inspire me with your leadership and your hard work for your classmates. I hope I can do just as good a job … Maddox, thanks for helping out at the campaign office and telling all of your friends to vote for me, even though they are in elementary school.”
Also thanking all of his endorsers and supporters, Yokoyama said, “Thank you, Cerritos voters, for giving me the chance to serve my hometown, to serve you. I will work hard for you. I will do my best for you.”
During the meeting, Yokoyama nominated Hu for mayor and Pulido seconded, eliciting a audible gasp from the audience. Edwards nominated Solanki, the outgoing mayor pro tem. Hu, who seemed surprised by the nomination, said, “I cannot refuse” and voted for herself, thus winning the mayor’s seat by a 3-2 vote.
Although Edwards argued on Solanki’s behalf that “the natural progression is for him to be our next mayor,” there is no requirement that the mayor pro tem become the next mayor, and any councilmember can be nominated when a new council convenes.
Solanki’s family and friends, who had packed the council chambers, walked out when Hu was declared mayor.
Yokoyama then nominated Pulido as mayor pro tem and Solanki nominated Edwards. With Hu’s vote, Pulido prevailed.
After the commotion in the audience died down, Edwards said that it was highly irregular for a new councilmember to become mayor: “In the 61-year history of the City of Cerritos, every person who has run for an office has been given the opportunity to serve as mayor pro tem and mayor. They’ve always respected the order in which we’ve come into office … They honored everybody’s chance and they honored everybody’s putting themselves out to get elected, knowing it’s a tough job. But they also knew that they would have their chance to move up the ladder …
“I feel this is a sad day in many respects. I’m wondering what we’re teaching our children, what are we saying to tradition … I think what we’ve done tonight is wrong. I know there’s others out there who disagree with me. It’s not about personalities …The natural progression should have been Mr. Solnaki as our mayor. He served tirelessly as mayor pro tem and now he has lost that opportunity that every councilmember before us has had.”
Hu, who was previously elected to the council in 1992 and served until 2001, responded, “It’s not a sad day for the city, it’s a great day for the city. We have new councilmembers to work for the city and work for the people. We were elected and we got the majority vote to be mayor and vice mayor.”
Pulido said, “Respectfully to my colleague Mr. Edwards, I have a different perspective. I thought it was a sad day when I received an email from someone who was no longer on the City Council that had an attachment of an Excel spreadsheet. That had a prescribed order in which the leaders of Cerritos would be selected. Outside of the daylight, outside of the viewing eyes of the public, in a very untransparent, a very corrupt way of selecting its leaders … But I knew that one day justice would prevail.
“I knew that people would come to these chambers to witness the swearing-in of duly elected members of the City Council. Nominations would be open, nominations would be made, and a roll call would be taken. And in America, democracy is ruled by majority, not by the minority. There are minority rights but the majority rules …
“But I was saddened another time most recently earlier this past week when the same former councilmember … [was]calling into question the recent elections, the will of the people. I thought that was the most despicable, horrible act of a former member of this body. And I appreciate the good counsel of our city attorney for stating his opinion, which made everything clear what the council should do yesterday, which is certifying the results of the recent election, making today possible.”
Pulido was referring to Barrows, who had suggested that Hu and Yokoyama were ineligible to hold office due to “moral turpitude.” In 2013, Yokoyama was suspended by the State Bar for failing to take MCLE (Minimum Continuing Legal Education) courses during the required period. Yokoyama, who had practiced law for 17 years without any prior incidents, took the courses and was reinstated.
According to Hews Media Group, City Attorney Mark Steres investigated the allegation and wrote in an email to the outgoing council, “The question arose because of a disciplinary action entered against Councilmember-elect Hu in 2005 by the California Department of Corporations and a disciplinary action entered against Councilmember-elect Yokoyama in 2013 by the California State Bar. I have read the accusation, the stipulation and the order in the 2005 Department of Corporations matter and the stipulation re facts, conclusions of law and disposition and order in the 2013 State Bar matter …
“Neither the 2005 Department of Corporations matter nor the 2013 State Bar matter are criminal proceedings nor criminal convictions. Both are administrative proceedings. The California Constitution, State Law and the Cerritos Charter require conviction of a crime. The 2005 matter and the 2013 matter are not criminal matters and do not fall within the legal prohibitions for holding public office. As such, it is my opinion that neither the 2005 matter nor the 2013 matter constitute a legal basis to disqualify either city councilmember-elect from public office.”
Yokoyama commented, “Even last week Monday when the additional votes were counted and I was in second place, I continued to get personally attacked and there were lies being said about me. And up until the votes were certified yesterday, I just couldn’t believe that I can get here by the vote of the citizens of Cerritos …
“Six years ago I was given that opportunity to serve my hometown on the Planning Commission. Four years ago I was deprived of that right, of that opportunity, that privilege … because my longtime friend Mark Pulido was disrespected. He wanted to give me the opportunity to serve our community on the Planning Commission and his discretion as a councilman was disrespected.”
When Pulido tried to reappoint Yokoyama to the commission in 2013, Barrows, who was then mayor, Chen and Ray voted no. Pulido, who left the meeting in protest, said he believed this was the first time that a sitting planning commissioner was not confirmed for reappointment.
Hope Yoneshige, a blogger who follows Cerritos politics, wrote, “So in effect, what happened is the Barrows-Chen-Edwards-Ray (i.e., the old guard) influence that so many residents have been complaining about was broken up in a bloodless coup by hometown boys in one of the most unimaginable alliances ever (Yokoyama-Pulido-Hu). But that kind of change has been a long time coming.
“To see what happened in person, in the room, was a bit like watching a particularly dramatic episode of ‘House of Cards,’ Cerritos style. It was sad for both Solanki and Hu … But we should probably thank Mr. Barrows as the one who ushered in this new-found partnership (if it is indeed a partnership) between Yokoyama and Hu when Barrows questioned the legitimacy of their election to council. I look forward to seeing what this new council can get done and wish them all well for the sake of our good city and its residents.”