In a heated moment during Monday night’s City Council meeting, a spat culminated with Councilman Peter Arellano, a mayoral candidate, storming out of the meeting mid-vote, an episode that present and former Council members say they have never seen before.
After an hour-and-a-half heated discussion, Council voted 4-1 during Monday’s regular meeting to make an exception to a city ordinance to approve a 91-unit housing development near Wren Avenue, behind Gilroy Veterinary Hospital on Monterey Street, a decision Councilman Arellano believed to be hasty.
Despite Council’s vote to pass the project, Arellano continued to take a good chunk of time to bring the discussion back to the table, warning Council of “rubber stamping” – a move that was not met with friendliness from other members.
“We can’t just arbitrarily OK this project and then say no to the next one,” Arellano said. “One of the things we need to do is really look at this and making sure we are doing the right thing.”
Arellano thought the project should not be passed without discussing whether or not, for example, “thorny rosemary” bushes should be allowed to be planted in the open space areas of the development.
Councilman Bob Dillon snapped at Arellano after listening to his discourse, putting to rest the option of re-visiting the project’s details.
“Peter, I’ve listened to you talk for 15 minutes too long already tonight, I said no,” Dillon said, calmly.
Arellano lashed back, his voice rising.
“You made the motion without any discussion of this, and in the past, if you indulge me, we’ve always discussed, in detail, all applications, in detail,” he said.
“We never had to do that before you were running for mayor, Peter,” Dillon said.
“You’re lying now, Bob,” Arellano said.
With Mayor Al Pinheiro’s absence, Cat Tucker, mayor pro tempore, tried to take control of the evening.
“That’s enough,” Tucker said.
Arellano slammed his notebook on his podium, his face deep red, gathered his belongings and stormed out of the meeting around 8:10 p.m.
Twelve minutes later, he quietly returned. No one mentioned the incident the remainder of the night.
Former City Administrator Jay Baksa, who retired in 2008 after 24 years in his position, said he couldn’t remember a time when someone left a meeting during a spat.
“We’ve had exchanges between Council members that were a bit aggressive, there have been times when the mayor would call a recess to have everyone get a cup of coffee and calm down a little bit. But I don’t remember anybody in midstream getting up and walking out,” Baksa said.
Paul Kloecker, former three-term Council member and candidate for City Council, who was in the audience when Arellano left, also said he couldn’t recall an instance in Gilroy’s Council history when a member left in the middle of a meeting for emotional reasons.
“It concerns me that there is that type of thing happening,” Kloecker said. “People get very concerned about their point of view, and that’s OK. How it is carried out is another thing.”
Arellano said, over the phone the next day, that he left the meeting to cool down and compose himself before saying something he regretted.
“The personal attacks got to me, and rather than me responding to the personal attacks in a personal way, I took a break,” he said. “I felt myself going there, and I caught myself. I stopped.”
Arellano said he always intended on coming back to the meeting, that he used his cool-off time to go for a drive and listen to calming music.
“Rather than losing it, I took a breather,” he said.
When asked about whether he and Dillon will get along in the future until Dillon’s term expires in November, Arellano said that “remains to be seen.”
“That was not the first time he has attacked me like that,” he said.
Councilman Perry Woodward said listening to Arellano’s “long-winded” discussion has been a challenge the past few months.
“Dr. Arellano, since he has been running for mayor, has just been taking an inordinate amount of time during meetings talking about things he thinks will advance his career,” Woodward said. “It’s hard listening to him go on and on during his political grandstand when we are trying to get things done.”
Rather than using Council meetings as a campaign platform, Woodward said Arellano should buy some advertising.
“It is exasperating. You have business waiting to be done, people waiting to speak, and then you have Dr. Arellano droning on and on. You can’t attend those meetings week after week and not feel some level of exasperation,” he said.
If Arellano were elected mayor, Woodward was careful with his words when he questioned how that would impact Council dynamics.
“If Peter Arellano is mayor, that to me, is a very difficult scenario for our city,” he said.
Dillon did not want to comment on the incident.
“Let (Arellano) explain it,” he said.