A group of Gilroy residents are forming a recall effort against City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz, more than a week after an investigation concluded the first-term elected official violated several ordinances and downplayed her role in a Halloween party that turned deadly.
The attempt to remove Armendariz from the dais comes during a time when calls for her resignation have increased in volume.
A citizen-led recall election requires a lengthy process that requires public noticing and verifiable petitioning of voters. Nan Hawkins, one of the organizers behind the burgeoning recall effort, said they have more than the 30 signatures required to file a Notice of Intention with the county elections office.
If the signatures are verified to be from registered voters in Gilroy, proponents then need to gather signatures from 20% of the city’s registered voters in order to set a recall election. There are more than 31,000 registered voters in Gilroy, according to November 2020 statistics from the county elections office, so a petition for a recall election for a city council member would require more than 6,000 signatures.
City Clerk Thai Pham said he has received several inquiries recently on the recall process.
Hawkins, a Gilroy resident since 2006, said the group is confident they will have enough support to gather signatures in time for the November election.
“We all feel that it was a sad circumstance, but it was due to her poor decision-making,” she said. “If that’s how she is in her personal life, we can’t expect much more from her in her professional life.”
On the evening of Oct. 29 and into the next morning, a large outdoor party was taking place at Armendariz’s home. Just before 1am Oct. 30, police responded to reports of a shooting at the party.
Police arrived and determined four people had been shot during an altercation. Pronounced dead at the scene was 18-year-old Michael Daniel Zuniga-Macias. Three other victims—between 17 and 19 years old—were injured by the gunfire.
The investigation by law firm Hanson Bridgett LLP, released by the City of Gilroy on April 11, stated Armendariz “did not fully cooperate with the investigation,” and said her statements “lacked credibility.”
Armendariz brokered an agreement with the owner of an adjacent property to allow the lot to be used for overflow parking, the report stated. City-issued barricades, which Armendariz had obtained for a Dia de Los Muertos event in downtown Gilroy, were also used at the party, according to the report.
Armendariz was found in violation of the city’s Social Host Ordinance and for failing to acquire a permit for the event where alcohol was being consumed and attracted about 100 people, many of which were teenagers, according to the report.
The City of Gilroy issued 10 citations to Armendariz. Sally Armendariz, Benjamin Calderon and Domingo Armendariz—her mother, nephew and son, respectively—were issued four apiece for their involvement.
Hawkins said there are some individuals who have expressed interest in running as a replacement candidate should the recall qualify for the ballot.
“This is about removing someone from office who should’ve resigned on her own,” she said. “Because she hasn’t done so, we feel the recall is necessary.”
Armendariz was absent from the city council’s April 18 meeting, the first since the report was released.
She has not publicly released a statement in response to the report.
Daniel Mayfield, the attorney representing Armendariz, disagreed with the investigator’s conclusions, adding that the city hired an “expensive” law firm to conduct the “biased investigation.”
“We cooperated in the investigation first by offering to answer any questions in writing which would have saved the city thousands of dollars,” he said. “That offer was rejected. We then agreed to an in-person interrogation by the L.A.-based attorney who apparently charged the city $47,000 for his 21-page report.”
The report totals 120 pages, 21 of which are written by the investigator. The rest includes a copy of the city’s social host ordinance, the permit application for the downtown Dia de los Muertos event and other material related to the investigation.
Mayfield added that they have 30 days to file an appeal and “are reviewing the relevant code sections and will make a final decision about the appeal soon.”
“It is important to remember that this investigation has nothing to do with the criminal investigation and the administrative citations are not criminal citations,” he said. “We are, for example, charged with two violations of the same code sections because the alleged violations extended beyond midnight. In addition, there is no real due process in the city’s appeals procedure.”
Mayfield urged witnesses to cooperate with Gilroy Police in their criminal investigation.
“Our hearts continue to go out to the victims and their families,” he said. “We hope that our community, and especially our youth, will dedicate their efforts toward proactive solutions to this senseless gun violence and the tragedies that too many families have had to endure.”