The 2018 election cycle, which ended with Stone’s firm council allies Filippi, Timm and Robinson out of office, seemingly disenfranchised Stone politically. But gradually, over the ensuing year, she gradually reassembled a voting block that included Felix; and Bill Velto, who was appointed to the Council in January 2019. With the on-again, off-again support of Zuniga, Stone in recent months had asserted herself as the city’s political leader.
This galvanized a significant cross section of the Upland community, in particular the coalition of residents opposed to the city’s abandonment of its parkland. Even in the face of that sentiment, Felix appeared to be rather insensitive to the intensity of zeal the park desecration issue engendered. Nor did he seem to recognize the degree to which he had politically benefited in the 2018 race from the antipathy toward Filippi that was a consequence of his affiliation with Stone.
As Spring 2020 advanced, an apparently unrelated development rendered Felix politically irrelevant in Upland. A heating ventilation and air conditioning technician by trade, Felix was offered a more lucrative entrepreneurial opportunity in Utah than his business based in Upland, one that was opening up in early June. On May 11, Felix announced that he was resigning from the city council after being in office for 17 months. effective May 30 to move with his family – his wife and three daughters – to Utah.
A furious round of discussion, speculation, debate and intrigue followed, as Stone sought to maintain the fragile council alliance she had only recently reestablished. In particular, her goal was to fill the vacancy Felix’s exit created with her old council ally, Filippi. It was Stone’s hope that the stars would align just enough for her to carry that off. Velto and Filippi were childhood friends, Velto had endorsed Filippi when he ran for city council in 2010, they had endorsed each other in 2012 when Filippi unsuccessfully vied for mayor and Velto, then a planning commissioner, made an equally unsuccessful run for city council, and Velto endorsed Filippi when he successfully sought reelection to the council in 2014. Since Councilwoman Janice Elliott had been a consistent dissenter during the heyday of the council coalition that included Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson, Mayor Stone recognized that the prospect of getting Elliott to support the appointment of Filippi was dim, at best. Stone, nevertheless, saw a possibility that Zuniga, whose tenure on the council began just as Filippi’s ended, might be prevailed upon to support her in her effort to reinitiate Filippi’s political career.
Ultimately, however, Filippi’s political comeback was dashed as a consequence of, ironically, Velto’s ongoing political ambition. Jeff Burum, a deep-pocketed developer with several actual, tentative, potential or contemplated projects in Upland, has emerged as Velto’s most likely political sponsor going forward, whether he is to run for the First District city council seat in November or reach for the brass ring and run for mayor. Burum has a pronounced enmity toward Filippi and, as a consequence, Velto found it politic to not support appointing Filippi.
Conventional wisdom dictated that the next most logical candidate to replace Felix was therefore Osuna, who ran a relatively narrow 163 votes or 4.23 percent behind Felix in the 2018 election. Osuna at this point, however, has both professional and familial commitments that she told the Sentinel would preclude her from devoting the time she considers necessary to master the agenda items she would be called upon to vote on as a member of the city council. For that reason, she said, she is not available to serve on the council.
On June 8, the city council took up the issue of what it was going to do about the council vacancy created by Felix’s resignation. Among its options were making an appointment of a Third District resident immediately to fill the post until the next regularly scheduled Third District election in 2022; making an appointment of a Third District resident immediately to fill the post for five months until the upcoming November election, at which point an election to fill the post for the next two years would be held; making no immediate appointment and thus leaving the position unfilled until an election to fill the position for the next two years can be held in November; scheduling an election to be held at the earliest possible date; or postponing a decision on the matter until a later meeting.
The council made its decision on June 8 against a backdrop of some city residents and some Third District residents calling for the council to make an immediate appointment and others calling for the city council to ensure that the Third District’s residents have a final say in the matter through an election process. Some residents specifically advocated against the council appointing Filippi.
Among those who addressed the council that evening were Garcia and Osuna. They did so telephonically, as the meeting was one that was not conducted publicly but rather by a video conference involving members of the city council and audio connections which allowed certain city staff to participate. The meeting was conducted electronically as a precaution taken because of the coronavirus crisis.
Carlos Garcia said, “As a resident of District 3, I would like for the council to allow us to choose who will represent us in filling the current empty seat. I am keeping a positive outlook that we do not consider previous representatives for our district. We in District 3 would like the opportunity to move forward and have our area thrive, which in turn will continue to build upon our City of Gracious Living. I am hoping that you will listen to the residents in District 3 and not be distracted by all the negative chatter from people outside of our district. At the end of the day, our votes are the ones that are going to count for the seat. If you decide to appoint someone, I would like to formally be considered to represent our District 3.”