Late last month, Berna Maya, a teacher, nurse, Hartnell College trustee and longtime Salinas activist, was elected district director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). District XII of LULAC represents all of Monterey and San Benito counties. Maya unseated the incumbent, Maria Buell, who had held the office for one year.
A month before that, however, Maya, a member of LULAC for 20 years and Salinas Valley Council president for four years, almost quit the organization.
“I did this on principle,” she says of her decision to run for office rather than quit. “There were some issues that I wasn’t happy with. We need to have more unity in our LULAC organization. I want to see more people at our conventions and I want to see more youth involved.”
And then there was also the thorny topic of Rancho San Juan.
“That was one of the issues that made me run,” Maya says.
Over the years, the Salinas Valley Council has earned a reputation as the “community” council, compared to more politically-inclined groups like the Salinas and Monterey LULAC Councils. Every year, the Salinas Valley Council delivers turkeys to poor families on Thanksgiving, toys to needy kids on Christmas and organizes fundraisers which allow the council to give away thousands of scholarship dollars.
In the fall, the Salinas Valley Council did something unprecedented in its 11-year history. Its members voted—unanimously—to oppose Rancho San Juan, the massive mixed-use development proposed between Salinas and Prunedale. Big newspaper ads telling readers to vote no on Measure C—the November ballot measure that would have allowed the development to go forward—listed the Salinas Valley LULAC as a member of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition. The council’s members signed petitions and walked precincts to stop the massive development.
And then its members got a collective punch in the gut.
Maria Buell, a member of the Monterey LULAC Council and then District XII director, declared the Salinas Valley Council’s position on Measure C “null and void,” and demanded that the council retract its opposition to Rancho San Juan.
“That was a slap in my face,” Maya says. “We took a vote, and then someone tells us we have to retract what we said. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would I go to Monterey and tell them how to vote on certain issues? It upset me so much that I wanted to resign.”
Buell is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that argued Rancho San Juan opponents violated the Voting the Rights Act by not circulating petitions in Spanish, and a similar lawsuit, which bumped the general plan initiative off of the upcoming June ballot for the same reason.
Buell could not be reached for comment. Previously, when the Weekly attempted to contact her about the Voting Rights Act lawsuits, the Weekly was told, through Buell’s attorney, that she would not speak to the press.
Following the Rancho San Juan scuffle, the Salinas Valley Council’s membership doubled. And in April, when no one else stepped forward to run against Buell, Maya ran, and was elected. She’ll be installed as district director in July.
“For the first time since ‘95, we decided to take a stand on a political issue,” she says. “They said, ‘Oh, no, no, no,’ but we said, ‘Oh yes.’”