Alice Patino is learning a lot about what will be expected of her as Santa Maria’s mayor.
Patino, a member of the current City Council who is easily picked out of a crowd by her distinctive silvery-white hair, said recently that city residents have not hesitated to share their concerns and hopes for Santa Maria’s future.
Patino, who was elected to the mayor’s seat two weeks ago, told Noozhawk that she appreciates all the suggestions, especially since she’s still trying to grasp the fact that she came out on top of three other candidates.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” Patino said. “I knew it was coming, one way or the other. It’s a huge responsibility.”
Patino will become the first woman mayor of the city when she takes over Dec. 18 for longtime Mayor Larry Lavagnino, who announced last year that he would not seek re-election after serving as mayor and on the five-member City Council since 1996.
She earned half of the votes cast in the election, with City Councilman Mike Cordero a distant second. Businessman and former City Councilman Marty Mariscal and relative newcomer Dan Gebhart were also defeated.
Patino said she realizes that the whirlwind that has been her last two weeks is just the beginning of a historic tenure, in which she would like to attract businesses to Santa Maria, remove obstacles to obtain permits and focus on the Downtown Specific Plan.
“It’s been very busy,” Patino said. “People have been calling. Women are especially happy. I want to get the business community together.”
City code violations and crime are among concerns community members have voiced to Patino so far.
“This one woman came up to me today and said, ‘I live in an area where things have been broken into,’” she said, referring to suggestions. “It is helpful. The community needs to be the eyes and ears of the community. It’s not a one-man show. It’s a very giving community.”
One piece of business Patino will need to address is what will happen to her council seat, which she will vacate halfway through a term that ends in 2014.
A new council member must either be appointed or elected via special election to fill the post.
“It’s a decision that the council will make,” she said.
Patino is confident that her 12 years spent on the council will guide her in a quest to fill the shoes of Lavagnino, her longtime friend and mentor.
She’s excited to be a part of the changing City Council, which has a new face in Terri Zuniga, and loses two members — Lavagnino and Cordero, whose term was up this fall.
“We can put down our differences and really work for a common goal,” Patino said. “I look forward to working with the new council.”