WATSONVILLE—Rebecca Garcia could not wait to start her mayorship.
Days before the longtime public servant was sworn in at the tail end of Tuesday night’s Watsonville City Council meeting, she had already had multiple meetings with City Manager Matt Huffaker and asked him to prepare a multitude of tasks for her year as the city’s leader.
“And you know what? He said ‘yes,’” Garcia said to a chorus of laughs from a larger-than-usual crowd in the Watsonville Civic Plaza.
Garcia took the oath of office alongside new Vice Mayor Trina Coffman-Gomez to become the ninth-ever female mayor in the city’s 151 years, joining the likes of Ann M. Soldo and twice-appointed Betty Bobeda.
Reelected to council in District 5 last year, Garcia became mayor thanks to 2014’s voter-approved Measure I, which rotates the seat yearly by district.
“It is such a great honor to become your mayor,” Garcia said, holding back tears. “As a child growing up in Watsonville, the daughter of immigrants—farmworkers—it never ever occurred to me that someday I would be on city council let alone be mayor of Watsonville.”
Her plan as mayor? To create policy based on public health, make a dent in the city’s housing crisis, bridge the gap with the local art community and take action in the fight against climate change.
“I’m looking forward to having a wonderful year as mayor,” she said.
She takes the reins from Francisco “Paco” Estrada, who in his first-ever year in elected office took over as mayor of his hometown. He will continue as councilman for District 4 until 2022.
In a tear-filled statement, he thanked his wife, family, friends, city staff and the community for helping him through the year.
“Thank you for your trust in me, thank you for trusting some kids, really, who wanted to make a difference, who wanted to do something positive for their community,” he said. “You took that leap of faith with us and I thank you for that and I hope I didn’t let anyone down. If I did, I’m sorry and I’m going to do better and I’m going to work harder. It’s been the honor of my life.”
Born and raised in Watsonville, Garcia graduated from Watsonville High School in 1965. She earned an associate’s degree in bilingual and bicultural studies from Cabrillo College, then transferred to UC Santa Cruz and graduated with a bachelor’s in politics as well as a teaching credential.
She then attended San Jose State University, where she received her master’s in education administration.
Garcia served as a teacher at what was then known as Rolling Hills Junior High and Watsonville High School, eventually working her way up to assistant principal at the high school and later principal at Rolling Hills Middle School.
She ended a 20-year tenure on the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees in 2012.
Garcia’s political involvement has extended over three decades. She joined the fight in 1988 that resulted in Watsonville’s current district election system. The case Dolores Cruz Gomez v. the City of Watsonville, which made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, ended at-large elections and allowed voters in the city’s seven districts to choose their own representative.
Garcia is the first female mayor since Nancy Bilicich held the office in 2014-15. She is also only the third Latina to lead the city.
Tuesday was the last meeting of the year for the council, which took no major actions but unanimously approved its consent agenda with councilman Aurelio Gonzalez absent.
Estrada did, however, request city staff schedule a presentation on possible changes to the city’s ordinances on drive-throughs for a future meeting.