Challenger Gloria Soto and incumbent Etta Waterfield took the lead in Santa Maria City Council’s 3rd and 4th District races Tuesday.
With mail-in ballots counted and all 13 precincts reporting in District 3, Soto garnered 1,032 votes for 47.32 percent — capturing 44 votes more than her main challenger, incumbent Councilman Dr. Michael Moats. With all 12 precincts reporting in District 4, Waterfield picked up 2,692 votes for 61.08 percent. Challenger Rafael "Rafa" Gutierrez received 1,691 votes for 38.37 percent.
The 29-year-old Soto — who campaigned on a platform of expanding affordable housing and economic development — will be the youngest ever Santa Maria City Councilwoman.
"This is Santa Maria coming out, voting and telling us that they want change," Soto said. "I'm excited to start working with the current council to begin bringing about that change."
Candidates in the 3rd District included Soto, Moats and grocery store manager Raymond Acosta. Moats received 988 votes for 45.30 percent and Acosta garnered 150 votes for 6.88 percent.
Councilman Jack Boysen, who lives in the 3rd District, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.
Moats was elected in 2016 to a four-year term, but said he chose to run in this election to align the council seat with the election cycle of his district.
Candidates in the 4th District included Councilwoman Waterfield and Gutierrez.
During her campaign, Waterfield, who was first elected in 2014, highlighted the work the current council did to attract businesses to set up shop in Santa Maria as part of the Enos Ranch development.
Soto and Gutierrez were both political newcomers who entered the race for City Council this year. Both candidates made the revitalization of downtown Santa Maria a core part of their pitch to voters and campaigned on the need for new ideas in Santa Maria.
Acosta, who was running in the 3rd District, said he entered the race to be an advocate for taxpayers.
The election marked the first time Santa Maria used a district system for its council elections. Four-year seats for the 3rd District, which roughly encompasses the southwest part of the city, and the 4th District, which encompasses the southeast portion, were up for election this year. The 1st and 2nd District seats, along with the position of mayor, will be voted on in 2020.
This year’s race, which came at a time when the city is facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, drew both veterans of city government and political newcomers. Affordable housing, the revitalization of downtown and economic development were the issues most discussed during candidate forums.