Watsonville City Councilman Aurelio Gonzalez will take an indefinite leave of absence from his duties because of a family emergency, he confirmed Tuesday.
Gonzalez said that he hopes to return to the City Council and the various boards and commissions on which he sits sometime in late September. But, he added, there is no guarantee when he will ultimately return.
“This is one of those life decisions where you have to ask what’s more important in life, and for me it’s family,” Gonzalez said.
He added: “I’ll be back. I just don’t know when.”
His absence means the City Council could find itself deadlocked on upcoming contentious items. That includes determining how to proceed with the recommendations of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Policing and Social Equity, which this week released its report from the various meetings and surveys conducted over the past year.
Gonzalez serves as a member of the 16-person committee, which also includes two other council members, 12 Watsonville residents and a Watsonville Police Department captain. It is set to have its final meeting on Aug. 21.
Recommendations from that committee are expected to come to the City Council sometime next month, Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said.
The City Council is also expected to make a decision on, among other things, the future of the Porter Building, several housing developments and a youth employment program Gonzalez helped champion after it returns from its summer recess on Aug. 24. It will also be tasked with determining how to use $18.8 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding.
“The next few months are going to be really important,” Gonzalez said.
Huffaker said that Gonzalez let the city and fellow council members know of the absence a few weeks ago.
“In my experience with Council Member Gonzalez, he takes his role as a council member very seriously,” Huffaker said, “so I know his decision to step away … was not made lightly.”
Huffaker said that he does not expect Gonzalez’s leave will slow down any major city projects or plans, as his staff rarely brings items to the City Council for approval that do not have “strong support” from the seven decision-makers.
“But any time there’s a council member missing, there could be an impact on any given item,” he said. “What impact this will have is still to be seen.”
Gonzalez also chairs the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, sits on the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District Board of Directors and is a member of the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County and Pajaro Valley Arts Council.
Huffaker said the City Council plans to return to in-person meetings on Aug. 24 in its traditional format, meaning people will need to attend the meeting to speak during the public comment portions. He said the council chambers at the Civic Plaza will soon be retrofitted with new tech that will allow some of the perks from the virtual format made common during the pandemic to return. But that project won’t be completed until sometime early next year.
He expects the City Council will revisit its meeting format when the project is completed.