Back as mayor of Chino, Eunice Ulloa finds it’s no victory lap after early losses

Eunice Ulloa is mayor of Chino again, 12 years after she left the office, but she’s already found herself the lone no vote on several matters. “It builds character, right?” she jokes.
Eunice Ulloa is mayor of Chino again, 12 years after she left the office, but she’s already found herself the lone no vote on several matters. “It builds character, right?” she jokes. WILL LESTER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Mayor of Chino for 12 years ending in 2004, Eunice Ulloa reclaimed the mayorship in November’s election, the capper to a three-decade career in local politics.

But no one’s playing triumphal music or strewing her path with rose petals.

• In January, she was outflanked on nominating a replacement for her vacated council seat.

• In February, a federal lobbyist was hired on a 4-1 vote over her objections.

• In April, at successive meetings, two development plans proposed on semi-rural land were approved on identical 4-1 votes despite her opposition (and that of much of the audience).

On the bright side, Ulloa is undefeated on getting the minutes of the previous meeting approved. But that’s small comfort.

“It builds character, right?” Ulloa joked of the setbacks. “You just have to smile a lot and say the Serenity Prayer. I’ve got one in my kitchen, in my bathroom and in my office. I say it every day.”

If that fails, she can try shouting “Serenity now!”

Ever since the election I’d been thinking of writing about Ulloa’s return, but I didn’t get to it right away. Which is just as well, because it’s a better story now that she’s in the thick of it.

Ulloa, who believes she’s representing the perspective of regular citizens, says she doesn’t take the losses personally.

“Some of them don’t agree with me,” she said of her colleagues, “but they’re always kind. They’re always cordial.”

She’s a defender of old Chino, the one that’s slipping away as former dairyland and chicken ranches are plowed under for housing. Yet she’s not a native.

The former Eunice Shaffer was born in La Verne and lived there until age 10, when her mother died. She moved in with her dad and stepmother in Claremont. That was 1957. She graduated from Claremont High.

Summers were spent on a farm in Nevada owned by friends of her parents. That’s where she learned to love animals and the rural life. She found a partner who appreciates it too: Bob Ulloa, whom she met at an employee potluck at General Dynamics, where they both worked. They married in 1975 and moved to Chino five years later.

They live on 1.1 acres in north Chino, where they have four horses and keep doves, tortoises, dogs and cats. Also, chickens, the source of eggs she totes to council meetings in cartons for her colleagues. I ask you, does any other Inland Valley mayor keep chickens?

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The Ulloas’ property has their home, an arena, a hay barn and corral.

“I love the lifestyle. I love animals. I love working hard. It’s not for everybody,” the mayor said. “It’s my little piece of heaven.”

I asked about having a photographer visit to capture her on horseback or while feeding the hens, but she said no. She prefers to keep that part of her life private.

“It’s my sanctuary,” she explained. Fair enough.

Elected in 1984 as a council member, she served as mayor from 1992 to 2004, returning to the panel as a councilwoman in 2005 after a failed campaign for county supervisor. (In retrospect, she’s relieved to have avoided the Colonies quagmire.)

Aside from that half-year interruption, she’s been on the dais more than three decades, making her the council’s longest-serving member.

From the start, she said, she was concerned that north Chino would become overdeveloped, a concern that’s pressing again.

In April, nearly 300 people turned out for a hearing on a plan to build 180 homes on 30 acres in a neighborhood made up largely of half- and full-acre lots. Most of the room was opposed, as was Ulloa.

Her colleagues put the plan on the ballot, necessary for zoning changes under the city’s slow-growth Measure M.

Two weeks later, a proposal for 38 homes on 12 acres zoned for half-acre lots was likewise approved, Ulloa opposed.

Both times, the low-key Ulloa didn’t grandstand, tamping down the audience’s attempt to applaud her because she wanted to lay out her position of sticking to the 1980s general plan.

The immediate test, she told me, will be the July 11 election on the 180-home project. No Measure M zoning vote has ever failed, but an organized effort has sprung up to fight the project, on the ballot as Measure H.

Ulloa said she’s never seen this much opposition, but she can’t help but wonder if people citywide will care enough to cast a ballot in a special election on a project that largely won’t affect them.

“If people don’t get out and vote, maybe my feelings of trying to hang onto our heritage are off-base,” Ulloa said.

Councilman Earl Elrod was among the majority on those two development votes. He told me he grew up in Chino’s farming days, when a 20-acre spread was considered small, but now has development all around him. That’s life, he said. People who complain about being hemmed in wouldn’t even be in Chino if families hadn’t sold to developers.

Elrod told me that Ulloa keeps to herself compared to the gregarious Dennis Yates, who retired as mayor last December, and that he and Ulloa haven’t discussed their votes on those two projects.

“She’s doing what she’s always done,” Elrod said. “I don’t think it’s a rocky start. You have to deal with these things as they come up.”

Ulloa was in the minority on certain development issues as a councilwoman and knew that was likely to continue as mayor.

“I felt like stepping up to the mayor’s chair would give me more of a voice,” Ulloa explained. She also hopes to use her role to encourage more public discussion — such as about the future of the Civic Center — and more discussion among council members.

Of her own future, Ulloa will retire in August from her day job as executive director of the Chino Basin Water Conservation District. As she just turned 70, this four-year term as mayor may be a last hurrah.

It’s been said of Yates that he never lost a vote in his 12 years as mayor.

“He may not have,” Ulloa said. “But losing a vote doesn’t bother me. I’m still going to do what I think is right.”

David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, which you may think is wrong. Contact dallen@scng.com or 909-483-9339, go to insidesocal.com/davidallen, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

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David Allen

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