City Mourns Passing of Vernon Councilman


The news of Vernon Councilman Michael A. Ybarra’s death last Friday was met with sadness in the southeast city.

The councilman died in Lodi, California following an athletic event, family members informed the city. He was 61.

To honor Ybarra, the city lowered flags at Vernon City Hall and city fire stations to half-staff on Saturday.

Ybarra, a life long resident of Vernon, was elected to the city council in April 2012, unseating incumbent Daniel Newmire during the first contested race in the city in many years.

He was the first councilman to be elected after the city was nearly disincorporated in 2011 and an ordinance prohibiting city council appointments was passed.

Vernon Councilmember Michael A. Ybarra, pictured when he first ran for office in 2012.(EGP photo archive)

Vernon Councilmember Michael A. Ybarra, pictured when he first ran for office in 2012.(EGP photo archive)

“He ran for council during one of the most challenging times the city of Vernon had,” said Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros.

“He was a great man,” said the shocked Calleros. “ He really worked hard for the city, he cared for the community and the direction the city is going.”

Ybarra ran as a reform candidate during a period plagued by allegations of corruption and secrecy. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas Ybarra, a 43-year Vernon councilman who resigned in 2009, just six months before his death.

“Ending our city’s old ways has not been easy,” Ybarra told EGP when first elected. “There is still more to be done. I promise to serve this community of Vernon with honesty and integrity.”

One of his first duties as a councilman was to work with city staff and his fellow members on the council to reduce Vernon’s looming $16 million deficit,
hidden by former city officials using budgeting gimmicks to give the city the appearance of financial stability.

This year, the city’s approved budget contained a surplus.

Before being elected, Ybarra traveled to Sacramento to fight the ultimately unsuccessful effort of Assembly Speaker John Perez to disincorporate the city. His activism earned him the first political endorsement by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber president and CEO Marisa Olguin said the Vernon community is extremely saddened by Ybarra’s death.

“Vernon has lost a strong leader and dedicated public servant who loved the city and was proud to be a part of ushering in Vernon’s healthy governance reforms,” Olguin said in a statement.

He was to be one of the most vocal members on the council, often asking questions or requesting more information from staff before voting. He was watchful over city budgetary issues and wanted to understand its impact on business, Olguin said.

Vernon councilmember Michael A. Ybarra during a council meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Vernon councilmember Michael A. Ybarra during a council meeting earlier this year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“Vernon not only loses a great leader but a close, Vernon friend. There were many business leaders who had a strong relationship with Mike…” she added.

Vernon City Administrator Mark Whitworth says the city is mourning the loss of a man who was “taken from all of us far too soon.”

“Councilmember Ybarra worked diligently to keep Vernon on its good governance path. He was a strong supporter of Vernon’s businesses and kept a close eye on city fiscal issues,” he said. “We send our condolences to Councilmember Ybarra’s family and friends. They are in our thoughts and prayers in their time of profound loss.”

Ybarra was born and raised in Vernon and he often noted that his family’s roots in the city date back to the 1860s. Ybarra’s great uncle, Esteban Peralta, served on the Vernon City Council for 15-years during the 1930s and ‘40s. Peralta ran the city’s first store in 1905, the year Vernon was incorporated.

During his swearing-in ceremony, the then new councilman called it “a proud day for the Ybarra family.”

Ybarra was a U.S. Army veteran and formerly worked as an aerospace quality engineer in Vernon for more than 23-years.

The last council meeting he attended took place Sept. 16. His last official appearance on behalf of the city was at the reopening ceremony for a Huntington Park soccer field renovated with funds from Vernon and named in honor of Sen. Kevin de Leon, who helped broker a deal with Vernon officials to keep the city from being disincorporated.

Ybarra’s term would have expired in 2017.

Funeral services have been scheduled for Monday, Oct. 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Calvary Cemetery (4201 Whittier Boulevard, East Los Angeles, CA 90023).

Vernon city officials, department directors and city employees will attend to pay their last respects and “tribute of his steadfast commitment to the City of Vernon,” the city announced Tuesday.

Ybarra is survived by his widow, Susana Rodriguez-Ybarra, and three daughters: Michelle, Marlene and Melissa.

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