December 16, 2009 > History: The Mayors of Union City
History: The Mayors of Union City
By Myrla Raymundo
Fifty years ago, on January 13, 1959, Tom Kitayama and five others petitioned for incorporation of the City of Union City. That was when some cities began to eye the townships of Union City, New Haven, Alvarado and Decoto for potential inclusion into their city boundaries.
City of Union City Council duties began on January 26, 1959 in the Alvarado Fire Department building, now the Union City Historical Museum. Councilmembers were Joseph Seaone Jr., Joseph Lewis, Tom Kitayama, John Ratekin and Oscar Dowe. Tom Kitayama was unanimously elected mayor of Union City by the City Council. Union City operated under a "Council-Manager" form of government.
Since that time the following were elected mayors: John Ratekin (1960), Oscar Dowe (1961), William Davis (1964), Irv Williams (1965), Bernie Morales (1966 to 1967), Leo Alvelais (1968), Manuel "Shorty" Garcia (1970), Henry Franco (1971), Don Miller (1972 - 1973) and Richard Oliver (1990 through 1993.) Tom Kitayama was Mayor in 1959, 1962, 1969, and 1974 through 1990. Mark Green, the present Mayor of Union City began his tenure in 1993.
The mayors of Union City have made a significant impact and changed Union City in many ways.
Tom Kitayama had the longest political career of anyone in Union City; a span of 32 years. Aside from being the mayor for so many years, he and his family operated a multimillion-dollar empire growing and wholesaling fresh-cut flowers.
Kitayama and his wife Heidi moved to California in 1947 and, together, with three Kitayama brothers, bought land in Alvarado in 1950. They reared six children and had fourteen grandchildren. Their son Tom Kitayama Jr. died in 1983 in a hang gliding accident and a daughter, Susan, died in infancy in 1953 due to cirrhosis of the liver.
When Mr. Kitayama retired in 1991, he and Heidi traveled everywhere together, attended Lion's Club events, kept active in different City events, and stayed in touch with the people of Union City. He passed away in 2007.
Bernie Morales, born on May 20 1917, was the first Mexican-American to be elected to public office in Alameda County. He was elected to the City Council in April 1964 and spent two years as a councilman and two terms as mayor.
Morales was a past chairman of the American G. I. Forum and a member of the Mayor's Conference. He was appointed to the Human Relations Commission of Alameda County and founded the Southern Alameda County Spanish Speaking organizations (SASSO). Morales was a member of Commission Honorifica Mexicana and vice chairman of the Union City Teen Club. He still lives in Union City.
For a person schooled in Spanish and unable to speak a word of English when he arrived in the United States in 1943 with his family, Leo Alvelais made it to the top. He became a City Councilman and Mayor of Union City.
Mr. Alvelais was born on January 31, 1918 in Chihuahua, Mexico. In order to provide better educational opportunities for his children, he left his native country and moved to California in the early l940's accompanied by his wife Emilia and their small children, Leo Jr., Luis Raul and Emilia Esther.
In Oakland in 1943, Mr. Alvelais became involved in the war effort, working in various shipyards in the East Bay. Two more children were born in California; Michael in l946 and Roberto, in l959. His community involvement activities were numerous, helping to make Union City what it is today. He still lives in Union City.
Manuel "Shorty" Garcia
Few men have wielded as much influence in the arena of business, community involvement and politics of Union City as Manuel "Shorty" Garcia. He made an invaluable and lasting contribution to our city.
"Shorty" Garcia was a legend in Union City. Born and raised in the Decoto area, he had a short stint in World War II and then returned to his beloved city and his family. "Shorty" helped many families in hours of crisis.
Although a volunteer firefighter, he wasn't always battling fires. He ran a gas station at the corner of 10th and H Streets, often giving gas or tires to needy people so they could get to work and feed their families. People were always coming over to the Garcia's house and the phone never stopped ringing. He was always there to listen to their problems. Garcia was the first Treasurer of Union City in 1959. "Shorty" died in 1986.
Union City is now very different than several years ago. Visitors and residents can shop at Union Landing and watch movies at the 25-screen Century movie theater or spend a leisurely evening dining at one of dozens of family restaurants.
Beautiful upscale homes are located in Union City and hillsides are protected from sprawl. Mark Green was a strong proponent of hillside protection in the early 90s.
The city maintains fiscal health due to the influx of new businesses. An independent fire and paramedic services assure immediate response. People enjoy innovative parks for soccer, baseball and skateboarding. Seniors can participate in many programs offered by the Ruggieri Senior Center. And dogs say "thank you for our very own park."
Many of these improvements are the result of efforts by Mayor Mark Green.