Calimesa gets new council member, police chief

Calimesa City Clerk Darlene Gerdes swears in new Councilmember Jeff Cervantez Monday evening.

A couple of big changes took place Monday night at the Calimesa City Council meeting.

After a resolution was unanimously approved for his appointment, Jeff Cervantez was sworn in to take the council seat vacated by the recent, unexpected passing of Jim Hyatt.

“Thank you for the privilege and the vote of confidence from council,” said Cervantez, who finished only 16 votes behind Hyatt for one of two at-large council seats in the November 2018 election. Councilman Larry Smith had the most votes.

Then, at the close of the May 20 meeting, City Manager Bonnie Johnson announced Calimesa is getting a new police chief, even though Capt. Joseph Belli was only assigned in January to the Cabazon Station, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Station that serves Calimesa.

“This is not because of choice or because I volunteered,” Belli said to council.

“As much as I look forward to serving the sheriff’s department, I am going to miss serving the city of Calimesa immensely,” he said. “I am a local resident and I did truly enjoy it, both my rides here, as short as they may have been. My last one was three or four years and I was hoping for another three or four years here, but unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way.”

This was Belli’s second stint in Calimesa. He was a lieutenant in his previous stop, assisting three captains in his three to four years – Scott Madden, Paula Burch and Joseph Pemberton. Belli left about three to four months into Pemberton’s tenure, then returned in January as his replacement.

“I am honored in one regard that they think of me that way,” said Belli, who has been re-assigned to Palm Desert. “On the flip side, I do really enjoy what I am doing. It’s hard.”

“We have had some very good police chiefs here over the years,” said Mayor Bill Davis. “You are a real person and I really appreciate that and I thank you.”

“I do assure you that the next guy coming behind me, I have worked with about five and a half years … and he is a real person as well. He does live in the Pass region and I think you will find he is as dedicated as I am at doing his job,” Belli said.

Timothy Salas was announced as Calimesa’s new chief of police by Belli. Salas is expected to attend the next council meeting on June 3.

Cervantez will serve on council until the next election on Nov. 3, 2020, when the remaining two years of Hyatt’s four-year term will be up for vote.

Council had voted at the previous meeting to fill Hyatt’s seat through an appointment and designated Cervantez as the replacement because he was the other candidate in the recent election. The city had 60 days from Hyatt’s passing on April 27 to fill his seat.

“Of course, I would have rather taken this seat under different circumstances,” said Cervantez, who has been serving on the planning commission since his appointment by Davis after the election. “But it is a privilege to sit in Councilman Hyatt’s seat and represent the great city of Calimesa. I am looking forward to working with all of you.”

Davis now must appoint a replacement to fill Cervantez’s seat on the planning commission.

In the next election, four of Calimesa’s five council seats will be contested. Seats held by Councilman Ed Clark, Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina and Davis will be up for four-year terms, plus the remaining two years of Hyatt’s term.


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