Pajaro Valley Health Care District’s governing board has appointed a new member to fill former chair John Friel’s seat.

Marcela Tavantzis, 64, a longtime City of Watsonville employee, was chosen from among four applicants for the vacant seat on the five-member board that oversees Watsonville Community Hospital.

“I am very honored, especially since I am replacing a person that’s irreplaceable,” Tavantzis told Lookout. “I am very honored that the board thinks that I can begin to support them like John [did].”

Marcela Tavantzis will fill a vacant seat on the Pajaro Valley Health Care District governing board. Credit: Marcela Tavantzis

Friel, who also previously served as the hospital’s CEO, died March 21, two days after resigning from the board. He was 79.

Originally from Chile, Tavantzis worked for the City of Watsonville for 28 years, serving in roles including principal engineer, assistant city manager and deputy city manager. She later went on to work as an administrative services director of the public works department of the County of Santa Cruz. Now retired, Tavantzis has also served on several boards, including El Pajaro Community Development Corporation and Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley.

“When I saw this opening, I thought that my skills would be of support and assistance to the board,” she said. “I believe I have the skills that they need right now. I have a lot of experience with budgets, with finances and a lot of community experience.”

Tavantzis, a homeowner in Watsonville for 34 years, said she understands the importance of having the hospital nearby. Her husband has been a patient there, and with her genetic pancreatitis, she’s received many treatments at the hospital.

“I’m a frequent flyer,” she said. “I have probably been interned in the hospital 10 times. I’ve had inpatient surgery, outpatient surgery.”

Tavantzis, 64, will fill the seat through the end of this year. Tavantzis’ seat, as well as those of board chair Tony Nuñez and Dr. Katherine Gabriel-Cox, will be up for reelection in November. Citing family matters, Tavantzis said she hasn’t decided on a reelection bid.

“I’m not sure whether I will run in November or not,” she said.

Gabriel-Cox told Lookout she is still debating whether to run again. Nuñez couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The filing deadline is in August for candidates in the November election.

The terms for board members Marcus Pimentel and Dr. Joe Gallagher are up in 2026.

Hospital spokesperson Nancy Gere said that while it’s early in the election process, she’s not aware of any potential candidates running for open seats this November.

The governing board received four applicants for the open seat vacated by Friel. In addition to Tavantzis, the applicants included urologist and surgeon Dr. Peter N. Bretan, Cabrillo College employee Olga Diaz and physician Dr. Michael Suval.

In a statement provided to Lookout, Nuñez said the board is grateful for Tavantzis stepping up.

“Marcela’s extensive experience serving on boards, her understanding of the regulations governing public meetings, and her deep commitment to our community made her the best fit for this seat,” said Nuñez. “She has the ability to roll up her sleeves and get right to work at a time when our board is working on many initiatives to improve health care for our community.”