Fresno City Coun­cil set to be mostly Latino for first time in over a decade

The Fresno Bee - - Front Page - BY BRI­ANNA CALIX bcalix@fres­nobee.com

For the first time in more than a decade, the Fresno City Coun­cil is poised to be com­posed of a ma­jor­ity of Latino coun­cil mem­bers.

The likely ad­di­tion of Miguel Arias in the District 3 seat and Nel­son Es­parza in the District 7 seat will make four Lati­nos on the seven-mem­ber coun­cil. Arias and Es­parza will join Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Es­mer­alda So­ria, who rep­re­sents District 1, and District 5 Coun­cil­man Luis Chavez, who eas­ily fended off his chal­lenger for re-elec­tion this week. All four are flu­ent in Span­ish.

The new ad­di­tions to the coun­cil also will mean a Demo­crat ma­jor­ity. Arias, Chavez, Es­parza and So­ria all are Democrats. District 4 Coun­cil­man Paul Capri­oglio also is a Demo­crat.

“A su­per Latino Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity for the city of Fresno re­flects the great di­ver­sity our city has,” So­ria said. “My col­leagues and I will con­tinue to move pol­icy is­sues that give ev­ery res­i­dent a bet­ter qual­ity of life, im­prove pub­lic safety and bring a di­verse lens to our city.”

About 15 years ago, four Lati­nos served on the coun­cil: Dan Ron­quillo in District 3; Brad Castillo in District 4; Sal Quin­tero in District 5; and Henry R. Perea in District 7.

“It’s im­por­tant we have a city coun­cil that looks like our city,” said Michael Evans, chair­man of the Fresno Demo­cratic Party.

Nearly half the city is Latino or His­panic, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau num­bers.

The new wins will take the city in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion on is­sues in­clud­ing home­less­ness and af­ford­able hous­ing, Evans said.

The Latino wins were a re­sult of grass­roots ef­forts to groom can­di­dates, said Perea, a long­time Fresno Demo­crat who lost his run for mayor in 2016. “For sev­eral years af­ter I left the coun­cil and that group left ... there wasn’t a bench,” he said. “That’s not the case any­more. Over time, you’re go­ing to see more and more Lati­nos in elected po­si­tions, like school boards and smaller boards, that will cat­a­pult them into higher-pro­file races.

“Our group were the trail­blaz­ers back in the day. There weren’t a lot of us,” he said.

“Now the bench is full. (Tues­day’s elec­tion) was a great ex­am­ple of that.”

Arias said the Latino bench on the coun­cil share sim­i­lar back­grounds, com­ing from first-gen­er­a­tion, work­ing­class Amer­i­can fam­i­lies. They also all were first­gen­er­a­tion col­lege grad­u­ates.

Even though the Latino ma­jor­ity more closely re­flects the city’s di­ver­sity, Arias said each coun­cil mem­ber has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to serve all con­stituents in the district. He men­tioned vot­ers of many de­scents, in­clud­ing white, Hmong, African Amer­i­can and Pun­jabi, cast votes for him.

“We have the obli­ga­tion and a re­spon­si­bil­ity to serve ev­ery­one,” he said. “This city is far too di­verse and has far too many needs to leave any­one be­hind.”

The Latino and Demo­crat blocs also could put the coun­cil at odds with Repub­li­can Mayor Lee Brand, but all ex­pressed hopes of col­lab­o­ra­tion. It takes five coun­cil votes to over­ride a may­oral veto.

“The hall­mark of my years of pub­lic ser­vice, as coun­cilmem­ber and mayor, has been col­lab­o­ra­tion and I’ve proven that we work bet­ter when we work to­gether,” Brand said. “I look for­ward to wel­com­ing the new­est mem­bers of the city coun­cil, and I’ve al­ready reached out to them so we can sit down and start talk­ing about how we can work to­gether to find so­lu­tions to the many is­sues that are fac­ing our great city.”

Arias in par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cized the city’s Ama­zon and Ulta deals, say­ing small busi­nesses that make up the back­bone of the city don’t re­ceive com­pa­ra­ble tax breaks. Arias also voiced con­cern over the city’s draft cannabis reg­u­la­tions. He hopes the rev­enue the cannabis in­dus­try gen­er­ates while lo­cated in District 3 will be rein­vested into the com­mu­nity.

Still, he thinks the new coun­cil ma­jor­ity will find com­mon ground with the mayor on is­sues such as pro­posed util­ity rate hikes.

“I re­spect the mayor for tak­ing for­ward the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing the city,” he said. “It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure he un­der­stands the needs of our neigh­bor­hoods.”

While Perea was on the coun­cil with the last Latino ma­jor­ity, Repub­li­can Alan Autry was mayor. The two sides didn’t re­ally butt heads, he said, and in­stead came to­gether to set pri­or­i­ties for city spend­ing.

Perea projects that the new Latino ma­jor­ity will tackle qual­ity-of-life is­sues in their dis­tricts. “This coun­cil will have to re­ally sit down, take a step back and say what are their pri­or­i­ties and what are hills are they will­ing to die on?,” he said. “Then they’ll have to sit down with the mayor, and in­stead of fight­ing with him, have an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about ‘What do we want to ac­com­plish to­gether?’”

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