Candidates looking to win one of two seats on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors showcased their political muscle Saturday afternoon during a two-hour forum at Fresno City College.
More than 150 people watched as eight candidates, seeking seats in districts 1 and 4 in the June primary election, answered questions highlighting central San Joaquin Valley issues such as water, air quality, land-use, crime and the economy.
Supervisors Phil Larson, District 1, and Judy Case, District 4, are retiring. Saturday's forum was hosted by the Fresno Partnership.
District 1 candidates at Saturday's forum were Mendota pastor John Flores, Kerman Unified Trustee Brian Pacheco, Fresno City Council member Blong Xiong and Kerman Mayor Gary Yep.
District 1 covers the northern half of western Fresno County, including urban west Fresno and smaller towns such as Mendota, Kerman and Firebaugh.
Xiong said his work on the Fresno City Council would be beneficial to District 1 because "the city of Fresno has become two-thirds of this particular district."
Farmland is still a priority, Xiong said, but it's also important to appreciate the "dynamic change" the region has experienced and advocate for "smart growth."
District 4 candidates were community activist Magdalena Gomez, Riverdale farmer Ernest "Buddy" Mendes, Fowler Mayor Pro-Tem Daniel Parra and former Reedley City Council member Steve Rapada.
District 4 covers the southern part of the county, including Sanger, Coalinga, Selma, Kingsburg, Huron, Orange Cove and Reedley.
Regarding water's relationship to jobs, District 4 candidates Gomez and Rapada stressed their farmworker family roots.
"Agua es vida -- water is life," Gomez said. "The lack of water not only affects the main agriculture industry but it takes a domino effect in my small, rural communities. I wouldn't want to see the town of Orange Cove go dry. It's a killer for our communities ... ."
Blong, Parra and Yep mentioned their involvement with the Latino Water Coalition, campaigning at the Capitol in Sacramento for the drought declaration by Gov. Jerry Brown. And Mendes and Pacheco, both farmers, talked about the need to take local control of water.
"Water is the key to the economy in Fresno County," Mendes said. "We need storage and we need conveyance -- those are the two most important things." And Fresno County wastes a lot of water, he added. "There's a lot more that we need to get around than just saying, 'Please give us water.' "
During a series of five questions that had to be answered "yes or no," responses were almost unanimous.
All said they support Brown's proposal to build the "twin tunnels," a large water conveyance system around the Sacramento/San Joaquin delta. And all said the current Board of Supervisors did not have a right to reject federal dollars to publicize the Affordable Care Act.
The only question lacking a unanimous answer was, "I support establishing big box super stores in my district." Parra, Xiong and Gomez said they opposed it, the rest supported it.
Yep emphasized his small business roots -- helping out in his family's grocery store since age 5, and hiring employees as a teenager. He wants to speed up development, and proudly listed many big name chain stores that have moved into Kerman since he's been mayor.
Pacheco -- who touted his endorsement from Sheriff Margaret Mims -- said he wants "to be known as the jobs supervisor." As a school board member, Pacheco said, he's also interested in helping develop vocational education and apprenticeship programs, so more young people in the Valley can get good jobs.
When asked about how to deal with nonviolent, low-level offenders, most talked largely about prevention -- helping troubled youth from a young age.
"Putting them in jail is not going to work," Flores said. "We're better off paying a little bit now in training them to refocus their life than sending them through the system of prison and jail and juvenile hall, which will end up costing us more than we'll ever imagine."
All candidates agreed Fresno and the central San Joaquin Valley have major air quality problems. Rapada shared one story, illustrating what it looks like to be part of the solution: "Kings Canyon Unified School District was one of the first to work with the California Energy Commission about fully electric buses. There's the technology out there to do that."
Most of the candidates stepped carefully around this question: "When is it appropriate to privatize public sector jobs?" Parra echoed the sentiments of other candidates: "Public jobs should have public employees."
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