Voters in Fresno City Council District 7 will have three candidates with markedly different backgrounds to choose from to replace Councilman Clint Olivier.
The district includes neighborhoods on opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Surgeons and CEOs live along the historic and iconic Christmas Tree Lane on North Van Ness Boulevard. But a five-minute drive away is the Summerset Village Apartment complex, which was thrust into the spotlight in 2015 as a poster child for substandard living conditions in the city.
District 7 stretches from Roosevelt High school at its southern border to past Manchester Center in the north. Its western border runs along Blackstone Avenue and then the railroad tracks to East Garland Avenue. The eastern edge of the district circles around the Mayfair District, a county island.
Fresno's biggest hospital, Community Regional Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs of Central California facility both are in the district. Three of Fresno's four major freeways run through District 7: Highway 41, Highway 168 and Highway 180.
Fresno City Council District 7
Tim Sheehan The Fresno Bee
In mid-April, about 25,000 District 7 residents were registered to vote, according the county elections records. Even though they elected a Republican in the two most recent elections, only about one-fifth of registered voters in the district, or about 5,200, are registered Republicans. More than 13,000 are registered as Democrat, and another 6,000 or so are registered as No Party Preference.
Olivier first was elected to represent District 7 in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Term limits bar him from running again.
The primary election is June 5. To win, a candidate must receive at least 50 percent plus one of the votes. If no candidate receives more than half of the votes, the top two finishers will go to a run-off in November.
Esparza, 27, represents central and south Fresno on the Fresno County Office of Education governing board. He works as an economics instructor at Fresno City College. He previously served as an office assistant for Henry R. Perea during his last term as a Fresno County supervisor.
Esparza completed his bachelor's degree in economics and public policy at University of California, Riverside and earned a master's degree in public policy from UCLA.
He believes the biggest challenge facing District 7 is blight, which lends itself to crime and homelessness. If elected, he hopes tools such as special districts and community revitalization investment can be used to create funding for resources.
Esparza has been endorsed by the Fresno County Democratic Party and the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council. He's received campaign contributions from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno; the campaign of Andrew Janz, who is challenging Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; and the Central Valley Residents for Responsible Government group, run by Henry R. Perea.
Esparza was accused of improperly transferring money from a school board campaign committee to a Fresno City Council campaign committee last year. He had to pay a $500 penalty to the city, and his campaign disclosures show he repaid the questionable transfer.
Islas, 49, in 2005 founded Cultiva La Salud, a Fresno-based program working to promote health equity. She serves as the director of Cultiva and holds board positions for several other organizations, such as Community Water Center, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, the California Institute for Rural Studies, the San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club, the National Women's Political Caucus and Fresno County Women's Democratic Club.
She also was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve on the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley Board and the Health Benefit Exchange Board for California.
Islas, who was the first in her family to go to college, earned a bachelor's degree in health science from Fresno State and a master's degree in health education and promotion from Loma Linda University.
If elected, Islas wants to break the cycle of poverty by removing obstacles for children to stay in school, making it easier for people to open businesses and investing in employment opportunities and helping residents obtain job skills.
She's been endorsed by Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers; former California state Senate leader Kevin de Leon, who is running for the U.S. Senate in California; and the Central Valley Progressive PAC, among others.
Many of Islas' campaign contributions so far came from health-oriented donors and organizations in the Bay Area and Sacramento, including a number of people connected to the Public Health Institute, which administers Cultiva La Salud. Some local contributors include former Assemblyman Juan Arambula; Miguel Arias, a candidate in District 3; and Andy Levine, a community organizer.
Whelan, 34, works as a business and employment attorney for his family's firm. He's served on the Storyland and Playland board of directors and as a mentor for students at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology. Whelan ran for Congress against Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, in 2012 in what was then the newly formed 16th Congressional District.
Whelan earned his bachelor's degree in history from University of California, Berkeley and his law degree from Rutgers University.
He says the district's biggest challenge is a "dark storm of crime" thanks to Propositions 47 and 57, California ballot initiatives passed by voters that reduced certain drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and grants parole to certain nonviolent offenders, respectively. Since beginning his campaign, he's worked to relaunch neighborhood watch programs in the district. He also believes adding more police officers will keep neighborhoods safer.
Whelan has earned endorsements from Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer; the Fresno Police Officers Association; Mayor Lee Brand; and Olivier.
Whelan has raised far more money than his competitors, with nearly $200,000 in his treasury. He received contributions from Brand, Bonadelle Homes, Robert Smittcamp, former CEO of food processing company Lyons Magus Inc., Farid Assemi of the Assemi Group, FPOA and the Fresno Firefighter union.