Incumbent Pacheco, challenger Ornelas face off for District 1 seat on county board

Fresno County Supervisor District 1 includes most of western Fresno County, including part of the city of Fresno and the cities of Firebaugh, Kerman, Mendota and San Joaquin. Incumbent Brian Pacheco is facing off against challenger Jose Ornelas.
Fresno County Supervisor District 1 includes most of western Fresno County, including part of the city of Fresno and the cities of Firebaugh, Kerman, Mendota and San Joaquin. Incumbent Brian Pacheco is facing off against challenger Jose Ornelas.

Kerman dairyman Brian Pacheco has a big cash advantage in his re-election campaign for the District 1 seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors against Jose Ornelas, a tax preparation business owner and member of the San Joaquin City Council.

Pacheco, first elected four years ago, has received more than $68,000 in campaign contributions so far this year, and as of April 21 had more than $283,000 in cash . That’s a campaign war chest that dwarfs that of Ornelas, who’s loaned his campaign $5,000, collected about $2,200 in contributions, and spent about $362 more than he has raised.

The sprawling district encompasses a large swath of western Fresno County and includes the cities of Firebaugh, Kerman, Mendota and San Joaquin, plus the unincorporated towns of Biola, Cantua Creek, Easton, Five Points, Helm, Mercey Hot Springs, Rolinda, Three Rocks and Tranquillity.

Pacheco mug
Brian Pacheco Contributed

Pacheco’s district also includes parts of the city of Fresno west of Highway 99, and Pacheco points to an improved rapport between county supervisors and Fresno City Council as a hallmark of his first term. For years, there was little collaboration between the elected panels of the county’s two largest local government entities. But following the election of Lee Brand as Fresno’s mayor, Pacheco — during his one-year term as the county board’s chairman last year — helped orchestrate renewed cooperation on regional issues that relate to both the city and the county.

“We had our first joint meeting in over a decade,” Pacheco said of the supervisors and City Council. “Now we have an ad hoc committee, with supervisors, City Council members, the mayor, and the city manager and county administrative officer, that meets every 45 days to address issues that affect both agencies.” Those include economic development, homelessness, crime, water and marijuana policies.

Pacheco also cited accomplishments such as establishing special diversion programs for drug offenders and veterans to make the county’s courts more efficient; adding resources to the sheriff’s, district attorney’s, public defender’s and probation departments to deal with criminals; establishing an adult-offender work program to put inmates to work cleaning roadsides; and christening a new helicopter for the Sheriff’s Office to make it easier to patrol the far-flung areas of the county.

“I’ve used my business experience to deal with public safety, economic development and to help families and children in need,” he said. “As a dairyman and farmer, it gives me a great perspective on the decisions that affect the people I represent.”

Ornelas mug
Jose Ornelas Contributed

Ornelas said he’s running because he believes people in smaller towns in western Fresno County “feel they are not being represented or that things are happening to them that they feel are not good for them.”

“I see a lot of injustice and poverty on the west side,” he added. In communities such as Cantua Creek, for example, “people pay so much for the water but cannot drink it” because of contamination problems.

Ornelas was elected to the city council in San Joaquin four years ago, “and we’ve been making a lot of progress,” he said. “We’ve been working together with other council members to bring more activities to the city, and we’ve also been working on water issues.” He added that in recent years, he has tried to get residents more involved by attending City Council meetings “to make sure we do our jobs.”

Ornelas acknowledged that he’s at a fund-raising disadvantage against Pacheco, but said he believes a campaign is about more than money and campaign spending. “When I decided to run, I talked to my campaign manager and we said we’re not focused on raising money,” he said. “Most of the money is what I’ve donated to my campaign and from local businesses. My focus is to work hard and make sure that we talk to people who haven’t voted, or rarely voted, to come and vote.”

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“I know money is important, but I also want to make sure that we work for the district and work for the community members,” Ornelas added. “People think I’m running against Brian Pacheco, but I’m really running for the constituents of Fresno County to serve them.”

Pacheco also holds a big advantage in endorsements, including majorities of council members in each of the cities in the district and other elected officials across the county. “I think that says a lot about what I’ve been able to do in the last four years to bring people together,” Pacheco said.

Because there are only two candidates on the ballot in District 1, whoever earns the most votes in the June 5 primary between Pacheco and Ornelas will be the winner without need for a November runoff.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes, whose district includes southern and southwestern Fresno County, is unopposed in his re-election bid.

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319; Twitter: @TimSheehanNews