All three Fresno City Council seats that were up for election appear headed to November run-offs after voters winnowed the fields of candidates in Tuesday's primary election.
Three council seats were up for grabs: District 3, which encompasses southwest Fresno and the city's downtown area; District 5, covering the southeastern areas of the city; and District 7, which includes parts of central and east-central Fresno.
With all precincts reporting:
District 3 — Miguel Arias is leading a field of seven candidates seeking to replace Councilman Oliver Baines, who faced term limits after serving two four-year terms. Arias had 30 percent of the vote (865 votes). Daren Miller, Tate Hill, Craig Scharton and Larry Burrus were locked in a close race for the second runoff spot in the Nov. 6 general election.
District 5 — Incumbent Councilman Luis Chavez and challenger Paula Yang emerged from a field of four candidates, but Chavez was about nine percentage points short of outright victory.
District 7 — Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza were receiving the most votes from among three candidates, with Vevas Islas trailing by 15 percentage points. Like Baines, District 7 Councilman Clint Olivier was prevented by term limits from seeking re-election after two terms.
The Fresno County clerk's office still must process and count any vote-by-mail or provisional ballots turned in at polling places on Tuesday, as well as mailed ballots postmarked on or before Tuesday that are received by Friday.
And that could be a lot of ballots. Estimates by electoral research firm Political Data Inc. indicate that nearly 14,800 vote-by-mail ballots were sent out to voters in District 3, more than 16,000 in District 5, and about 13,400 in District 7. As of Monday, however, the firm estimated that more than 10,000 ballots had yet to be returned in each of the three council districts. The county clerk has until July 5 to finalize the counts and certify the election.
District 1 Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria was unopposed in her bid for a second four-year term.
Miguel Arias, 40, a member of the State Center Community College District board of trustees and a communications spokesman for Fresno Unified School District, said he was confident that his strategy paid off with advancement to November.
"I made it a point to visit every corner of the district," from the Edison and Central high school areas to the Tower District, Lowell Neighborhood and downtown.
"What I was hearing from residents is that some felt this was no longer about the whole district, that areas were left behind, whether that was too much emphasis on downtown or some other parts," he said.
"I also heard from residents that they were concerned that the Amazon and Ulta distribution centers (in south Fresno) were not required to hire District 3 residents, but they are the people who will have to deal with the burden of hundreds of trucks passing through every day," Arias added. "There's no way to make sure … that these will actually benefit the residents of the area."
The next three candidates were separated by 14 votes out of 2,864 counted so far.
Daren Miller, 52, a middle-school counselor with Madera Unified School District, was running second with 15 percent of the vote. Miller is a former teacher, coach and principal at schools in the Fresno area and is working on a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Fresno State. He also ran for Fresno City Council in 2010.
Businessman Tate Hill and former City Councilman Craig Scharton were each at 14 percent. Real estate broker Larry Burrus was at 12 percent. Two other candidates were trailing the pack: Kimberly Tapscott-Munson at 9 percent and Sean Sanchez at 6 percent.
Hill, 39, is the former president/CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. He is a senior manager at a nonprofit that provides technical and financial consulting to small businesses, and owns a communications consulting company. Hill previously ran for City Council in 2010. Hill was endorsed by Baines, the current council member for the district.
Scharton, 56, is eying a potential return to the council after more than 30 years. He served a four-year term on the Fresno City Council in what was then District 1 from 1987 to 1991. He is a longtime advocate for downtown revitalization, and was a supporter of the project that converted the six-block Fulton Mall back into a traffic-bearing Fulton Street in 2017. He was the interim president/CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership and previously worked as the city's business development director.
Burrus, 66, a real estate broker and contractor, has been active on projects in southwest Fresno.
Tapscott-Munson, 54, is a retired school librarian who was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit by west Fresno residents against the owners of a rendering plant in their neighborhood because of odors and fears of health effects.
Sanchez, 48, is a real estate and property management professional.
Chavez, 38, appears headed for a runoff with challenger Yang in his bid for re-election. Chavez received about 41 percent of the votes, while Yang was pulling in just over 36 percent.
Before he was elected in his own right to replace Sal Quintero, who won a seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Chavez worked as Quintero's chief of staff. His resume also includes stints as a staffer for former Fresno County Supervisor Susan Anderson and serving as a program director for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Central Valley Health Network.
Chavez was unsuccessful in a 2014 challenge to state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford.
Yang, 51, is a news anchor for a Hmong television channel and an advocate for the Hmong community on issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking.
Chavez said he was confident about a November runoff with Yang. "We're trending up … and if we have to go to November, we'll be ready to hit the ground again and make our case." Chavez said he focused on economic development and other needs in southeast Fresno, including new businesses in the area and street improvements in older neighborhoods.
"And people are concerned about public safety," he said. "Folks are seeing a lot of the homeless issue permeating their area, especially in the Sunnyside area. That's something we're going to be working on in the new (city) budget" and homeless task force."
Trailing in the race were Jose Barraza, 65, and small-business owner Paul "Paully" Condon, 42.
Barraza ran against Chavez and one other candidate in the 2016 special election. He formerly served as Fresno County's economic development director, and now is a real estate broker and contractor. He has also been an advocate for establishing a new regional soccer park in southeast Fresno.
The likely runoff in District 7 will pit top vote-getters Brian Whelan, 34, a local business and employment attorney, and Nelson Esparza, 27, a member of the Fresno County Board of Education. Whelan was receiving about 39 percent of the votes and Esparza was at 38 percent.
Whelan ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2012, when he challenged Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, in what was the newly formed 16th Congressional District. Whelan received the endorsement of departing Councilman Clint Olivier, as well as endorsements from Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, Police Chief Jerry Dyer and others.
While the City Council is ostensibly a nonpartisan office, Esparza received the endorsement of the Fresno County Democratic Party, as well as backing from the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings Central Labor Council. Earlier this year he ran afoul of city campaign finance laws, transferring money from a school board campaign committee to his council campaign. He paid a $500 penalty to the city and repaid the transferred money; the city later changed its election rules.
Running third in the race is Veva Islas, 49, who founded the Fresno-based Cultiva La Salud in 2005 to promote health equity for families. She is also a board member for other organizations including the Community Water Center, Latino coalition for a Healthy California and the San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club. Islas received several notable endorsements from outside the council district, including United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta and state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.