What began in the spring as a seven-candidate race for Fresno City Council’s District 3 seat has come down to two men vying in the November election — Miguel Arias and Tate Hill.
In many respects, either would be a fine choice to replace Oliver Baines, the incumbent who is being pushed out by term limits.
Arias finished atop the crowded field in the June primary, and after interviewing each candidate and researching their backgrounds, The Bee recommends him as the next District 3 councilman. But Hill, who grew up in west Fresno and has demonstrated commitment to the area, should poll better than he did in the June primary, when he ended up 14 percentage points behind Arias. Hill had to sweat out final vote counting to place second, six votes ahead of the third-place finisher.
At stake is the chance to represent a district that runs from the Tower neighborhood to poor areas in the south and west. The controversial Darling rendering plant is in the district, as is the revitalized Fulton Street, revamped Storyland and the still-new Gaston Middle School.
Arias, 40, brings a wealth of personal and professional experience to his candidacy. Born in Mexico as the son of farm-working parents, he then grew up in Mendota, and starting at age 10 toiled in the fields and orchards of west Fresno. He has lived in District 3 for the last decade, and has an 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Arias earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology at Fresno State.
He works as the chief information officer for Fresno Unified, the fourth-largest school district in the state. In his spare time, Arias serves as a trustee for the State Center Community College District; previously he was a trustee of Mendota Unified. His resume includes working as chief of staff for former City Councilman Blong Xiong and as a legislative aide for former Rep. Calvin Dooley.
The Bee asked the candidates about key issues facing the city. Arias proved strategic in his vision. Here are his positions:
▪ Hiring more police and firefighters: He wants to generate new revenue that could be used for hiring officers and firefighters by making sure Fresno is not missing out on chances for money. As an example, he says Fresno’s developer fees are lower than neighboring cities.
▪ Supporting recreational marijuana dispensaries: He backs both medical and recreational pot, but wants an “honest conversation” with residents and business owners about how to start a new industry. He does not want dispensaries to proliferate only in District 3 or poorer neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Currently, recreational dispensaries are outlawed in Fresno. Arias also wants more than 10 percent of tax revenues to be spent on community benefits.
▪ Improving the economy and job growth: The city should focus its efforts not just on enterprises that offer entry-level wages, but those that provide jobs with adequate pay to support a family and a chance for workers to move up. Health care, telecommunications and education would be industries to attract.
▪ Reducing homelessness: The city needs to work with the county and nonprofit aid organizations for a comprehensive solution. That should include nonprofit developers to connect housing solutions with job and mental health services. In the short-term, the city should provide mobile hygiene units — restrooms and showers on wheels where homeless people can clean up. Temporary and permanent housing would follow. He notes that vacant housing in the city can be converted into temporary housing for homeless people. Arias has a personal connection to homelessness — his brother and sister both lived on the streets for years.
▪ Backing Measure P: He is for the parks-tax measure on the November ballot. Arias cites the poor condition of parks in the district as the reason. “It is a travesty that we have settled to such low standards for public amenities.”
One concern should Arias win election: Can he balance the demands of an intense Fresno Unified job with the formidable expectations placed on council members? He pledges to make it work, saying he is a master organizer who will use personal vacation time to cover council responsibilities as needed.
Hill, 40, works as a senior manager at Access Plus Capital, a nonprofit that has lent millions to small businesses throughout the Central Valley, giving him insight into the economy and job creation. He is also former president/CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce and had served on city committees dealing with planning in southwest Fresno. It is obvious in talking to Hill, an Edison High graduate, that he cares deeply about District 3. His father is pastor of Bethel Temple Church of God in west Fresno, and Hill has lifelong connections to family and friends in the district.
But Arias has impressive passion and drive, and with greater public-service experience, he is The Bee’s recommendation for the District 3 seat.
How The Bee came to this recommendation
The Bee’s Editorial Board consists of Publisher Ken Riddick, Editor Joe Kieta, Editorial Page Editor Tad Weber, Vida en el Valle Editor Juan Esparza Loera, and Vida Staff Writer Maria Ortiz-Briones. They conducted in-depth, in-person interviews with both candidates. Additional research about the candidates was also done using publicly accessible online sources and The Bee’s archives.
The recommendation is just that: a helpful opinion meant to guide readers as they reach their own decision on which candidate to choose. This recommendation is the consensus opinion the Editorial Board; the news staff does not play any role in its creation.