Only 11 votes separated Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza after the June primary in the race to represent District 7 on the Fresno City Council. As they head to the runoff in the November general election, The Bee recommends that voters support Esparza, who promises to bring a fresh approach to city governance.
Whelan has strong factors in his favor: He is a nearly 10-year resident of the district; has demonstrated community activism by helping form neighborhood watch groups and serving on the board of Storyland/Playland; and has garnered significant endorsements, including Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Sheriff Margaret Mims.
But Esparza, 28, is the candidate who has at least some elected experience, having served on the board for the Fresno County Office of Education since 2016, when he handily defeated the incumbent.
In his time on the county board, Esparza has had the chance to support development of a career technical high school that opened in August at the Kermit Koontz Education Complex, 1320 N. Mariposa St., which is in District 7. It offers students a chance to develop workplace skills that can help them land well-paying jobs upon graduation if they choose not to attend college.
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Esparza teaches economics at Fresno City College, and understands a fairly new funding mechanism approved by the state Legislature — the technical name is enhanced infrastructure finance districts — that can be used to pay to repair and replace public facilities like roads, parks, water and sewer systems. Such a district could be created in central Fresno to improve public facilities, Esparza thinks.
He also supports using another type of tax-increment law — community revitalization and investment authority — that allows cities to build affordable housing and clean up sites with pollution problems. Additionally Esparza wants to champion locating a new senior center in District 7. Fresno does not yet have a dedicated center for its seniors; the council earlier this year committed $500,000 in medical-marijuana tax revenue for such a place.
Esparza says the city needs to open a 200-bed shelter for homeless people and create more temporary housing that would help those who live on the streets. He also backs high-speed rail, pointing out that it has provided thousands of good-paying trade jobs in the region. And Esparza says he backs Measure P on the November ballot, which would hike the sales tax to create new money for parks creation and maintenance. He said he has held “literally thousands” of conversations with District 7 residents who want good parks.
Because Esparza comes from a background of mixed race — his mother is Hispanic, his father African American — he can relate to many of the people of color living in the district, which runs from Roosevelt High School on the south end to past the Manchester Center on 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.
One wild card in the November runoff is who the voters who backed a third candidate in the June primary will choose. Veva Islas received 1,163 votes, or 24 percent of the total. She now supports Esparza, but is not actively campaigning for him.
Clint Olivier has been the district’s councilman since 2010 and will step down due to term limits. Olivier took a conservative approach to many of the decisions he faced. Esparza, a registered Democrat, will likely take a different stance. Central Fresno has some of the city’s poorest residents who could use the help of city services and programs, and Esparza is open to using government to help those who need assistance. For that reason, The Bee recommends that he be elected.
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 Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza (he is not related to Juan Esparza Loera). 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.