In choosing their next county supervisor, the voters of Fresno County’s District 2 have the chance to pick someone who has a practical vision for dealing with homeless people, backs law enforcement and wants to expand services to the ever-growing population of seniors.
That person is Nasreen Johnson, whom The Bee recommends the voters support when they go to the polls in the special election on March 5.
An election is being held now because the previous supervisor, Andreas Borgeas, won election last November to the state Senate. He began serving in Sacramento in January.
Johnson faces a formidable opponent in Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau, whose municipal district overlaps part of the supervisorial area. Also running is Steve Hosey, who played baseball at Fresno State and went on to a professional career with the San Francisco Giants, among other teams, before returning to Fresno and entering real estate. He now is involved with a family leadership program.
Johnson has lived in north Fresno for more than 30 years. In the fall she ran for a seat on the Fresno Unified school board to represent the Bullard High area; one of four candidates, she finished second. The Bee recommended her in that race for her clear thinking and collaborative approach. Asked why she is campaigning again so soon, Johnson says that many people encouraged her to enter.
District 2 runs from Manchester Center on the south to the San Joaquin River on the north, and from Fig Garden Loop on the west to Fresno State and Willow Avenue on the east. It has about 113,000 registered voters; while the seat is nonpartisan, there are 45,700 voters registered as Republicans, 37,000 are Democrats and 24,200 are no-party preference.
The candidates agree that homelessness is one of the major issues facing the district. Brandau authored the city’s no-camping ordinance after business owners and residents told him of homeless people defecating on their properties and posing a threat to customers and children.
Johnson wants to create a unified approach between the city and county so that homeless people get the help they need and don’t just head from city limits to a county island like Fig Garden. On a practical matter, she thinks street toilets need to be set up so homeless people don’t relieve themselves at business entrances; they would be monitored or attended so they would not become magnets for crime. She would also like to increase mental health and drug addiction services to the homeless.
She points out that burglaries and car thefts have become major problems in north Fresno, and pledges to support more resources for the Sheriff’s Office and district attorney to deal with those crimes.
Johnson was the only candidate to broach the idea of expanding efforts to keep seniors in their homes as long as possible by providing county-supported assistance. Such help could take the form of helping seniors with household tasks. The Valley has one of the fastest-growing senior populations in California, according to state figures.
Johnson has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fresno Pacific University and has a marketing background. She currently works as marketing and communications director for the Economic Opportunities Commission. A registered Democrat, her key endorsements are the National Women’s Political Caucus, Service Employees International local chapters 521 and 2015, and the Central Labor Council.
Brandau has served on the Fresno City Council for six years . When he arrived at the council, Brandau had been a key leader in the Tea Party effort in the central San Joaquin Valley. Over the subsequent years, Brandau said he remained conservative in his values but more tempered in his approach.
Still, his council tenure has been marked by some over-the-top brashness. Last year he upbraided a representative of a local social justice group, calling her organization “poverty pimps” who seek to profit off needy residents. In fact, that organization, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, sued the City Council for its approval of an industrial park in southwest Fresno over the lack of a proper environmental review. The developer subsequently pulled back his project and the EIR is under way.
Brandau admits now he would not utter such a needlessly offensive remark. But one of the key roles that the county plays is dividing up state money for local social services. A good share of that money goes to nonprofits. Under the pressure of having to choose between competing needs, might Brandau say something he will regret later?
Last Monday Brandau got testy at a candidate forum when asked a question about a plan for public access to the San Joaquin River. “That’s a BS question,” he said, drawing loud protests from some of the 100 people in the audience. Given his years on the council, Brandau should know there is no such thing as a “BS question” from the public, however ill-informed it might be.
A strength Brandau says he brings to the race for supervisor is having worked in City Hall. That experience will equip him to better ensure county residents living inside Fresno get their concerns addressed and that city-council officials work effectively together, he believes.
But Brandau came under some criticism from Borgeas in 2017 when the no-camping law took effect. Borgeas asked county staff if anyone from Brandau’s office had consulted with them before the ordinance became official. No, said the county staff. “I think this is an example of an issue that could have been handled better,” Borgeas said.
Brandau has the backing of Sheriff Margaret Mims, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer and the Fresno County Deputy Sheriffs Association. Borgeas has also endorsed him, as have council members in Fresno and Clovis.
As the third candidate, Hosey brings a rich life experience to his campaign: He got to play professional baseball, then coached; he then had a successful real estate and development career; now he is pursuing a ministry that focuses on counseling parents for family leadership.
Earnest and sincere, Hosey nonetheless does not have the requisite knowledge of local issues to step into an elected duty as large as county supervisor. Registered as no-party preference, Hosey says he will have an independence the other candidates do not. But he readily admits he will face a learning curve, and plans to get that through on-the-job training. That is not a recipe for success. He would do well to first serve on a county committee to gain experience.
To put herself through another campaign so shortly after mounting one speaks to the passion Johnson has for public service. It would also be valuable to have a woman once again join the board. It has been an all-male group since Debbie Poochigian stepped down at the end of 2016.
District 2 has a tradition of electing women leaders: Sharon Levy was the first woman elected to the Board of Supervisors, serving from 1975 to 2000. Susan Anderson followed her, holding the post through 2012.
Johnson has the intelligence, demeanor, hometown knowledge and commitment to be a strong supervisor. The Bee recommends her election to District 2.