There is the promise and potential of good things coming to Fresno’s southeast part of town, and City Councilman Luis Chavez wants a new term to see those hopes come true. The Bee believes he has earned that opportunity.
He emerged as the front-runner in the June primary, and is facing off in the November election against Paula Yang, a Hmong television anchor and community activist.
While Yang has heartfelt passion for serving the residents of District 5, she lacks the elected experience that Chavez brings to the post.
Before willing a special election to the council two years ago, Chavez served for four years on the Fresno Unified School Board. While on the board, it voted to spend $20 million on remodeling Roosevelt High (his alma mater), Sequoia Middle and Sunnyside-area schools, all located in District 5.
He won the special election in 2016 to fill out the term of Sal Quintero, who moved up to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Since then, the 39-year-old Chavez has notched several notable achievements:
▪ He authored the Support Small Business Act, which council colleagues approved in April. The measure specifically targets the Ventura Avenue-Kings Canyon Road corridor, where half of the residents live below the federal poverty line. The act eliminates or reduces city fees and rebates taxes for any business that opens with at least five employees and sets up shop on a vacant space. Chavez says four new businesses are now planning to open there.
▪ Helped secure $6 million for a new police station that will be built next to the big Fancher Creek retail project. The Fancher Creek Town Center, as the mixed-use development is known, would feature major retailers, family-friendly, sit-down restaurants and a theater. It is billed as a River Park-like center for southeast Fresno. Construction is underway at the center, located at Clovis and Belmont avenues.
▪ Worked with the Cesar Chavez Foundation to get state funding that will help pay for a 105-unit senior housing project on Kings Canyon.
▪ Put $1.3 million into rebuilding roadways in Calwa in a project with the county, and directed street repaving and sidewalk repair in other older neighborhoods in the southeast.
Chavez was also the deciding vote to launch the city’s rental housing inspection program, a means to hold landlords accountable for the condition of their properties, a key point made in The Bee’s Living in Misery series.
A key goal Chavez has is to convert the empty former county hospital at South Cedar Avenue and KIngs Canyon Road into a community college site. If that project proves feasible, Chavez could fulfill his plan to serve this term and then call it quits. He would like to go back into teaching, his first interest.
Of the current issues facing the council, Chavez supports medical marijuana, but does not want poorer districts like his to bear the brunt of dispensary facilities; and says the city must get more affordable housing so homeless people can be placed in transitional programs that gets them off the streets and on the way toward a better life.
Chavez backs hiring more police and firefighters, but notes the challenge of that, given that public safety already takes up the largest share of the general fund.
Yang, the 51-year-old refugee from Laos, sounds similar themes: a desire for economic development that provides both jobs and retail opportunities now lacking in the southeast; and a hunt for state monies to help fund police and firefighters so residents feel safe. She pledges to listen to all residents and have aides who speak Spanish, Hmong and Punjabi, key languages of district residents.
The council seat is nonpartisan. Chavez is a Democrat who has lived in the district for 24 years.
Yang has traveled a circuitous route to her party registration. She had been a longtime Democrat, but in March she decided to re-register as no party preference. However, she forgot to mention to The Bee’s editorial board that in February she registered Republican after some GOP leaders encouraged her to run. A month later, after studying the GOP’s agenda, she switched to no party preference so as to be independent. The abrupt change in party affiliation raises questions, as does forgetting to disclose the sequence of events.
She works as a news anchor for The Hmong Channel 16.5. If elected, Yang plans to continue anchoring, but pledges to step down if in her role as council member she becomes controversial and newsworthy.
Rather than serve on the city council, The Bee thinks Yang would do well on a panel like the human relations commission, of which she previously was member. She is passionate about wanting to help people of different cultures, as well as veterans.
Chavez is District 5’s best choice for city council.
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 Luis Chavez and Paula Yang. 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.