Hanford voters will have to decide in the upcoming election whether their City Council needs some fresh young faces or some distinguished veterans to handle the city’s most pressing issues.
Races for open seats in the city’s northwest Area A, southeast Area D and southwest Area E each have two candidates, one younger and one older. Of the three more senior candidates, one currently sits on the council and the other two have served on the council previously.
In Area A, law school graduate Tyler Vierra, 28, will face off against physical therapist David Ayers, who previously served three terms on the council.
The choices for voters in Area E are similar, where 28-year-old Justin Mendes, a staffer for Congressman David Valadao, is running against Dave Thomas, who served on the council from 2006 to 2010.
Area D Councilman Lou Martinez has the distinction of being the only incumbent running in any of the three races. His seat is being challenged by businessman Francisco Ramirez, 33.
Vierra, a Hanford native, said he sees the upcoming election as a potential “changing of the guard” for voters who are frustrated with their city leaders.
“I thought it was kind of a right place, right time kind of thing,” Vierra said.
Mendes said working for Valadao has afforded him the ability to be involved in local government without developing biases or allegiances to any particular group.
“I think that’s what a lot of people want, is a fresh face to come in and shake things up,” Mendes said.
Regardless of what year they were born, most of the candidates agree on the big issues facing the city: attracting new business, addressing the drought and restoring people's trust in the council.
Ayers, a physical therapist, who lost his council seat to Irwin in 2010, said he was inspired to run again through his appointments to the planning commission and the citizens advisory committee for the city’s general plan update, the document which will shape the city’s future development.
“I think that’s really going to be instrumental as far as growth in our city for the next 20 years,” Ayers said.
Vierra said he wants to see the council work to attract career-oriented businesses to the city, not just retail, in an effort to prevent the “mass exodus” of young people wishing to escape their home town. He also hopes to make the city more business friendly by addressing inconsistencies in the city’s zoning code and trying to encourage downtown property owners to make use of their vacant buildings.
Mendes said that, if elected, he would meet with city planning officials to review development projects that never materialized, as well as those that have. He said job creation is one of his top priorities.
“What makes us competitive and how can we be more competitive?” Mendes said.
In light of a recent council recent decision to bar the proposed Costco store from offering eye exams, upholding a decades-old policy designed to protect downtown, Thomas said the council needs to reevaluate its policies.
“Is it going to bring people away from downtown?” Thomas said. “Only God knows what will happen if we change it or don’t change it.”
The candidates acknowledged that impacts of the statewide drought will continue to threaten the city.
Ayers said he recognizes Hanford’s continued growth depends on groundwater, and that means finding ways to bring more water to the area.
Mendes pointed out that the council will likely have little say in the statewide water crisis, which will be largely addressed through state and federal legislation.
“It’s important that we support any state and federal measures to ensure water for our city,” Martinez said.
Some candidates said they decided to run, in part, to combat infighting they believe has kept the council from effectively making decisions in recent years.
Mendes said he has watched the council over the past several years and believes there is a need for better leadership.
“Too many people were using the word ‘embarrassed’ when they read a story about the City Council,” Mendes said.
Ramirez pointed to an ordeal settled earlier this year when the council finally agreed on where to hang copies of the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
“If it took a year to hang up a document that was already approved by the United States, that’s not good,” Ramirez said.
Thomas was critical of those who have served on the council over the past four years, saying he served during much tougher economic times and still managed to take care of business.
“They can either stop fighting or I’m going to beat their a--es until they do stop fighting,” Thomas said.
Ramirez said he has spoken with a number of citizens who told him they don’t know who any of the council members are, let alone who represents their own district. Ramirez said one of his top priorities will be to go out into the community and speak with constituents on a regular basis.
“How can a community trust if they don’t see their representative out representing them,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez ran failed bids for the Kings County Board of Supervisors and the Area E council seat in 2010 before moving to Riverdale where he served on the Lanare Community Service District board. He returned to Hanford in Area D earlier this year.
His opponent, Martinez, has lived in Hanford for most of his life and was recently inducted into the Longfield Center Hall of Fame for his role as a mentor at the south Hanford recreation facility.
“I live in the community,” Martinez said. “I serve. I've lived here most of my life. I know the community well.”
Regarding Measure S, a ballot measure asking voters to consider a 1 cent sales tax increase to support police, fire and other city services, the candidates are divided. Four of the six candidates oppose the measure as proposed.
Martinez and Mendes both said their decision to run for office was largely influenced by a desire to ensure the money is spent responsibly if the measure passes. Although the current council proposed Measure S as a way to address city needs including a new police station, new fire stations and more public safety personnel, revenue from the general sales tax would be spent at the council’s discretion.