HANFORD — At the tail end of a seemingly average Hanford City Council meeting, Councilman Justin Mendes started telling a story that ended with a big announcement.
Mendes has decided to run for the 32nd Assembly District against Assemblyman Rudy Salas, and his reason to run hits home.
Mendes said he was told by his son’s day-care provider on Feb. 26 that a registered sex offender moved in right next door to the northeast Hanford home where she provides her state-licensed day-care services.
A search into the California Megan’s Law Website reveals the offender was convicted in 1993 of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.
When he heard the upsetting news, Mendes said he went to Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever to see what could be done.
Sever confirmed that Mendes did go to him for help, but said there was nothing the police department could do locally because there are no concurrent circumstances that prevent the offender from living there.
Georgia Hall, the day-care provider, said every place she called, including the Hanford Police Department, Senator Andy Vidak’s office and Salas’ office, said they would look into the matter.
Hall said she was told there was nothing that could be done because her day care has fewer than 60 children. Hall’s state child-care license, which she has had for decades, lets her provide care for up to 14 children.
Hall said she could not believe the responses she received.
“I believe all children are important,” Hall said. “I’m appalled at the state that these laws don’t protect our kids.”
Mendes decided to go to Salas’ office as well, and said he was told by the district director that “changes to the law were not something [Salas] wanted to pursue.” He said he was also told that due to the small size of the day care, the day care could move to a new location if the owner wanted to.
“I find that kind of representation terrible,” Mendes said at the council meeting. He said the entire situation persuaded him to champion this issue and pursue changing state law.
Salas said the story Mendes is telling mischaracterizes the actions of him and his office to date.
“As a father, Justin’s concern for his child is valid. His day-care provider approached my office [eight] days ago. In the five working days since then we have been fully engaged in exploring every legal avenue. If none exists, we will change the law,” Salas said Wednesday in an email statement to the Sentinel.
Hall said she wants to do everything by the law, but it more than concerns her that the offender will continue living next door. Even with cameras that she is going to have installed, she said it will always be at the back of her mind because kids are always walking past the homes to get to school or the nearby park.
“For Justin to run for Assembly just to help is so honorable,” Hall said. “I thank him for caring for our children.”
Last year, Mendes said he would not run for reelection when his City Council term was up in November 2018 because he wanted to focus more on his growing family and spend time with them. Mendes and his wife, Melissa Mendes, have two young boys.
Mendes said that was his intention at that time in his life, but said now his young boys are a little bit older (one is nearly 4 years old and the other is 1 year old), he and his wife are getting a little more sleep than they used to and he believes he’s ready to take on this responsibility.
“Last Friday’s discussion with [Salas’] staff was enough motivation for any father,” Mendes said of his quick decision.
Mendes said his wife, who was a supporter of Salas, was also astounded by the assemblyman’s response and fully supports her husband. He said they are committed to making the situation work as a couple and as a family.
Mendes is currently the district director for Congressman David Valadao’s (R-Hanford) office. Beginning April 1, Mendes said he will take a leave of absence without pay from Valadao’s office as he begins his campaign.
Mendes said he believes Salas has gotten complacent in the position he’s held for the last six years and has gotten to “pick and choose what he champions, instead of what’s right.”
As an ardent Republican, Mendes is critical of current Sacramento politicians and their “inaction” as a whole, and has vowed to put Central Valley issues first, including water and job creation.
"Put simply: while other areas of California thrive, our politicians have left the Valley behind,” Mendes said in a press release. “That's why I'm running – to fight for our community, protect our children, and build a thriving Valley."
The 32nd Assembly District encompasses all of Kings County and the Kern County communities of Arvin, Delano, Lamont, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco and part of the city of Bakersfield.