Tate Hill and Miguel Arias, the two men running for Fresno City Council District 3, have much in common.
Both are 40-years old, Democrats, and share a similar vision for Fresno.
Both served on many boards and are active in the politics of west Fresno.
And both share common experiences with those they hope to represent—Arias as an immigrant raised in Mendota, before moving to Fresno; Hill as a son in a west Fresno church family, his father a pastor.
Among the business community, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Lee Brand back Hill.
The city and state’s more liberal establishment endorses Arias. His backers include the Fresno County Democratic Party, city council president Esmeralda Soria, former Assemblyman Juan Arambula and former gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.
Either way, the next District 3 councilman will not tip the board’s ideological balance. Current representative Oliver Baines is a Democrat, too.
Church and Parents Shaped Hill
Now a manager at Access Plus Capital, Hill is best known for his time as CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce.
He grew up in southwest Fresno, the son of Pastor Tate Hill of the Bethel Temple Church of God in Christ. He says his father and mother are big influences.
“That’s something that has always been at the core of what I’ve tried to do. … I give people the benefit of the doubt and try to help folks … be their best selves. That’s something that my father has instilled in me.”
Hill ran for this seat once before, falling to Baines in the 2008 primary. Baines is now supporting Hill to become his successor. Hill has served on numerous boards, including the committee to help implement $70 million in state cap and trade funds into southwest Fresno.
“I have that sense of urgency to see District 3 and particularly the city of Fresno do well to prosper,” Hill said. “I want to make sure that the people of District 3 have a good representative that is really concerned about our neighborhoods about the people about economic prosperity.”
Arias: From Fields to Public Service
One day after he was born, Arias’ mother ran away to America, fleeing Mexico from an abusive relationship and poverty.
Two years later, she sent for Miguel and his siblings. They grew up in the fields of Mendota, picking cantaloupe and other crops up and down the state.
Technically, Miguel and his family immigrated illegally, but they became citizens under President Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program.
“I grew up as an immigrant (that) ran away from the border patrol. I would hide under crop fields whenever anybody said ‘La Migra.’ That was how we were trained,” Arias said.
For Arias, it was just regular life.
In order to receive amnesty, Arias’ family agreed not to be a burden to the government.
“For decades, my family never used any public service that we were legally eligible for,” Arias said. “So that was the kind of work ethic that we grew up with.”
In addition to picking crops, Arias helped interpret for farm workers in the fields at the age of 10, as he was the first in his family to learn English as a first language. When he left for college at Fresno State, he worked the graveyard shift as a janitor, often finishing work 30 minutes before classes started.
Arias has worked as a staffer for Congressman Cal Dooley and Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong. In 2006, Mendota Unified appointed Arias to the school board. He won election later that year before losing re-election in 2008.
While an employee at Fresno Unified, Arias won a seat on the State Center Community College District board in 2014.
Fundraising, Primary Results
According to the latest city campaign filings (through June 30), Arias has approximately $18,000 cash on hand, having raised more than $60,000 in the campaign.
Records show Hill with a little more than $17,000 in cash off of $43,000 raised for the same time period.
“My philosophy is you don’t have to tear someone down to lift yourself up. And that’s going to be the campaign that I run because those are the values that I believe in,” Hill said.
Arias says his life experiences shape his political philosophy.
“You really don’t know what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. You don’t know what it’s like to leave your middle-class lifestyle in one country and come to a new country under extreme poverty,” he said.
In the June primary, Arias garnered 29% of the vote, finishing first in a seven-candidate field. Hill squeaked by in second place with 15%, six votes ahead of third-place finisher Daren Miller, surviving a recount challenge.
No Decision on Keeping Job if Elected
Currently the communications manager for Fresno Unified, Arias said any decision on whether he would work both jobs if elected was premature.
This is despite questioning on social media, from the likes of Fresno Unified school board member Brooke Ashjian, long a critic of Arias.
Arias said he can perform both jobs, comparing himself to other members of the council in similar situations.
“At no time have I heard their ability be questioned because they have a job in addition to serving in the council,” Arias said.
Whether both jobs would present a conflict of interest (the city and school district have contracts with each other for policing and using playgrounds, among others), Arias said he would wait and see.
“Those things will be evaluated,” Arias said.
Hill said he is likely to reduce his role at his current job if he is elected.
Other Arias Controversies
Three times in the last year, Arias faced complaints of ethics violations. He has been cleared all three times.
On Sept. 10, the state Fair Political Practices Commission dismissed a complaint against Arias claiming he failed to report $10,000 of income from a foster care agency.
The FPPC agreed with Arias’ assertion that the money was a reimbursement and thus did not have to be reported.
Arias also addressed a 2015 article from writer Mark Arax, which among other things called Arias a “fixer” for then-superintendent Michael Hanson.
The story also accused Arias of harassment against people he managed.
“Not once has a grievance been filed against me or my leadership style or by those who I supervise,” Arias replied.
Arias said that he wants to stick to the issues.
“Mark (Arax) is not on the ballot. Nor is Brooke Ashjian. It’s me and Tate Hill,” Arias said. “We’re both committed to focusing on the issues and our version of how we fix them.”
Measure P/Parks Tax
Hill said he reluctantly supports Measure P, the Fresno ballot item calling for a 3/8 of a cent sales tax to build and maintain parks.
“I really had hoped that parks and public safety would have been able to do something jointly because there’s a huge need for both elements in the city of Fresno,” Hill said. “When I talk to people in the district, public safety is one of the top issues. But I also know that people want to have quality neighborhoods and places that they can really enjoy and for their families and so I’m supportive of the parks initiative.”
Arias, too, supports Measure P, but more enthusiastically. He prides himself on signing the petition to get the measure on the ballot.
“The city has not had the ability for 30 years to fund or maintain its parks, much less build new ones. In District 3, there has been such an injustice when it comes to parks. We have parks built on landfills that are just all yellow grass and you literally see the fumes creeping up from the ground. You have pocket parks, which are pieces of yellow grass, where people just hang out all day and drink 40s (of malt liquor),” Arias said.
Both Hill and Arias said they would work to pass a public safety tax or bond in the future.
Caglia Business Park
Shortly after the council unanimously approved the 2 million-square-foot Caglia business park in south Fresno in District 3, neighbors sued on environmental grounds.
Arias said that the city rushed the vote.
“It’s not a battle of jobs versus neighborhood. It’s not a battle of jobs vs. NIMBY. That, we should be crystal clear about. What the city mismanaged, and I believe intentionally, was that they left the community out of the process,” Arias said.
One such community group, the District 3 Plan Implementation Committee, remains inactive. Both candidates agree that the committee should be revived.
Hill wants a balance between jobs and neighbors.
“It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It is not either jobs or environment,” Hill said. “I do believe that because there are some residents that live in that area, that between the city and the developer, they need to find some kind of mitigating outcomes and results for those residents.”
Arias went further.
“In my view, (the city) did that to a part of town that historically has been discriminated by their city and they did that knowing of that history,” he said.
Amazon and Business Recruiting
Amazon’s distribution facility, across the street from the proposed Caglia business park, went into operation earlier this year. The city provided numerous incentives for the online retail giant to come to Fresno.
Hill said would do things differently. He wants to make sure any deal comes with local hire provisions.
Arias agrees with the local hire concept, criticizing City Hall for aiming low.
“The city’s approach to business incentives sells our future out for short-term gain,” Arias said. “This city is attracting more poverty by continuing to attract lower income, manual, minimum wage jobs. And I think that is a wrong economic strategy for the city of Fresno.”
He cites Clovis and Visalia as examples of cities attracting higher paying medical-sector jobs.
In addition to choosing a new District 3 representative, voters will also decide on enacting a business tax plan for marijuana businesses. The city recently unveiled its proposal to implement future medical and recreational cannabis use.
Both Hill and Arias want the implementation to be done right.
Hill wants to make sure marijuana operations are not as saturated as liquor stores. He also wants to see proceeds benefit the community, going toward public safety or fixing homelessness.
“Neighborhoods that are going to potentially be impacted (should get) some other kind of additional benefit,” Hill added.
Hill also wants to ensure that licenses to operate go to local businesses.
“I would definitely not be in favor of it 14 licenses being owned and operated by people from outside the region that are not necessarily employing anyone here locally,” Hill said.
Arias shares the concern that business operators may not be local.
“The proposed regulations are going to discourage a lot of the inclusion that we’ve seen across the state in the business industry,” Arias said. “Do you start an industry that’s monopolized in the beginning and therefore forever? Or you start it with as many small business operators as possible that are local? I prefer the latter.”
He also wants to increase the distance between cannabis businesses and schools from 800 feet to at least 1,000 feet.
Police and Race
A recent story in The Atlantic painted a bleak picture regarding race relations in Fresno’s law enforcement/justice system.
Hill recalled an incident 22 years ago near Los Banos as he was driving back to UC Berkeley.
“A cop said that I was trying to evade arrest from 500 feet away. Later on, the judge recognized that wasn’t the case and just said, OK ,we’ll just say you didn’t stop for emergency vehicle,” Hill recalled.
“My brother didn’t have his shirt on. We got pulled over because we had a vehicle that looked like somebody else’s. Our first interaction was, get on the ground, feet on the neck, guns drawn. At the end of the incident, there was an apology,” Arias said. “There wasn’t recognition that it was the wrong car. It was a lecture on why we’re driving at 11 o’clock at night without a shirt.”
Both men praised today’s police department, especially the work of Capt. Mark Salazar in the southwest division.
“Our police department has tried to make strides towards community policing. We see really good examples of it in the southwest district. Capt. Mark Salazar and his team are always engaging with the community, trying to build relationships. I think that model of community policing needs to be citywide,” Hill said.
Arias praised Salazar for setting up a mentoring program in a local elementary school.
“Mark Salazar, who in my view is chief material, has done an excellent job of making sure his officers know that their job isn’t just to react when they’re called, but to proactively engage residents and students before they’re even needed,” he said. “And I would say give them an A-plus when it comes to community policing and interactions with the community.”
Hill supports Fresno police wearing body cameras to create more accountability and backs the Office of Independent Review.
But he said that a disconnect remains between residents and City Hall.
“There are major trust issues between the people of District 3 and our city government. And I’m going to work my hardest to help bring reduce that gap,” Hill said.
Next time there is a controversy involving the police, Arias wants to de-escalate the rhetoric.
“It’s our responsibility as leaders not to default into the most divisive conversations; not to finger point when we don’t know the facts; but to wait and to allow the facts to develop and to await judgment afterwards and to be supportive of everyone,” Arias said. “It’s not easy to live in a city as diverse and segregated as Fresno’s sometimes feels.”