Luis Chavez says he’s on the right track to increasing prosperity in southeast Fresno.
Paula Yang counters she can do better, especially with bringing the community together.
Voters in District 5 will choose to keep Chavez, as he runs for his first full term on the Fresno City Council, or give Yang, a community advocate and Hmong-language TV journalist, a shot.
In the June 5 primary, Chavez won a plurality of votes at 41%. Yang finished second in a four-person field, with 36%, to force a runoff.
The latest financial filings (through June 30) saw Yang raise $35,000, with $4,400 cash on hand, but $14,000 in debt. Chavez is in a stronger financial position, raising $109,000 for the same period, with $72,000 cash on hand and $380 in debt.
Both have levied accusations against each other. Read more here.
GV Wire Infographic/Alexis DeSha
Chavez Works His Way Through Southeast Fresno
Chavez says he’s earned re-election.
“There are three things people look for when deciding who to vote for. One is who the person is — your character, your integrity, your values, your principles. Two is what you’ve specifically done in that community to make the lives of people better. I have a track record of doing that. The third one is, who is supporting you?” Chavez said.
His endorsers include Mayor Lee Brand, the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, and labor unions representing city firefighters, transportation workers, and other building trades.
Chavez, 39, won election to the council in 2016, fulfilling the final two years of Sal Quintero’s term (Quintero resigned after his election to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors). Prior to his victory, Chavez worked as Quintero’s chief of staff, while serving as the elected trustee to the Fresno Unified school board.
His family settled in southeast Fresno for good when he was 13. The previous five years, they bounced around between Fresno and Los Angeles because of his mother’s work in the fields.
“It was a challenging time, back in the 1990s,” Chavez recalled. “There were a lot of issues that we are having now, with gangs, drugs and a lot of the social challenges that we have. But I love living there, working there.”
Chavez attended Roosevelt High School (less than a block from his current residence), Fresno City College and Fresno State.
He said he loves the area because of the diversity: “You can go down the street to a panadería, a Chinese restaurant, Indian Punjabi food. It’s a hodgepodge of a lot of cultures. I love that about southeast.”
Prior to getting involved in politics, Chavez taught at Fresno Unified, Clovis Unified, and Fresno City College. He also worked as a health-care administrator with Central Valley Health Network.
His wife, Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas, succeeded him on the school board.
Chavez has twin daughters from a prior relationship. They attend Fresno State.
Hmong Immigrant Turned Activist
Yang, emigrated from Laos in the 1970s, a victim of the Vietnam War. Her father, General Ge Paul Yang, served with General Vang Pao, a powerful and influential figure in the Hmong community.
The family settled in Orange County before moving the Merced, then Fresno. She learned English by playing with friends.
“I became the mouthpiece for my mom and dad. … Life in transition was very hard for my parents,” Yang said, noting the adjustment to a new country and culture was hard for all.
Yang recounted the value of hard work her parents instilled in her as a teenager.
“I got a job at a barbershop. They asked me if I could work after school, cleaning and everything. Our first Christmas, after we discovered what Christmas was, I was able to buy thrift store clothes, little things, knick-knacks, and wrap it up and celebrate Christmas,” Yang said.
“My father cried. He said ‘I had 25 cents to my name when I brought all of you guys to America. …today you are my daughter. Today, you give gifts to all of us.’ That is the day I decided, you know what, Dad, things change. And, we’re going to have a better life in America with all the siblings.”
Her family farmed in Merced and Fresno counties and celebrated the weeklong Hmong New Year at the end of December. She became a U.S. citizen in the late 1980s.
Yang attended Fresno City College and Central California College of Law, a now-defunct correspondence school. She operated a photo studio in 2001 before starting a real estate business.
Yang took on a role as spokeswoman for the community following the 2007 arrest of her father and Vang Pao, accused by the U.S. government of a conspiracy to overthrow the Laotian government.
“That was the day my heart just stopped. I thought, ‘My gosh, my people give so much to this world, to America. We were allies with the Americans. How can they say my leader, my father, who are veterans betrayed our country?’ ” Yang recalled.
When not campaigning, Yang is an anchor for The Hmong Channel (locally on Ch. 16.5), which has studios in Fresno. She describes herself as a community activist.
“It started out with my Hmong community. But recently, everyone in the country is calling me,” Yang said. She advocated for victims of crime, immigration issues, and women going through domestic issues.
Yang, 51, is a mother of two adult children, and a grandmother to three. Her husband, Juan Carmona, manages a Sprint store and has loaned her campaign $4,000.
Candidates’ Top Priorities
Chavez cited public safety as his top goal. He wants to concentrate on the homeless, and what he calls “porch pirates,” those who steal packages from in front of a residence.
“We have some investments that will help with that. I was able to secure $6 million in a police substation in the southeast. That will cut down on response times,” he said.
Chavez touted a business reimbursement plan to help encourage local owners along the Kings Canyon/Ventura corridor.
He also noted more housing construction coming to District 5 and a new shopping center at Clovis and Tulare avenues that could be a regional anchor.
“It will make southeast Fresno the hub for economic activity for folks in the surrounding areas,” he said.
Yang wants to fix what she characterizes as a bleak economic situation.
“We have no jobs. Many of the mom and pop shops are shutting down,” Yang said. “If you drive down Kings Canyon, you can see the distress and the image of the street, the infrastructure, the businesses.”
She noted the lack of shopping opportunities and restaurants.
“Maybe we can come up with incentives so we can fix up our storefronts,” she said. “If we can just fix the roads and the storefronts, we would entice and invite other tourists and families come into our community.”
Yang wants District 5 to be a place that other Fresnans to visit, which in turn, would help property values.
Measure P/Public Safety Tax
Both candidates had similar thoughts about the parks tax ballot initiative, Measure P.
Chavez and Yang agree that southeast Fresno needs more parks. However, they both wished that the measure included a public safety component.
“I want to make sure southeast gets its fair share. I want to see what that spending plan will look like,” Chavez said, who conditionally supports the measure. He also wants a regional park for his district.
Yang noticed the demand for parks while campaigning.
“We are willing to pay for (parks). You pay $5 just to get into Roeding Park, $5 to get into Woodward Park. We can afford $3 in our tax so we can have green parks,” Yang said.
Both also said they would support a future public safety tax.
“If we don’t have a safe neighborhood, the equity and value will not rise. Our businesses will not rise,” Yang said. “We have to support our police. They are understaffed. They are the ones who protect our children, our family, our elders.”
For Chavez, public safety is personal.
“We see the need in the community. I was a victim of a home burglary. … I’m a council member, it got highlighted,” Chavez said. “There are a lot of people who don’t even report it because it is just going to sit in a stack. So, we have to investments in all those needs.”
Yang welcomes, with proper regulation, the cannabis industry in Fresno.
“If we continue to support the industry, and strict regulations and ordinances for them, so we can have dispensaries that are businesses. We can tax them to have revenue,” Yang said.
She wants the proceeds to go toward parks and elderly programs.
Chavez expressed reservations about allowing recreational marijuana businesses in Fresno. It’s a public position he’s held since his school board days.
He supports medicinal marijuana.
“When we talk about an industry and business model, it has to be done right. It can’t be placed near schools, churches, retirement homes and areas where it’s not a good fit for the neighborhood,” Chavez said. “I prefer they be placed in industrial areas where they don’t affect the neighborhoods.”
Chavez supports some language in the proposed rules that allow one medical dispensary per council district and future expansion. But he said he is concerned about turning the police into the cannabis enforcement agency. And he wants the industry to pay a 25% community benefit.
Bus Rapid Transit
Chavez is satisfied with the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit in his district. The “high speed” bus service runs along Ventura Street, carrying passengers to and from downtown.
“We’ve actually had businesses that have had an increase of 10-15% in sales since the BRT went online. I’m hoping to expand that in the future,” Chavez said. He wants an expansion of the line to help students attend school.
Yang wants BRT to include more services for the elderly, especially near senior centers.
“(Seniors tell me) where do we go for transportation? There’s no transit bus. I recommend we do something like a special shuttle bus to take seniors to get groceries, their medicine and come back home,” Yang said.
She also wants BRT simplified.
“The bus system is so high tech. I don’t even know how they operate. I think I speak English and read and write OK, but I can’t figure out how you get that ticket out of the boxes. It’s too high technology for our group of people in District 5,” she said.
District 5 History (Since 1983)
Year Elected Representative
1983, 1987 Chris Petersen
1991 Esther Padilla
1994, 1998 Sal Quintero
2002, 2006 Mike Dages
2010, 2014 Sal Quintero
2016 Luis Chavez
Note: Fresno went from odd year to even year elections in the 1990s. Quintero resigned in 2016 midterm after his election to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Chavez won a special election.