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San Joaquin City Councilman Dies of COVID-19 Related Illness



Image of San Joaquin City Councilman Jose Ornelas
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Jose Ornelas, a San Joaquin city councilmember since 2014, died over the weekend, reportedly of a COVID-19-related illness.

“The City of San Joaquin is heartbroken to announce that our Councilmember and beloved member of the community, Jose Ornelas, passed away unexpectedly this past weekend,” San Joaquin City Manager Elizabeth Nunes said in a news release.

Nunes lauded Ornelas’ work on behalf of “organizations from the community of San Joaquin” and his vocal efforts “about improving his community and the region.”

Fought for Clean, Safe Drinking Water

Ornelas, who ran a tax preparation and immigration consulting business in San Joaquin, unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Brian Pacheco for the District 1 seat on the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in 2018.

Asked why he was embarking on the longshot bid, Ornelas told The Fresno Bee’s Tim Sheehan that residents in small western Fresno County communities weren’t getting the representation they deserved.

“I see a lot of injustice and poverty on the west side,” said Ornelas, citing contaminated drinking water in Cantua Creek.

Ornelas worked hard to bring clean, safe drinking water to west-side communities. He was in the Water Education for Latino Leaders‘ inaugural class of fellows and a member of the WaterNow Alliance.

ABC30’s Corin Hoggard said on Twitter that Ornelas’ death was COVID-19 related.

The Fresno Bee’s Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado said on Twitter that Ornelas died Sunday night in Mexico City, but the family did not disclose the cause of death.

Passionate About Education

Ornelas won election to the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee in March.

He was passionate about education. In 2019, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Purdue Global University. He previously graduated from Fresno State with a bachelor’s in mathematics and from Kaplan University with an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, according to his biography at the Water Education for Latino Leaders website.

Ornelas was born in Jalisco, Mexico. He and other family members moved to the United States when he was 13 to be with his father, a migrant farmworker in the San Joaquin Valley.

Ornelas is survived by his wife, Nadia, and five children: Jose Jr., Gustavo, Angel, Oscar, and Shayla.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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