Editors note: In this article, the San Fernando Valley Sun focuses on the new candidates that have thrown their hat in the ring. Next week, we will cover the three incumbents and will continue to cover the upcoming city council race.
Three seats on the San Fernando City Council are up in this next election, and three incumbents are seeking to be reelected.
Mayor Silvia Ballin and Vice Mayor Antonio Lopez are both seeking their third term; they were both elected in 2011 and again in 2015. Council member Jaime Soto is seeking his second term.
They will be running against three new candidates, Transportation and Safety Commissioner David Bernal, Planning and Preservation Commissioner Yvonne Mejia Peña, and attorney Hector Pacheco.
Bernal is an area local from “Arleta/Pacoima” and graduated from San Fernando High School in 1990 and later joined the United States Marines. He has lived in San Fernando since 1994 with his wife, with whom he’s raised their now 24-year-old son. For the past 19 years he’s worked as a telephone cable-splicing technician for AT&T. He sat on the Planning and Preservation Commission prior to being on the Transportation and Safety Commission. He told the San Fernando Valley Sun, he is looking to help make the city more recreational.
He said that while on the Transportation and Safety Commission for little over a year, he has heard many of the residents’ complaints regarding speeding and traffic lights, which he validates. But he admits he is not running to save the city.
“It’s not like it’s terrible, and I’m gonna fix it,” he said. He said he believes the city is heading in the right direction when it comes to retail, comparing it to years past when there were few places to go eat, drink, and socialize. Instead, he said he could offer the city council a different perspective.
“I bring a different personality, a different way of looking at things. It’s always good to have fresh faces in ther e,” Bernal said.
Bernal does have a different personality from most politicians. He is usually seen in the city wearing T-shirts, jeans, and Doc Marten boots. He regularly attends city council meetings and has spoken in favor of city workers when their union contract was being negotiated. He also is somewhat popular at the local brewery, with patrons pointing him out, talking about him running for city council.
When asked to elaborate on his different personality, Bernal juxtaposed the current, mostly college-educated council to his military background. He took some classes, he said, but college wasn’t for him. Instead he joined the Marines.
“As a veteran of the Marine Corps, we tend to look at things a little bit differently,” he said. “We take charge, we get it done. Mentally- that, as a Marine- never goes away.”
As for as his plans for the city, he wants to make it more recreational by turning the San Fernando Mall into a green space with more trees and restaurants like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, (“But not so corporate-y,” he said) and host more outdoor events, so that businesses can see that San Fernando is an active and attractable place for business, and hopefully remove the stigma that San Fernando is not business-friendly.
“San Fernando always carries the stigma of being tough on business: too many rules, too many businesses. That’s not true anymore,” he said.
In regards to other city issues, such as development, cannabis, and the extension of Measure A, he tends to align with the current council’s status quo. He’s in favor of mixed-use development, but does not want to see huge apartment complexes being built because he does not believe the city’s police force has the capacity for that. He’s all for the cannabis industry coming to the city, as long as there are no storefront dispensaries. And he agrees that the half-percent sales tax needs to be extended to keep the city maintained.
His motivation to be on the city council: “To fight for all the things that they [residents] want, and all the things they deserve as residents.”
Yvonne Mejia Peña is a life-long San Fernando resident who graduated valedictorian at San Fernando High School in 2005, received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Georgetown University and a master’s of public policy from Pepperdine University. She currently works doing compliance and risk management for Southern California Gas Company, who has been her employer the past 8 years. She previously sat on the city’s Education Commission before being appointed to the Planning and Preservation Commission.
Despite a seemingly serious career, she is actually very friendly and giggly when she speaks to people. She smiles often and has a quirky, welcoming personality.
Mejia Peña said safety is her top priority for the city, but in terms of code enforcement. She said she generally feels safe in the city and the one-minute police response time she received when her father was ill is “invaluable.”
She told the San Fernando Valley Sun/ El Sol she wants to enhance the city as a regional commercial service center to Sylmar, Pacoima, and Arleta and look for ways to retain entrepreneurs who are from the city as well as businesses.
“We all want more to do in the city, we don’t want to take our dollars elsewhere. But it’s not only bringing new businesses into the city, I think a lot of it is trying to find ways to retain a lot of these entrepreneurs that are already in the city. I don’t want them to leave because they are not getting the resources they need,“ she said.
“It’s always sad when a business closes in San Fernando. I almost take it personally, like oh no what happened!” she said.
She thinks giving the city a face-lift by improving building facades and having better infrastracture will be good for business, even creating a business improvement district. She said she also hopes to continue the momentum with city programs and expand them to not only serve youth and senior citizens, but “everyone else in between.”
Hector Pacheco was unavailable for comment by press time, but according to the candidate statement he provided to the city, he is also a life-long resident of San Fernando, He graduated from UCLA Law School and has worked as an attorney the past eight years. He is advocating for property tax relief, expanding senior services, and limiting high-density projects.
He states that “his great-grandparents settled in the San Fernando over sixty years ago” and he wants to “preserve San Fernando’s character and re-imagine its future.”
He statement also says, “He has seen San Fernando fall into disrepair as a result of a failure of leadership and is running “to make government work again for the average person.”