Aguilera sees hope, change for Merced, entire county
When Ricky Aguilera kicked off his campaign for the District 2 seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors in late October, there was a crowd of cheering supporters and excitement in the air.
Here was this surprising new face on the local political scene, calling for change, with the backdrop of the County Administration Building, the American flag, and traditional Mexican food, dance and music.
Soon after, Merced residents began to see Aguilera’s charming eyes and natural smile — full of promise and hope — on campaign signs all around town.
“Merced deserves to be heading in a better direction,” Aguilera says. “And right now, Merced has a large appetite for change. I strongly believe I can set a new bar as the District 2 supervisor. With my background, experience, work ethic and personable approach, I believe I can implement a ‘can-do’ attitude in the community.”
He adds, “We can do better with communicating issues to the entire community. We can make better decisions for the community as a whole.”
District 2 represents a majority of Merced residents, roughly those living north of 16th Street, and east of R Street all the way across to Arboleda. It also includes the UC Merced campus and the “university community” region.
Aguilera works in a family business, and runs an indoor soccer center and youth sports program. He is also a Merced College student with the goal of transferring to UC Merced and earning a bachelor’s degree in economics.
In the March 3 Primary Election, Aguilera faces incumbent Supervisor Lee Lor, and fellow challengers Angel Barragan, a school administrator and church pastor; and Josh Pedrozo, a teacher and former Merced City Council member. If no one candidate gets a majority vote then the top two will face each other in a November runoff.
At age 24, Aguilera is noticeably the youngest candidate on the trail. In fact, if elected he would be the first county supervisor to serve in his or her 20s in at least 30 years, maybe longer … or maybe ever. The Times is still researching past supervisors, and those who have been the youngest to serve on the board.
Nevertheless, in today’s world, Lor and Pedrozo are both 37, and Barragan is 39.
A seat on the Board of Supervisors is a prestigious and important position. Supervisors make decisions that impact the entire region. They manage an annual budget that amounts to $671 million. And they help attract and direct initiatives that come down the state and federal pipeline. For their efforts, supervisors earn an annual salary of $112,423.48, plus benefits.
“If I’m elected,” Aguilera says, “I believe I will be in this position for a long time, and the people will appreciate all the things I will be able to do. They are going to finally realize that, ‘Wow, we were able to do this the whole time.’ … People will be proud. There will be more hope in the city.”
Aguilera was the third of four children born to Fernando and Aurora Aguilar of Merced. The family is known for operating a downtown business for more than 25 years. They started out selling satellite dishes for home TV systems and cell phones, and later moved to furniture sales, sporting equipment — particularly soccer — and money transfers.
Ricky Aguilera attended local schools and was active in local soccer teams since he was a young boy. His father also coached soccer, and eventually created the Merced Atlas Soccer Club. Aguilera would go on to play for the Atlas team designated for ages 16-17, and they won regional and state championships, before winning a national title in Chicago.
“We put Merced soccer on the map,” the candidate says with a smile.
Meanwhile, Aguilera continued to help out in the family business, and also his father’s ambition to expand local soccer, parent and youth opportunities through the Merced Soccer Academy located at Stephen Leonard Park in south Merced.
“My father opened the door to a lot of people in Merced,” Aguilera says. “The soccer academy is huge, and it’s doing outstanding, great things in the community.”
The organization is also today associated with professional soccer’s Seattle Sounders, and a few former local players are now rising through the ranks of the pro league.
The younger Aguilera has become a strong believer in sports.
“It actually saves a lot of lives,” he says. “Many young people who do not have this structure are on the streets doing a lot of bad things. Sports helps students with school, interpersonal relationships, life issues. Even if you are not the best athlete, just doing it is like therapy. I encourage all young people to try it out, and get that experience.”
When the family invested in an indoor sports center out in the industrial area near the Merced Airport, Aguilera was eventually tapped to help manage the place. They quickly converted the place for specifically indoor soccer, and as Aguilar explains, “things just exploded.”
“We created this formula, and the place was packed every single day. When we started there was just two or three teams, but it grew and grew to nearly 100 — with more than 1,000 adults and 500 young people participating. It was extremely popular. And the great thing was that it also had a family atmosphere. We had crowds of family members and friends of players who would go just to watch. It brought people together. We even had a few marriage proposals during our games.”
Aguilera worked seven days a week, with long weekends opening and closing the center. He said the experience helped him create a strong work ethic.
The family did not own the property; however, and after the owner decided to invest in other opportunities, the indoor soccer operation was moved about a mile away to a gym facility near Wardrobe Avenue. It’s more of a youth program today, and last season, Aguilera says they broke their own registration record for those soccer teams.
After graduating from Merced High School, Aguilera became a father, and today he and his partner Selena are raising a 5-year-old son (and little soccer player) Jovian.
As a supervisorial candidate, Aguilera is concentrating on solving homelessness in the city of Merced, supporting county law enforcement and fire prevention, promoting youth and senior programs, making sure there is an adequate supply of drinking water for residents, ensuring budget accountability and creating a solid economic development plan.
“We need to be aggressive on the homeless issue,” he says. “I have a downtown business perspective, and I have reached out to local businesses on this issue. I understand how necessary it is to dramatically decrease the numbers we are seeing. The state and local governments are spending a lot of money on this issue, but the population keeps increasing. Where is the money going and how is the current strategy changing things? We need to have a good plan — local business owners agree. I’m on their side.”
Aguilera also points out that he feels the community is in need of improved health services, along with road improvements, and the “little things that will add up to make Merced a more attractive place to live.
The candidate says he’s very motivated by the ongoing community support and enthusiasm for his campaign.
“People see that I’m not a politician,” he says. “They see I’m a member of the community who cares about Merced and wants to see Merced thrive. We are generating a tremendous amount of support … Everywhere I go, I hear: ‘Hey, aren’t you Ricky Aguilera?’” …
“And you know, I’m not asking community members for donations. I don’t want them to spend their money. I want to work for them so they can make more money to support their families. We do get some contributions, but I strongly believe I’m the candidate that is not going to owe special interest groups any favors. I think that’s very important. I believe I’m doing the right thing.”
Aguilera says he surprised his family and friends when he made the decision to run for a county supervisor seat, and he was the last candidate in the District 2 race to announce a bid.
“They were very excited and supported me right away,” he says.
If he wins on March 3, the family will have something extra to celebrate on March 6 — that’s Aguilera’s 25th birthday.
Says the candidate: “I understand how easy it can be for an elected official to sort of sit around and just cruise through their term, but as for me, I’m not that type of person. I will do whatever possible to become the most productive supervisor ever.”