Josh Pedrozo steps forward as advocate for District 2
As far as the race goes for the District 2 seat on the Merced County Board of Supervisors, Josh Pedrozo is arguably the most qualified and experienced candidate when considering his progression as an elected leader in local government.
Pedrozo, 37, was a recent member of the Merced City Council, serving for nine consecutive years. He was first elected in 2009 right before his 27th birthday, and he was re-elected in 2013 to a second term that was extended through 2018 because of a change to even-year elections. He did run for mayor of Merced in 2016, but was unsuccessful.
However, it’s a logical, forward-thinking move with precedent that a former City Council member seeks a new opportunity to serve the community as a county supervisor.
The District 2 supervisorial seat represents most of the city of Merced north of Highway 99, the UC Merced campus and the university community region.
“Above anything else, I want to make this a campaign about the issues that matter, and what we can do to move the county forward,” Pedrozo told the Times. “With my knowledge gained from working with the city, and my work with state and federal contacts on major development projects, I feel I’m the most experienced person for the job. I hope people recognize that. I’m really excited about this opportunity. I can’t wait to have our election forums and to start debating the issues. We’ve been walking neighborhoods and meeting with residents. I’ve met with labor groups, public safety groups, nonprofit groups, and it’s been very interesting to hear their perspectives. I’m very encouraged.”
And the candidate adds, “Yes there’s a political divide out there, but I’m telling people: “Let’s use common sense. Let’s get some important things done. We don’t have to sit up there and just argue for argument’s sake.”
In the District 2 race that’s headed to the March 3 Primary Election, Pedrozo faces first-term incumbent County Supervisor Lee Lor. Before becoming an elected leader, Lor was the executive director of the Merced County Education Fund and an assistant to the superintendent of county schools. The two other candidates in the race — educator Angel Barragan and businessman Ricky Aguilera — are political newcomers having never ran for, or held elected office.
Besides his service on the Merced City Council, Pedrozo has been a teacher at Merced High School for the past 12 years, mostly instructing U.S. History in an AP class.
“It’s an amazing job and I love it,” he said. “I do everything that I can for my students. I appreciate my colleagues and my administrators. I know if I win this election, I will have to resign from the position, and that’s difficult. But I feel that I can do a good job as supervisor, and it’s the right time, and knowing that, I’m OK with it.”
The candidate said he is concentrating on roads and transportation, the problem of homelessness, economic development and public safety.
As a city leader, Pedrozo advocated for funding for the Campus Parkway extension — an expressway project that aims to connect Highway 99 to UC Merced. Significant progress is currently being made on Stage 2 of the project that goes through Highway 140, along with new commercial development at the gateway interchange. He also worked with the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority on an agreement to extend the ACE Train to Merced and expand commuter opportunities in the valley and toward the Bay Area.
“I never thought when I started this that I would be as passionate about transportation that I am today, but I think there is a lack of infrastructure development here in Merced County — especially in District 2. There is not one project outside of the city limits going on in District 2 at this time. I don’t understand why Measure V funds haven’t been available to some of the areas that are in need — whether it’s widening projects or improvements along Yosemite Avenue or Bellevue or Lake Road.”
With his experience traveling to Washington through the One Voice program and his work with the California League of Cities, Pedrozo believes he can become a major advocate for local transportation initiatives, including making sure things continue going smoothly with the ACE Train project and the Campus Parkway project, and new growth connected to the city’s annexation of land toward and beyond UC Merced.
“I also believe all the things I’m pushing for go hand in hand,” the candidate said. “You get transportation right, economic development is going to follow, and then we can make inroads in solving the homeless crisis, and so on.”
Pedrozo said he wants voters to know that he understands there’s a huge difference between serving the community as a councilman and as a county supervisor.
“My big thing is that I want to gain as much information that I can and make the right decisions for the community,” he said “I’m going to make sure we are moving in the right direction without feeding residents a line. People want to know what’s going on. People don’t want you to tell them one thing, and then things come around, and they see something else is happening. There’s a $671 million budget for the county. There is a lot of money that comes down from the state and federal governments, and you have to be an advocate for Merced County, and District 2, which is Merced, the county seat.”
Pedrozo pointed out that when he started out as an elected leader, times were austere with the Great Recession. He knows what it’s like to face staff layoffs and contracting out services. But he also knows what it takes to create a foundation for new growth — the kind you see happening in the Merced today, from the downtown renaissance to a record number of building permits.
Says Pedrozo, “When I first ran I asked, ‘How do we make Merced a destination not just a location?’ and that’s the same question I have for Merced County.”
The candidate says he will continue to be open and accessible to the public. He is known for giving out his cell phone number, and holding frequent community meetings to hear about the issues.
“I think there has been a lack of communication in District 2 between leadership, staff and residents,” he said. “When you represent the seat of the county, you need to make sure you are reaching out and doing the best you can to respond to concerns, and really advocate for improvements. … People want to see their elected leaders. If you don’t have that presence, it’s difficult to explain.”
Of course, Pedrozo said he would love to win the March 3 primary outright. If none of the four candidates earns more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will be held between the top two vote-getters that will be decided in the November General Election.
“We are out there walking districts,” the candidate said. “We are putting up signs. We are raising money. We are doing everything that you are suppose to be doing. At the end of the day, people are going to vote, and it all comes back to a choice. … I think I have the experience for the job, and I think experience goes a long way.”
Also of note: Voters may know the Pedrozo name because Josh Pedrozo’s dad John Pedrozo served as a County Supervisor for District 1 for several years.
Josh Pedrozo says he accepts the family recognition, but he points out that he has carved out his own life, career and political success. At 37, the younger Pedrozo is married to his wife Heidi, a local teacher, and they have two children, Owen, 8, and Lucy, 3.
Pedrozo was born in Merced and raised on a dairy ranch about 7 miles outside the city limits. He attended Golden Valley High School and graduated in 2001. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business Finance at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
He then served an internship in Washington D.C. for Congressman Dennis Cardoza. In 2006, Pedrozo moved to Philadelphia and worked for the U.S. Department of Labor processing immigrant labor visas. In 2007, he moved back to California to complete his teaching credential and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. In 2008, he was hired by Merced Union High School District to teach at the Merced High School campus.