By MIKE BIDDISON
Josh Pedrozo is a married father of two children, a high school history teacher, and a former Merced City Council member who served nine years on the dais, from 2009 to 2018. Now his sights are set on the District 2 seat of the Merced County Board of Supervisors.
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. Many residents may remember that Pedrozo’s father — John Pedrozo — represented the more rural District 1 seat (Le Grand to Livingston) on the board for 12 years, from 2004 to 2016.
On Nov. 3, voters will decide whether to replace District 2 incumbent Supervisor Lee Lor with Pedrozo, the second runner up in the March primary. Lor needed to win in excess of 50 percent of the vote to avoid a November runoff. She ended with approximately 39 percent in the four-person race with Pedrozo trailing her by about 10 percentage points.
Transportation is one of the issues Pedrozo feels strongly about, along with economic development and homelessness. His first duty on the board, he says, will be to listen — to the other board members and to the people of District 2. And he will reexamine board priorities that, according to Pedrozo, were last set in 2017, and need to be updated.
“Transportation is key,” he says. “We’re right there on top of expanded opportunities.” He mentions the Altamont Corridor Express, known as the ACE Train, a project he worked on during his stint on the Merced City Council, which “will really help to bring economic development.”
Pedrozo says he proved himself a leader during his nine years on the council. After winning his seat in 2009 during the recession, he says he helped bring financial stability back to the city by pushing projects like the ACE Train. The planned direct rail link from Merced to Sacramento, “put the wheels back on” to get the city moving forward again. Campus Parkway was also part of the transportation infrastructure he championed during his council tenure.
“We’ve lost focus on infrastructure in District 2, lost our place at the table with the state,” Pedrozo says.
He sees himself as a communicator and learner. Before getting things done, one has to be willing to learn and to ask questions, he says.
“I can’t do my job unless I know what the community cares about. … It’s also a lot more satisfying to know people are taking an interest in the community they live in.”
If elected, he plans to stage frequent town halls to stay in touch with the public, and looks forward to working with staff and his colleagues on the board as well as making himself available to the community at large.
Although Pedrozo emphasizes that he would work mainly for the economic betterment of District 2, he would not ignore the needs of the rest of the county. He cites an instance of a project that might come up that wouldn’t be suitable for District 2, but might be good for District 5 — he would support that.
The current pandemic makes the problem of the county’s homeless more difficult. “You cannot put people in jeopardy by trying to help them.” He says you do have a responsibility to let the homeless know about what the county provides in the way of food, shelter, and employment opportunities. He would continue to support development of the Navigation Center, a project in the works to help track, train and care for the homeless, as well as keep them out of the camps spread around the city. “They are a huge public safety concern,” says Pedrozo of the camps. He tells of homeless individuals living near him who started a fire recently that burned right up to houses.
The Navigation Center, planned in cooperation with the city and non-profits, will not solve the homeless problem, and while we don’t want to appear to be welcoming the homeless from other areas, says Pedrozo, it will go a long way toward rectifying the situation, with separate facilities for men, women, couples and even pets. While the money has already been allocated, he emphasizes there is still the problem of finding money to operate the facility day in and day out. “That is the million dollar question right now. You can always find money to build something, but running it on a daily basis is a commitment that needs to be made.”
He doesn’t think Supervisor Lor has a vision for the county. Allowing that she has a vision for District 2, Pedrozo says she does not have that macro vision he would bring. As a council member he was proud of the fact he was concerned with the long term, not just the day to day. He says he is better attuned to the county and resident’s problems, pointing out that adding to your pay while others are struggling is being out of touch with what our residents are dealing with. He referred to Lor’s recent acceptance of an automatic 3 ½ percent pay raise tied to state raises that the other four supervisors on the board turned down because of current economic conditions facing constituents.
This year, Lor has used an annual $20,000 budget allocation the board approved last year for each supervisor to hire extra-help assistants. But Pedrozo says he is aware it’s a full time job, and he would not spend the discretionary funds while others are hurting. He says also if elected, he would resign his teaching position at Merced High School, although he would keep his license current.
Pedrozo feels differently about the ½ percent sales tax for public safety the board recently declined to allow on the ballot. He says a poll of District 2 residents indicated the people favored the tax by a small margin and although he didn’t necessarily favor the tax, the people deserve to be able to decide whether or not to tax themselves. While there are plenty of public safety concerns in the county, including overcrowding at the Latorraca jail, “my role is not to advocate, but to educate,” he says.
Pedrozo is really encouraged by the way his team is heading into the election. “When I put my mind to something, I work really hard to make sure it gets done. I take the public trust very seriously. Being an elected representative of the community you grew up in is one of the highest honors one can get,” Pedrozo maintains, “because people have put their faith and trust in you to represent their interests.”