Merced County Supervisor Josh Pedrozo is seeking re-election to a second term in office representing the high-profile and critical District 2 that includes the fast-growing City of Merced and the UC Merced campus community.
The 41-year-old incumbent and former high school teacher is considered by colleagues and supporters as one of the hardest working and most visible leaders in local government — a man on a mission to improve communication among local decision-makers and strengthen partnerships with state, federal and outside investors since he started at the City Council level at the age of 27.
“I think people are starting to recognize the fact that at this level, if you go with somebody who is brand new to government versus somebody who has been involved, it’s not necessary a bad thing to go with the more experienced person who is already on the job, has clearly defined objectives and goals, and provides results,” Pedrozo says.
“I helped secure $2.5 million from the federal government for much-needed upgrades to the iconic County Courthouse building, I worked to receive $2.5 million from the state for efforts to combat local juvenile incarceration rates, and I worked really hard with my colleagues to get the $49.6 million from the state to build out our inland port project out at Castle.
“These are some of the projects that require understanding the dynamics and how to work with our different partners throughout the region and beyond.”
Pedrozo faces challenger Annissa Fragoso, a local insurance agent and the president of the Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in the March 5 Primary election. With only two candidates on the ballot, the race is expected to be decided by the primary vote, as opposed to other supervisorial races on the ballot with multiple candidates that have more of a likelihood for a runoff in the November election.
Homelessness is a big issue, not just in District 2, but in every part of Merced County, according to Supervisor Pedrozo.
“We have put a huge emphasis on finding housing solutions,” the candidate says. “And our unhoused population has dropped significantly. While the state average has gone up, we have gone down. We are about 8 percent unhoused. The state is at 10 percent. So we have done a good job in opening up our various facilities, and being partners with the Continuum of Care, to alleviate some of these complex societal problems that we are facing.
“We are also partnering with the city. We have to make sure we are providing services in a humane way, but also there is a lot that goes into it. It’s not just about making sure the homeless are taken care of. There’s also blight and public safety involved. When a business downtown is experiencing the sight of people camping in doorways, sidewalks and parking lots, it’s going to affect customers who want to go to that businesses. We have to provide services and make sure we are taking care of people, but we also have to take care of our businesses and the safety of our residents. At the end of the day, we want our local businesses to succeed. We want people to be safe.”
Supervisor Pedrozo says he continues to focus efforts on critical infrastructure. He was named chair of the governing board of the Merced County Association of Governments, which is made up of regional office holders who work on transportation issues. Recently, Pedrozo helped sound the alarm for Caltrans representatives to expedite the ongoing Highway 99 repavement project that is essential, but is taking a long time to complete and causing safety issues. “I called them out specifically,” Pedrozo says, “on issues of safety, transparency and equity. … We need to get the job done.”
The supervisor is also working with colleagues on the Black Rascal Flood Control project that will help in times of heavy rains and flooding that residents experienced last year. There’s also the ongoing negotiations that involve groundwater sustainability, and what the county is doing to protect water resources while supporting agricultural production.
Maintaining the county budget, and working with the discretionary dollars within it, is another huge focus for Pedrozo.
“It takes time to understand the budget,” he admits. “It’s complex and the learning curve is steep.”
Pedrozo points out that he was first driven to run for District 2 supervisor to improve communication between county leaders and constituents, as well as city officials.
“I’ve been able to bridge that gap by having monthly meetings with the mayor, the city manager and the CEO of the county. We meet once a month just to discuss certain things that are happening in District 2, and really all that has to do with the city and the county of Merced, and how we can be better partners. Partnership is a big thing when you consider things like economic development, expansion around UC Merced, and homelessness.”
Pedrozo also regularly attends Merced City Council meetings and offers reports to its members.
Pedrozo says he wakes up every morning around 3:30 a.m., hits the gym by 4, and then returns home by 5 to make sure school lunches are made for his two children. He is at his office at the County Administration Building no later than 9, unless there’s some official event happening.
“I try to get most of my work done by 2:30 p.m.; however, because of my responsibilities on the board, any day could turn into a long day. We are constantly having meetings, budget briefings, and community forums. This is easily a 70-hour-a-week job.”
The supervisor also serves in roles on the National Association of Counties, the California State Association of Counties, the Agency on Aging and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority. He says he is proud to serve as chairman of the First Five of Merced County, an agency dedicated to improving the lives of young people in the community.
The candidate says he has desired a career in public service since the 5th grade when Congressman Gary Condit appeared in his class to answer questions from students. When one of his classmates asked Condit: “What is it that you do?”, Pedrozo said he was impressed by the congressman’s answer: “I get to help people. I help people every day by creating legislation to help improve their lives, or if they have a question or a problem, I help them navigate the complex bureaucracy to get answers and solutions.”
Says Pedrozo, “That’s what I want to do. I’m involved because I want to help people above everything else. I think sometimes people get into government for the wrong reasons, as opposed to just getting in to help people out. I take pride in the fact that people can call my office, and I respond within 24 hours.”
But the supervisor adds, “I’m not running for school council president. I’m not going to promise you I’m going to put a soda machine on every single street corner. I can’t do that. I’m not going to give you promises I can’t keep. … If I don’t know the answers, I can deliver the information to staff and officials, and I can get those answers and possible solutions.”
Supervisor Pedrozo has been married to his wife Heidi, a high school teacher/librarian, for 15 years. They have two children, Owen, 12, and Lucy, 7.
The candidate 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. A year later he was elected to serve on the Merced City Council.