ELECTION 2022: Majority newcomers battle for a seat in Porterville’s city council

Incumbent Lawana Tate is the only previous councilmember running for city council this year, making way for many new challengers

PORTERVILLE – Candidates stress the importance of youth involvement, community events and even unlawful detainment caused by pandemic mandates.

Two seats are up for grabs in Porterville’s city council elections. The only incumbent in the running is Lawana Tate of District 1, with councilman Milt Stowe of District 2 relinquishing his chair in retirement, giving way to newcomers battling for the seat. Most of the challengers are passionate about supporting youth, but one is concerned with the negative impacts of COVID-19 regulations. 

Incumbent Tate has grown up in Porterville and worked in the Porterville Developmental Center for 34 years. She was appointed in 2021, replacing former councilman Daniel Penaloza, who resigned amid allegations of having sex with a minor. Though Tate has not been on the council for long, she desires to be more involved in projects that help those suffering from mental illness and the homeless. 

“When we did our annual budget [in city council] for the first time, we budgeted for a [mental health professional] position to work with our staff, our firefighters and our city police,” Tate said.

Tate is also passionate about continuing to help the homeless community in Porterville. She is a part of a program in the Porterville Wellness Center that provides meals and services to homeless individuals, which serves over 2,000 people a month with mental health needs or sustenance. She hopes to see more help for the homeless come from future projects.

“Many of our homeless are here because they have been incarcerated at our county detention facility, they’re a danger to themselves or others, or they’re gravely disabled,” Tate said. 

Running against Tate is Raymond Beltran, who was also raised in Porterville. Beltran believes that there needs to be more opportunity for youth to be involved in sports and recreation. There are over 18,000 youth in Porterville, but no football or soccer fields, and only two basketball courts and baseball diamonds. 

“I can give a perspective that I didn’t see as far as the person who represents my district. I didn’t see the same values, same issues and concerns. I didn’t see them addressing them properly,” Beltran said. “It was one of those [moments when] you look around and wait for someone to step up, and you realize you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and going, ‘I can’t ask others to do it if I’m not.’”

Beltran hopes to be part of building a new community center in Porterville, so that youth and residents can have a centralized location for events. Beltran also runs an informational page on Facebook called “Porterville FYI” that has over 21,000 members. The page has helped bring the community to Porterville, updating residents on local news, events and services, according to Beltran. 

“There’s really not a hub in the community anymore. [I’m] looking to kind of get that back.” Beltran said.

District 2

Jason Gurrola will also be running and has been a resident in Porterville for 40 years. Gurrola has been a manager at the Walmart Distribution Center for 28 years and serves as a parks and leisure services commissioner as well, and believes his experience with budgeting and planning will benefit city council. 

“I understand the importance of what will be required of me,” Gurrola said in a statement. “I will listen to you, I will communicate with you, and I will take action on your behalf while maintaining transparency with you at all times.”

Gurrola is passionate about being involved with the city’s youth and creating opportunities for them to have community. He has served as the assistant varsity basketball coach for Monache High School, but also coaches community sports like baseball and soccer. He would like to be a part of the new community center project that is underway. He is looking forward to being a part of the recreational spaces that will be built behind the library as well. 

Greg Meister was not interviewed by the Sun-Gazette as he did not respond as of press time. However, Meister believes the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the city, and is wanting to take Porterville in a new direction. He not only wants to end COVID-19 emergency mandates, but also wants to get education back on track after being impacted by the pandemic.

“The city does not need to, and should not, use emergency powers in grossly unnecessary manners as they are doing,” Meister stated on his website. “These mandates have been coercive, inhibited growth, and have led to unlawful detainments of lawfully abiding citizens.”

This comes after a 75-year-old woman, Rae Dean Strawn, was arrested at a city council meeting on Jan. 18 after letting her mask rest underneath her nose during closed session. She was handcuffed and escorted outside, where police later released her with no charges. In May, Strawn announced she would be suing the city for $500,000 for unlawful detainment. 

Not only is Meister passionate about changing to conversation surrounding mandates, but also wants to relieve residents of taxes. Combined sales taxes in Porterville are among the highest in the county, standing at 9.25%, with comparable cities like Visalia only having 8.5% combined sales tax.

“Cities of all sizes have lowered taxes in these troubled times by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse,” Meister said. 

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