The nomination and candidacy filing period for local elections opens July 18 and close on Aug. 12
VISALIA – The filing period for local races opened on July 18, and among the most active races are the four seats up for grabs on the Visalia City Council.
The four seats available should have been staggered between the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections. Three of the seats would have been on this year’s ballot and the remaining two on a ballot for 2024.
The circumstance of having almost all seats on the same ballot came after the death of Phil Cox, former vice mayor and longtime elected official, in June 2021. After his passing, Liz Wynn was unanimously appointed by the council to serve through 2022 until voters could elect someone to carry out the remaining two years of Cox’s term.
She was first appointed in Aug. 2021.
Despite publicly stating that she was not interested in running for the council seat for 2022, Wynn changed her stance and is running for short term office in District 1. With the recent developments of upcoming projects like funding for homeless people and cannabis-related business in Visalia, she said it would be difficult for a new member to grasp quickly. She added that with two years remaining on the term and supporters in her corner, she opted to throw her hat in the ring to keep the seat.
“When I started, I hadn’t intended [to run for the seat], I just thought I would fill in,” she said. Although, she is not running without competition.
Also in the race is David Farris, who made his decision after realizing that it would be open. Farris is interested in supporting measures that would allow cannabis businesses in Visalia, more funding for homeless shelters and expanding downtown by facilitating small businesses.
“I think we can do more to make [downtown Visalia] a more pedestrian friendly area, and more like a type of boardwalk area,” Farris said. “I think that that would really help increase foot traffic and support our local businesses.”
Vice Mayor Brian Poochigian is running for re-election. Poochigian was elected to represent District 3 in 2018 at the age of 36. As a transportation broker connecting haulers and shippers, Poochigian said he was proud of the concerted effort the city has made to upgrade roadways and intersections, such as the major project to redesign the intersection at Goshen Avenue and Akers Street and work currently underway on Shirk Road north of Highway 198.
“My real big push was trying to improve the roads when I came in. I’m happy to say in my first year we got that one problem intersection at Akers and Goshen fixed,” Poochigain said.
If re-elected, Poochigian said he will continue to work to streamline business permitting within Visalia, which has become a sought after destination for warehousing and distribution industry giants such as Amazon, UPS and ACE Hardware. He said he will also ensure any projects started in his first term will be continued going into his potential second-term.
“The city is growing and we have to make sure that we stay ahead of that growth,” Poochigain said.
With Councilmember Greg Collins confirming that he will not run for re-election, a new face will take the seat in District 4. Marie Line-Labbee, Emmanuel Hernandez Soto and Veraldo Holguin are all intending to run for the seat to fill Collins’ shoes.
All three share Collins’ interest in allowing cannabis businesses into town. Soto and Holguin have said the taxes generated could be used to make improvements in Visalia. Line-Labbee said cannabis business could benefit Visalia. She has first hand experience with cannabis products helping her daughter with two rare conditions and understands the aid it could bring to others.
“I started digging into the statistics more and realized that a lot of the users going to the dispensaries in Woodlake and Farmersville and other locations are from Visalia. It just makes a lot of sense to have that money come back to our community,” Line-Labbee said.
Holguin additionally believes the district should have someone from the location, such as himself, to represent it and shares similar thoughts on cannabis related business in Visalia.
“We need that for our parks. We need that for our homeless situation,” Holguin said. “We can use those funds for all kinds of things.”
Mayor Steve Nelsen is also running for re-election this coming November. Nelsen is finishing out his third term on the council after leading the council as mayor in 2014-15 and 2016-17.
Since he joined the council in 2010, Nelsen has worked directly on projects such as the ImagineU Children’s Museum lease agreement, the Visalia Animal Care Center, the wastewater treatment plant, Visalia’s Fire Station 53 and the Visalia Emergency Communications Center.
If re-elected, Nelsen said he will focus on public safety, the expansion of businesses in the city and on making Visalia parks more accessible for all.
“I was a huge proponent of the new inclusive park. That makes our park system available to any level of disability, so I want to make opportunities available for everybody in the city of Visalia,” Nelsen said.
The filing period for candidates interested in running begins July 18 and ends Aug. 12.