ANAHEIM, Calif. — Avelino Valencia didn’t want to get too ahead of himself.
The 31-year-old staffer at Assemblymember Tom Daly’s office is currently the leading vote-getter in the Anaheim City Council District 4 race to replace termed-out Lucille Kring.
“It’s not official yet,” Valencia said to Spectrum News 1. “Things are looking promising. Our campaign is looking strong. I would rather be certified and sworn in before making a public announcement.”
Yet, Valencia knows he is well on his way to the seven-seat council dais.
As of Wednesday, with more than 87% of votes tallied, Valencia has received 7,856 votes or about 51% of votes in the district. His closest opponents, Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustee President Annemarie Randle-Trejo, and resident activist Jeannine Robbins are trailing by more than 4,300 votes.
Whoever officially wins the District 4 race will face several challenges as Anaheim looks to bounce back from the coronavirus-catalyzed downturn.
While every district in Anaheim has challenges, District 4 is unique in that it covers the Disneyland Resort, the Anaheim Convention Center, and the Resort District, one of the city’s main tourism areas.
Of all of the districts in the city, District 4 has been severely impacted by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The city’s one million square foot convention center and the Disneyland Resort’s two theme parks and three hotels remain closed. Several resort district businesses and hotels that rely on Disney visitors are struggling or have also remained closed. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost.
The once-bustling area that boasted more than 25 million visitors annually is now mostly vacant.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and his health staff in Sacramento gave challenging orders to Disney and other theme parks across the state before they can fully reopen during the pandemic. Under Newsom’s orders, a large theme park can only reopen if its home county is in the state’s yellow or least restrictive tier monitoring the spread of the coronavirus.
This is where Valencia said his expertise and knowledge about the politics in Sacramento comes in.
“It’s frustrating,” Valencia said. “In my professional capacity, I’ve worked with the state legislature for eight years so I understand the dynamics coming out of Sacramento. Being a local guy here and taking on this new responsibility, I have an insider’s perspective on why certain decisions are coming out of Sacramento and how it is going to impact Anaheim when it comes to reopening safe and efficient manner.”
Valencia said one of the first tasks he plans to do if elected is creating a public health commission. The commission would be tasked with keeping the community and employees safe and address ways to safely and adequately reopen businesses.
“Health is paramount. We know that businesses here and Disney above anyone else can do the best job to safely reopen,” Valencia said. “I think it’s the responsibility of the city to set some health standards and focus on policy and educate the community and provide the resources and services to reopen in an effective manner.
“We need to set a standard,” he added. “The county is doing their job but I think Anaheim, we need to branch away and do our own thing and set the bar, a high bar. So that way we can show Gov. Newsom and the state of California how to do it. If we can meet the state halfway and really put the ball in their court, it’ll be up to them. I don’t think we’re doing that as a city, yet. I think that’s the first task we need to do as a city to get our economy back on track.”
He also said he wants to focus on the health of residents. Seniors and Latinos, he said, have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. It’s important to have resources for them, he said.
Though business usually dominates the headlines in Anaheim, Valencia said public safety would also be a priority when he is on the council.
For the past several months leading up to the election, Valencia said he set aside three to four a night to talk to residents. He published his direct contact information in every one of his flyers and literature, so residents in his district know how to get in contact with him.
“People wanted to make sure that they are able to walk to the streets at night and be safe,” he said.
For Valencia, who was raised in the city and attended its public schools, being on the council would be a great way to give back to where he came from.
“Again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said. “But I can’t wait to get on the council. I want to hit the ground running on Day 1.”