Central California underrepresented by Governor Newsom's appointments

People in the Central Valley often say they feel overlooked by the state government in Sacramento.

Now, data collected by Action News proves it's at least partly true.

A refresh is coming to Fresno's Chinatown in the form of a $25 million investment at The Monarch, made possible in part with funding from the California Housing Finance Agency.

"Supposed to focus on neighborhood infrastructure, greenhouse gas emission reduction, and affordable housing," said Fresno Housing Authority CEO Preston Prince, who is one of 16 members on the CalHFA board, making financial decisions affecting housing all over the state.

He's run into a few situations where massive investments would've excluded the Central Valley, like the "Missing Middle" program designed to build housing affordable for people earning 80 to 120% of the area's median income.

The program's criteria excluded most Valley projects because of size.

"So I had to speak up not to protect the Housing Authority, but to protect the Valley, and say 'these rules don't work,'" Prince said. "And the rules have been modified to now allow for developments that meet the "missing middle" of the Valley."

Prince's voice mattered for the Valley.

He's one of 44 people from Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Madera, Merced, and Mariposa Counties appointed to state positions by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

That's about 3.5% of his 1265 appointments in an area making up more than 5% of the state's population.

None are on the Public Utilities Commission, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, the Community Colleges Board, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards, the Park & Recreation Commission, and several others.

So, some local politicians feel left out.

"Right now, I hear the governor talking about equity as it applies to the vaccine or other things," said Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig. "But to truly have equity, you can't exclude any portion of the state."

Newsom's press secretary told Action News he values representation from all parts of the state and he invites people to apply to serve.

The governor has appointed a couple of Central Valley residents to the Water Commission and the Board of Parole Hearings, and put Valley natives in some other important positions.

He's also made several trips to the Valley during his two years in office and talked about having a focus here.

Political analyst Mark Keppler of the Maddy Institute says the visits help people feel heard, but the governor also wants to be heard by the people he appoints.

"That's what they're looking for," Keppler said. "They want some consistency in policy that's going to be following what the governor's trying to accomplish."

Keppler says part of the discrepancy in appointments is politics, but not as much Democrat-Republican as you might think.

The real currency of politics is votes, he says, and the Valley has fewer people and lower voter turnout than other regions.

But he thinks local leaders can still get the governor's attention and correct the imbalance.

"I think if Valley legislators knew the lack of representation on some of these boards by Valley representatives, they'd want to do something about it," Keppler said.

If they do something, they might start on the housing front.

The governor has never appointed a Valley native to the Fair Employment and Housing Council and Preston Prince, its representative on CalHFA, is leaving for Santa Clara County in April.

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