This is the first of a four part series on the November 8 Visalia City Council Election. Join the Visalia Chamber of Commerce Candidate’s Forum where Heather Clark and Vice Mayor Brian Poochigian will be participating.
Heather Carter and her family moved to Visalia in 2019. She loved the city so much that she convinced her parents to sell their home outside of Seattle and move here, too.
“I think Visalia is an up-and-coming city and it would be great for it to be one of the top places for business to come and for families to come and live,” said Carter.
Carter said that she is a life-long voter and has always been involved in politics and her community. Now she wants to participate at a higher level than just voicing her opinion.
“I wanted to see if I could make a greater change in the community where I live,” she said.
That led her to run for Visalia City Council District 3 against Vice-Mayor Brian Poochigian.
Poochigian was first elected in 2018 and welcomes the competition as healthy for democracy.
Four of the five Visalia city council seats up for reelection this year and all are being contested. This is a far cry from the 2020 election when no one ran against Council members Brett Taylor and the late Phil Cox; as a result they were both simply reappointed and no election was held.
Carter was raised in a small agriculture community in Ohio with a very similar ethos to Visalia.
She received her degree in International Studies from Kent State University then lived abroad for about eight years with her husband before settling in State of Washington. While there, Carter worked with under privileged children in nutrition and physical fitness. Ten years ago she became a professional personal trainer and now works at Lifestyles Gym.
She and her husband have a son attending University of California Davis and twins who attend El Diamante.
In 2019 Carter’s husband, who is a fruit broker, had to transfer to the Central Valley.
“We had our choice to live in anywhere in the Valley. So the kids researched the different school districts and discovered Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) Media Arts Academy. After that they said we want to live in Visalia.”
Carter’s daughter jumped right in taking advantage of the academy making a documentary about the homeless. She was nominated for an award for Slick Rock, a student film festival put on by VUSD.
One of the issues facing Visalia that motivated Carter to run for office was the debate over the proposed Planned Parenthood office on Mooney.
“Planned Parenthood provides all women’s healthcare and serves the LGBTQ community. It would be a healthier community to have the facility on Mooney,” said Carter.
Carter felt that it was just a handful of citizens that didn’t understand exactly what Planned Parenthood provides that swayed the city council to table the issue. The developer soon after pulled the project.
The Planned Parenthood in Visalia does not provide abortions.
Having a planned parenthood would help the city keep young people here, attract young families, and keep a younger workforce here said Carter.
“It would make the city more welcoming,” she said.
On the issue of pot Carter is in favor of legalizing it inside the city imits. She said the pot dispensaries in Washington and California are well maintained and the clientele aren’t causing any problems as was feared.
“It will be a great revenue stream for the city.”
As for the Pandemic, some decisions the city made she agreed with and some she didn’t.
“They tried to do their best,” she said, but she felt the council did not do as much as they could have. Carter also would have liked to know where the city council was getting their information on which they based their decisions.
“Did they consult the healthcare professionals?”
Though Carter didn’t have any specific criticisms of the city council she felt they could use a more empathetic approach towards the homeless.
“The homeless are not an issue to deal with but rather they are people,” she said. “We should first look at why people are homeless.”
Carter said there are many elements contributing to homelessness; affordable housing, mental health, drug use, good paying jobs, etc. When one happens, it causes a chain reactions says Carter and the city should deal with one problem first then build on each success.
She said the homeless aren’t going to make the parks unsafe because they are already there. Carter takes her kids to the parks and feels perfectly safe.
“I have never felt threatened,” said Carter.
Carter was disappointed about the controversy surrounding the Source LGBT+ Center and the Visalia Fox Theater canceling a movie and drag show event for young people.
“If they felt like the kids were not safe, I do agree with canceling the event. I am very disappointed that it got to that level though.”
Carter’s daughter planned on attending.
Carter said that a similar show took place at a community church close by and that there was nothing risqué. Her advice to those parents who felt it was borderline acceptable, “go to the event with your kids or just say no.”
Poochigian running for a second term
Unseating an incumbent is an uphill battle and Poochigian hasn’t done anything for voters to boot him out of office.
Poochigian prides himself on accessibility.
“I know, as an elected City Council member, it is my duty to return residents calls and emails to address their concerns. I am confident I did exactly that during my first term and I will continue to be accessible and responsive to residents when reelected for a second term.”
Born and raised in Visalia, Poochigian attended Mount Whitney High School and then San Diego State University where he received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Science with a minor in History.
Poochigian works at Cal-Tex Transportation where he is entrusted with managing the logistics of the transportation of produce across the United States. He and his wife, who is a high school teacher, have two children.
Before running for city council Poochigian was on the Visalia’s Citizens Advisory Committee and was the co-chair of the City Annual Public Opinion Survey.
“I am proud of the work accomplished during my first term serving on the City Council.”
Poochigian cites among the council’s accomplishments specific to District 3 as the improvement of the intersection at Akers and Goshen that was proving a hazard to the local residents.
“I am happy to report that the project was approved and the intersection was repaired in my first year.”
“Many residents also have valid concerns about traffic circulation throughout the city. The council has approved projects that will widen Shirk and Akers, and are currently looking at widening Visalia Parkway. These projects will create better traffic circulation throughout the city.”
Concerning COVID, “I am extremely proud of how the City of Visalia responded. The city found and developed creative, practical solutions that helped people get back to work here in our city, including, but not limited to, streamlining outdoor dining permits and not issuing fines for those businesses that wanted to operate.”
In Poochigian’s profile on the city’s website he says, “he is passionate about giving back to the people and organizations that make the City of Visalia such a wonderful place to live.”
“I have to agree that Visalia is the Jewel of the Valley. When I got here I started falling in love with it. It’s the most beautiful place.”