2022 Election

District 5 City Council Candidates Answer Questions on Local Issues

Each Fullerton City Council candidate was invited to participate in this traditional feature to help residents get to know the candidates. Below are the candidates running for District 5, and their answers to our questions.

District 5 candidates left to right: Tony Castro, Oscar Valadez, and Ahmad Zahra.

Fullerton City Council districts.

What motivated you to run for City Council? What strengths will you bring to the role?

Tony Castro: I discovered my strong interest in the study of politics in my introductory American Government class. My enthusiasm for this subject was sparked by a discovery that politics does not have to be about money and power games, but should be about making a positive difference in the world.

Oscar Valadez: The incumbent was running unopposed so I decided to run. District 5 does not want marijuana dispensaries. I do not want to privatize Union Pacific Park but to return it back to the public. I will prioritize Federal funds for roads. I will listen to District 5 and work to build consensus.

Ahmad Zahra: Having lived in the heart of district 5 for 21 years, I’ve seen increased poverty, homelessness, cost of housing and deteriorating safety and city services. This has been my priority. My strong community engagement and working directly with our residents and businesses allows me to provide effective community oriented solutions. 

What policies would you enact to address housing unaffordability in Fullerton, both for homeowners and renters?

Tony Castro: California recognizes Affordable Housing as a human right and not a privilege. Fullerton needs a rent control policy to avoid more homelessness. Rising rents will only create more poverty, homelessness and crime. Homeowners also deserve a break, I support lower residential property taxes.

Oscar Valadez: We must meet these housing crisis challenges head on by supporting a broad range of housing policies to approve new homes at all income levels. But Fullerton is limited in what can be done. We do not need more state housing bills. We need long-term funding to incentivize housing production.

Ahmad Zahra: I introduced rental assistance for seniors in mobile parks and veterans that I favor expanding; approved a major low income housing project; negotiated with developers higher percentages of low income units. I’ll ensure our housing plan includes enough low income and workforce housing, equitable community benefits and quality housing standards.

What needs to be done to effectively address homelessness in Fullerton?

Tony Castro: Finland has zero homeless people in their country. The state of Utah is ending homelessness with a Housing First program—a program that permanently houses homeless people. Then addresses any mental health or substance abuse issues. I would work with the State Legislature and Congress to achieve a solution.

Oscar Valadez: Homelessness has many deep and complicated roots and solutions will take time. Fullerton must balance the provision of public services with the maintenance of public order. As we continue our promising work with the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, Fullerton needs to find ways to compassionately enforce our anti-camping ordinances.

Ahmad Zahra: We created local and state partnerships to build three regional navigation centers including one in Fullerton, offering beds and services; cleared city encampments and working with Caltrans for access to underpasses; and created the HOPE center to provide mental health first responders. I’ll continue prioritizing effective and also preventative solutions. 

Fullerton is understaffed—police, fire, Library, public works, and maintenance. How would you address that?

Tony Castro: Current Members of the Fullerton City Council have left us in a dilemma. Fullerton needs an Initiator leader that stands for the people. I refuse corporate donations for my campaign so I can be free to fight in the best interest for the people of Fullerton.

Oscar Valadez: The City Council must build a consensus on which staff hiring must be prioritized. Public safety is a high priority, but a consensus must be built with public input for all the positions. These investments into new staff hires must be sustainable. We cannot continue having a high turnover with city staff.

Ahmad Zahra: City services are staff driven so we need to prioritize investing in our staffing levels and retention. Cuts are no longer sustainable. This means focusing on our revenue short falls with stronger economic development, new revenue and grant sources, and a business development and marketing plan to attract outside dollars. 

What needs to be done for the Council to function better?

Tony Castro: “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” I refuse corporate donations for my campaign so I can be free to fight for the voters. Every member must be free from corporate influence in order for the council to function better.

Oscar Valadez: Public representatives must be reminded that they serve for the good of the residents. Council members must prioritize problem solving and focus on building and maintaining productive relationships based on trust. As a fresh voice, I’d focus on collaboration and remain grounded in serving, not myself, but our residents.

Ahmad Zahra: Improving council functionality stems from better engagement with the public we represent, inviting more community involvement and creating better transparency in the decision-making process. Budgeting must reflect the current needs in the community and that can only be achieved when we improve community communication and simplify access to public records.

Which is a higher priority for you—fixing infrastructure or fully staffing departments? Are you willing to cut one to pay for the other?

Tony Castro: My plans include improving infrastructure and finding a way to fully staff departments. I am not willing to cut one to pay for the other. I have progressive new ideas to bring new revenue for Fullerton.

Oscar Valadez: The highest priority for the City Council is to regain the public’s faith that their local government can be effective and efficient in providing services. For local governments to meet all the above challenges, council members must not lose our residents’ trust that they serve for the public good.

Ahmad Zahra: There needs to be a balance. One can’t come at the expense of the other. Staffing is needed to help with infrastructure projects, grants and planning. Poor staffing results in delays and poor project implementation. We must invest in economic development and public works to improve revenue and advancing projects. 

Would you support an ordinance allowing cannabis dispensaries in Fullerton? What restrictions/limitations would be in that policy?

Tony Castro: Fullerton is a “General Law” city meaning that state law is the fundamental law of the city. A “Charter City” has more power over local affairs. I support California’s decision to decriminalize marijuana. All dispensaries must follow all state and local laws and stay away from schools and residential areas.

Oscar Valadez: No. Fullertonians don’t want cannabis dispensaries. Recent news articles have shown that legalization has brought more illegal marijuana, government corruption, crime and environment destruction. As public servants, we must listen to our residents.

Ahmad Zahra: The current ban has resulted in an intense, dangerous proliferation of illegal dispensaries with no accountability. We need regulations that protect children and consumers; limiting licenses to fully vetted, accountable operators with no more than 2 retail stores per district away from schools; and revenue invested in education and safety.

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17 replies »

  1. The Observer called the OCDA about the “arrest & charge” and reported the result. The representative said the OCDA dropped charges due to lack of evidence. The arrest was a “citizen arrest” made by someone identified only as Monica F. The OCDA dismissed charges and the court sealed the “case.” The Fullerton Police were called by Monica F. and Zahra’s divorced spouse to Zahra’s front door where the alleged “crime” took place. Fullerton Police arrived and issued a citation for a broken cell phone which Zahra admitted to hitting out of Monica’s hand when she was video-tapping a verbal argument between Zahra and his ex-spouse. Had there been any criminal activity or injury police would have arrested Zahra on the spot – but there wasn’t any criminal activity, injury, or damage (aside from the cracked phone which Zahra paid for) – So the entire claim is bogus. The Observer wrote about that in the August 2021 issue.

  2. Lori, you are absolutely right about your prediction of Ahmad Zahra’s responsiveness and making time for you, which you based on your observation of him at your door. For four years he has answered my emails and made time to meet with me when I requested this. Almost every month he has had regularly scheduled monthly meetings at a restaurant (and then by Zoom when in person meetings were not possible because of the Covid 19 pandemic) to update everyone in attendance about city issues, to answer questions, and to listen to concerns and get input. He has been extremely responsive and giving of his time. I know this from my own personal experience over the last four years.

  3. We have had two of the three candidates approach my home – one that gave effort and the other did not. Ahmad rang the bell and waited at our door – disappointed I was not at home but saw how long he waited for an answer on our web cam. Emailed him a question and he responded right away.
    Oscar came by and placed a door tag with a note “Sorry I missed you.” No ring of the doorbell or knock on the door and I was at home. Just watched him on our camera walking as fast as possible to all of our neighbor doors to place his tag. This lack of attempt to connect with the residents of this district was highly disappointing. If you do not have time for me now…..you will never have time for me.
    Also I agree with the comment from Dave. I am tired driving to Long Beach – bring legal dispensaries to Fullerton.

    • Lori, since Ahmad is so responsive to you, why don’t you ask him to prove that the DA dropped charges of vandalism and battery against him.

      It seems like you want marijuana dispensaries closer to your home. In that case, Ahmad is your candidate.

      I instead value a councilman that’s not a criminal.

      Will have to agree to disagree.

  4. Who says we don’t want dispensaries in Fullerton? I am tried of driving to Santa Ana and giving them my tax dollars. Ahmad Zahra approach seems reasonable.

  5. Answering questions such as these is very important and I thank the Observer for doing this. Forums are also important. What is most important and provides the most reliable information is looking back over years of all of the candidates’ track records and what they have actually done. Actions speak louder and tell us more than words. I did not know of Tony Castro and Oscar Valadez before they became candidates. However, I have observed Ahmad Zahra continuously work hard and diligently helping people for four years. He has been a very responsive Council member, communicating with, listening to, and meeting with Fullerton residents. The other candidates may have respectable records but I cannot speak for them. I don’t think that anyone can surpass Council Member Zahra’s respectable record.

    • Respectable record? Like being rung up by the DA for battery and vandalism? He’s says he was exonerated but the story is that he pleaded guilty to expunge his record, thereby being able to declare vindication. Ask your boy for some proof that the DA dropped the charges. Bet you won’t get an answer.

  6. Tony Castro is the only candidate talking about helping small businesses and refusing donations from big corporations so he can be free to fight for the voters.

    • How amusing. Splitting the Latino vote to benefit Zahra? I don’t even believe you fell for that.

  7. I’m voting for Tony Castro for Fullerton City Council in district 5 because he’s the only candidate talking about standing up for women’s rights.

  8. “We need regulations that protect children and consumers; limiting licenses to fully vetted, accountable operators with no more than 2 retail stores per district away from schools”

    And yet Zarha voted several time to allow dispensaries within100ft of a school. How come? Weed money lobbyists, of course.

    • State law minimum distance from schools is 600ft. and in fact, Zahra expanded that to keep away from schools. Read the ordinance. You are obviously lying and want to keep illegal dispensaries next to schools. We all know you’re a friend of developer Tony Bushala who’s been an illegal cannabis grower and who’s backing Valadez.

      • I know what he voted to approve. Three times – within 100 feet of homes and schools. Of course he’s changing his tune now because it’s an issue. So you’re lying – or deliberately misinformed. Whichever. I also know your boy voted to hand over a public park for conversion into a private events center – that’s on the record – April 20, 2021. You can look up the video if you really care (you don’t). And if you cared ANYTHING about State law you would know that’s an illegal dispensation of a public park. Say hi to Zahra for Tony and me.

      • You’re a friend of professional liar Ahmad Zahra who is wrong on facts and so your opinion is based on nothing. Did you ask Siri about the state law? You should save the trouble and watch the old city council meetings and be better educated on Fullerton politics.

  9. How come his Healthy Neighborhoods claque didn’t ask Zahra why he tried to convert a public park into a private events center with no parking and a fence around it? Oh, right. They don’t care. April 20th, 2021. Look it up.

  10. Have not been paying much attention I am embarrassed to say. I will now because of important answers like this from the 3 candidates. Thank you Fullerton Observer for organizing. I don’t know much about Oscar Valladez, but I like what I am reading so far. I will stay tuned.