CITY COUNCIL RACE: Aranda and Free seek to revive Norwalk’s economic development

Enrique Aranda and Esperanza Free

Enrique Aranda and Esperanza Free

NORWALK – With the election under a week away, Norwalk City Council candidate Enrique Aranda says he hopes to “restore integrity” to city council dais.

This isn’t the first time Aranda has run for Norwalk’s City Council. He ran four years ago, and came within 33 votes of securing a seat.

Now, taking another shot, Aranda describes himself as an “Independent voice for all.” Aranda says that he hopes to help Norwalk become a destination again. Currently, he says it is difficult for small cities to grow.

“For far too long, Norwalk has fallen short of achieving its full potential. I am running for City Council to change that, because our families and residents deserve better,” said Aranda in a press release sent to newspaper staff.

If elected, he hopes to help incentivize new investments, and provide resources for small businesses to start. He will also advocate for a City Smart Growth and Land Use Committee, and promote the adaptive reuse of existing vacant buildings to incubate small businesses and lead to job creation.

 Aranda also hopes to tackle homelessness, by creating a taskforce to develop innovative ways to help house the city’s homeless population and provide supportive services delivery. If elected, he also plans to support a case management approach to provide mental health, drug and alcohol counseling and registration with L.A. County coordinated entry system.

When asked about recent remarks made by former councilman Marcel Rodarte accusing him of bullying and dirty politics, Aranda referred to an op-ed submission to the Norwalk Patriot that is published in this week’s paper, and his official social media response which said, in part, “We know that there will always be disagreements and different points of view. We also know that legitimate concerns become clouded when the focus becomes the use of foul language or personal attacks.”

Aranda instead focused on the election at hand, and the potentially groundbreaking results that it may bring.

“This is about Norwalk,” said Aranda. “This is about us.”

With his campaign nearing the homestretch of the race, Aranda says he is “humbled and honored” by the support he has received during his time engaging with the community he hopes to represent.

Esperanza Free is a new and fresh face in the Norwalk political arena. This is her first go at running for any municipal office.

Hailing from a migrant family, she arrived as a child, put down roots beside her parents and grew up in the South Norwalk area near Hermosillo Park. Her life is the epitome of a classic journey starting with a tumultuous adolescence where she admitted to not only being a cheerleader at John Glenn High School, but also following the ritual of being “jumped into” the local gang, and then “dropping out of high school.”

At a young age, she became a mother and supported the two of them by working as a waitress, where she attributes her experiences hustling tables to her ability as she explained being able to “ talk to anybody.”

At some point during this time she experienced an epiphany and realized she wanted to “go to church” and “go back to school,” at the age of 29.

Free did both, passing the GED to “save time,” and then enrolled at Cerritos College where she excelled rapidly.

It was at church where she met her husband Emmanuel. According to Free, with his support, she attended one college course at a time receiving a bachelor’s degree after 10 years.

Her determination to excel drove her on in pursuing a master’s degree in Public Administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills. She persevered through her course work and maintaining a growing family of four, all while battling a rare form of cancer.

“Whether I lived or died, I knew that I wanted to complete this program!”

“I ended up surviving cancer and completing the program,” she said.

One of her motivations for success was Mr. Rodriguez at Cerritos College who was her mentor. She recalled his encouragement for her to continue going on. Her volunteer work at her church, “Feeding the homeless and underserved, needy families,” at Thanksgiving and Christmas gave her inspiration to help others in the city of Norwalk.

In her opinion, the main issues facing the residents of Norwalk are “our dire need for redevelopment.” and the state of “parks and recreation.”

Free was referring to the need for encouraging new business development which would inspire new jobs and add to the city revenues.

Regarding parks and recreation, she said, “We are concerned that our parks are not safe any more.” Additionally, she stressed the “homeless issue.”

“I am very familiar with that community (homeless). I worked on skid row several years.”

She shared her belief in reaching out to the homeless of Norwalk with enhanced teams directed at working to bring resources to them including access to medical and mental health professionals.

“We can greatly reduce that number (of homeless in Norwalk). We may not eliminate it, but we could greatly reduce the number of homeless people in our city,” she said.

On the subject of public safety, specifically the rise in overt violence in the city, Free said.

“It’s a big concern for me because we want our citizens and children to be safe. We shouldn’t have to be looking over our shoulders concerned about being shot.”

She stressed working together with law enforcement to achieve that goal. Additionally, she also wants better communication from all sides, citizens and law enforcement.  She stressed the “building of relationships,” as a key element of that vision.

Drawing on the challenges she has faced and overcome throughout her life, she feels they have strengthened her to meet the needs of the people of city of Norwalk.